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November 16, 2006

Race is on for Visual Effects Oscar

This article was found on (monstersandcritics.com) today... it includes 'Charlotte`s Web' and actually mentions us!?! wait who? TIPPETT! A couple of films I'm really excited to see is Darren Aronofsky`s The Fountain which releases next friday, and Guillermo del Toro's Pan`s Labryinth, both should be very imaginative, beautiful, and fantastic!

This years VFX Oscar could prove tough...there was some great work in Pirates 2 with Davy Jones, and I thought the folks at Weta and Lola did some fantastic work on X-Men 3, and Superman Returns had it's moments...I haven't seen MI3 yet, but I doubt that and Casino Royal will have any real chance...with Eragon, "Our hope is that Weta is going to do for dragons what Jurassic Park [and ILM] did for dinosaurs. " says Tom Rothman (20th Century Fox Chairman)...really Tom? Yeah, so The Fountain will showcase microphotography to simulate galactic clouds and pillars of dark matter in space for the films climax, and ditch the digital VFX route (awesome!), read more about Aronofsky's controversial sci-fi epic in the wired.com spread The Outsider. And the sweet bit of visual eye candy will come from Guillermo del Toro's Pan`s Labryinth... you should just check out the trailer, it pretty much speaks for itself. Aruna and Digital Domain created seamless supporting work on Flags of our Fathers, "The digital Iwo Jima invasion in "Flags of Our Fathers" is so faithful that even veterans have mistaken the shots for documentary footage." says David S. Cohen of Variety.com "It's provocative, but not as effects-dependent as the other contenders, and its violence may be too graphic for some."

'Charlotte`s Web'
"Tippett Studio designed the film`s only other entirely CG character, Templeton the rat. "We tried really hard not to make Templeton too anthropomorphic," Berton says. "We wanted him to look like a trained rat, not a computer character. He doesn`t ever do something you don`t believe is real. Except, of course, talk!"

"With no "Harry Potter" or "Narnia" among this year's holiday pics, the big wild card here may be "Charlotte's Web." The live-action film promises to take the talking-animal picture (a staple on the animation side this year) to a new level."

Following is a look at the eye-popping films headed to theaters later this year.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - Capt. Jack Sparrow`s soul isn`t the only trophy tempting Davy Jones, the villain from 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man`s Chest.' The creepy creation of visual effects supervisor John Knoll and his team at Industrial Light + Magic is considered by many to be a front-runner in what`s shaping up to be a heated race for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences` visual effects' prize.

Still, the path to awards-season gold will be anything but smooth sailing. Not only will 'Pirates' be sparring with numerous other summer spectacles including 'Poseidon,' 'Superman Returns,' 'X-Men: The Last Stand' and 'Mission: Impossible 3' - an impressive group of year-end entries.

'Casino Royale'

Visual effects supervisor Steven Begg might jokingly refer to 'Casino Royale' as 'Bond Begins', a reference to 'Batman Begins,' which relaunched that action-adventure franchise last summer - but the upcoming installment in the James Bond film series does usher in a new era for the suave superspy, with Daniel Craig in the starring role and a story line that details his first mission.

With that in mind, Begg says he decided to take a back-to-basics approach to ensure that the film`s visual effects didn`t overwhelm the stunts, which were designed to be both awe-inspiring yet based in reality. "I think the last few (films) in particular had an air of unreality that contradicted the reality of the stunts," Begg says.

Begg collaborated closely with special effects and miniature effects supervisor Chris Corbould, a Bond veteran, on scenes including the opening sequence, which sees the spy chase villain Mollaka (Sebastien Foucan) across giant cranes high atop a construction site.

"There`s some amazing stuntwork," Begg says. "We had safety wires on them just in case, so the bulk of our work in the sequence was wire and rig removal. There were also a few greenscreen shots, purely for convenience- if they needed an extreme close-up of Daniel Craig or if we had very large drops underneath them."

The end result proved incredibly convincing, at least, according to Begg. "This is the most brutal James Bond ever," he says.

