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February 27, 2006

Dogged Effects

spotted and snatched from Millimeter:

The visual effects chain for Disney's The Shaggy Dog — a remake of the 1959 film about a man who turns into a dog — relied heavily on techniques designed to improve efficiency and the ability to collaborate remotely. The film has about 300 digital effects shots, mainly involving the manipulation of real and CG animals through a variety of digital stunts, the creation of mutant animal creatures, and extreme use of CG fur on the title character. Visual effects supervisor Stephen Rosenbaum arranged for most of the 3D animal and fur work to be done at Tippett Studios, Berkeley, Calif., with compositing handled by CIS Hollywood and matte paintings done at Christov Effects, Burbank, Calif.

That last statement makes it sound as if we sent out shots to CIS for final compositing, As far as I recall, we comped all our own shots so this wasn't the case, anyhow:

In particular, Rosenbaum says the production's ability to perform preliminary color correction work on effects plates inside a digital intermediate suite at Technicolor Digital Intermediates (TDI), Burbank, where the final DI was also conducted, made a huge impact on efficiency.

“It was an idealized scenario in terms of starting the [color correction process for the plates] on the front end with [DP] Gabriel Beristain,” Rosenbaum explains. “He had a camera assistant shoot digital stills while he shot the movie, and on set, with a [then-Beta version of] Kodak's Look Manager System and a calibrated monitor, Gabriel would color-time the stills, establishing a lighting and color palette for every scene. This allowed us to focus earlier on developing the look of our CG elements to better match his photography. Then, in post, I would take those color-timed stills to TDI, where our DI colorist, Jill Bogdanowicz, would take the metadata from those digital stills out of Look Manager and do a preliminary color pass on each of the effects plates. That exact color-timing reference would then be passed to my vendors, and they could apply it to all scans and plates without having to do any significant color correction themselves. Then, when composites came back to Jill for the final DI, while it wasn't 100 percent plug-and-play, per se, it was pretty darn close, and she only had to do nominal adjustments to fit the effects shots with the non-effects shots.”

From Rosenbaum's point of view, this approach is superior to the notion of periodically generating color-timed film clips in a laboratory for reference purposes where visual effects plates are concerned.

“The DP onward hands off the digital metadata, and that maintains a consistent, exact representation of what he wants, rather than a physical film clip, which is subject to the variances of the particular lab bath used on a particular day,” he says. “Over the years, one gripe I had was the fact that color-timed film clips often did not look consistent because of lab variances, and confusion could follow about which one represented the intended look of the sequence. Using digital metadata, there is no variation. That is a significant benefit for us.”

Still, as with any significant visual effects project, Rosenbaum, his vendors, Beristain, and director Brian Robbins had to frequently conference on not only color issues, but all aspects of the digital effects shots. Rosenbaum says the production's solution for accomplishing that with many of the participants routinely in different locations was to use the cineSync remote collaboration system from Rising Sun Research. “It has probably made me give up satellite transmission systems forever,” he says.

“Essentially, we would upload a QuickTime file, usually at 1k resolution, in the new H.264 codec — a small file but without tons of compression,” he says. “Then, everyone could download it and work on the same synchronized file during a session. We can play it between multiple computers in different locations, and we can all use a mouse pointer and mark up the sequence and interact in a direct way with the vendors.”
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The Shaggy Dog

First Look: A behind-the-scenes peek at Tim Allen's remake of the Disney canine flick.

Starring: Tim Allen, Kristin Davis, Danny Glover, Craig Kilborn, Robert Downey Jr
Directed by: Brian Robbins
Release Date: March 10, 2006 (Disney)

Supported by a wire rig, Tim Allen scrambles on all fours into an alley in pursuit of an orange tabby. In a moment, the human star of Disney’s remake of 1959’s The Shaggy Dogwill morph into a pooch. “There are six trained dogs, an animatronic dog that’s unbelievable, and CGI dogs,” Allen says, with authority. “It’ll all be seamless to you, the viewer.”

Birds & Animals Unlimited, which also trained owls for Harry Potter, schooled Shaggy’s dogs, all bearded collies, in everything from typing to fetching bouquets. “You always end up with a hero dog who’s really going to do about ninety percent of the movie, and for us, his name is Coal,” says trainer Mark Forbes.

Coal let Stan Winston Studio, the Oscar-winning animatronics team behind Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park, take a dental cast of his muzzle in order to build an accurate robot. The animatronic Coal had a coat of angora, yak, and human hair, as well as silicone skin, a fiberglass skeleton, and 28 model-airplane motors crammed into his head and body to help simulate the tail wagging, tongue panting, and ear twitching characteristic of man’s high-energy best friend. “We fill in the gaps,” says puppeteer Paul Mejias. “For instance, there’s a scene where the dog’s trying to spell ‘I’m Dad’ with Scrabble pieces. Coal can move stuff around with his paws, but to spell something out, it’s not gonna happen.”

While Coal and his doppelgänger may have a long Hollywood career ahead, at least one shaggy dog is slated for early retirement. “Our video engineer has already claimed one of the dogs, Knight,” Forbes says. “She’s number six, just a running dog, but she’s probably the best pet out of all of them. She could take or leave the movie business.”
—Cristy Lytal, Premiere Magazine

  

Posted by dschnee at February 27, 2006 10:00 AM