'Charlotte`s Web'

When it comes to talking animals, realism isn`t exactly the first word that leaps to mind - a fact that made visual effects supervisor John Andrew Berton Jr.`s job that much more difficult when he took the reins on 'Charlotte`s Web,' the upcoming live-action adaptation of E.B. White`s beloved 1952 children`s fable about 'some pig' and his best friend, a barn spider.

The film features a unique menagerie, with human characters like Dakota Fanning`s Fern interacting with real and digitally created barnyard critters, and required a whopping 900 effects shots. "There were times where we`d go, `That doesn`t look realistic,` and then we`d realize, `Do you notice the sheep are talking!?" Berton says with a laugh.

But the challenges faced by Berton, animation supervisor Eric Leighton and the animators at Rising Sun Pictures, who created the film`s heroine, Charlotte, involved not only achieving a consistent look among the real and computer-generated animals but ensuring that the end result would appear uniform even though the effects were split up among several key houses.

Rhythm & Hues Studios did more than 300 digital mouth replacements on real animals, while Digital Pictures animated additional animals and Fuel International created baby spiders, among other tasks. "We wanted everything to look like it was part of the same tone," Berton says. "But to make a realistic spider - they don`t have a face, you know? We had to find that balance between realism and performance. We decided to give (Charlotte) more expression but still not go over the top where suddenly she`s a cartoon."

In fact, the team reworked the initial character design to improve Charlotte`s ability to emote. "We restructured her facial muscles to permit more expression," Berton says. "We made her two main eyes bigger and moved her six secondary eyes around to create a bit more structure to her face, which gave her more femininity."

Tippett Studio designed the film`s only other entirely CG character, Templeton the rat. "We tried really hard not to make Templeton too anthropomorphic," Berton says. "We wanted him to look like a trained rat, not a computer character. He doesn`t ever do something you don`t believe is real. Except, of course, talk!


Adapting Christopher Paolini`s best-selling novel about a boy and his dragon, 'Eragon' proved particularly complicated for first-time feature director Stefen Fangmeier, despite his extensive experience with mythical beasts during his previous career as an Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor.

For one thing, the female dragon, Saphira, is blue in the novel - an unlikely color, even for a dragon. "You want to be true to the essence of her character from the book, but you still have to fit her into the scene,"' Industrial Light + Magic visual effects supervisor Samir Hoon says. "'In nature, you don`t see creatures that size that are vibrant blue. We had to come up with sophisticated rendering techniques of iridescence and scale patterns so she could be blue and still look like she belonged in the shots."

Secondly, Saphira communicates telepathically, but since the actress vocalizing the part hadn`t yet been cast, the animators couldn`t impart the unknown performer`s mannerisms to the CG character. "t would`ve been better if we`d had a track, but we didn`t," Hoon says. "We paid a lot of attention to her eyes to make them alive because they had to express a lot."

Finally, Saphira had to be animated from a hatchling to maturity, all the while interacting closely with Eragon (Edward Speleers); in two major aerial sequences, Saphira soars heavenward with Eragon on her back. The filmmaker shot those scenes against a bluescreen with Speleers on a saddle straddling a mockup of Saphira`s torso and neck that sat atop a motion rig, which was driven by the movement of the animated character and later replaced with the digital dragon.

"We wanted to get as much realistic motion from the live action as possible," Hoon says. "For some shots, we used the Cyclops motion-control camera, so both the rig and the camera were locked to the animation and we could almost see the final shot in real time on-set. But there were other times where we`ve added more secondary motion or more sweeping camera moves. It was all about making Saphira`s flight look sleek and fast."

'The Fountain'

Writer-director Darren Aronofsky`s metaphysical tale of love and death, 'The Fountain,' might span thousands of years, but the filmmaker was determined to keep the film`s most outre component rooted in the modern world - at least as far as the visual effects were concerned.

In one of 'Fountain`s' three interweaving narratives, the lead character (portrayed by Hugh Jackman) travels the galaxy in a clear, sphere-shaped spaceship that contains the mythical Tree of Life, but Aronofsky insisted that his psychedelic vision of the universe not be created using CG imagery - which he thought would look dated - but rather with optical effects that would give the film a timeless quality.

"It would`ve been so easy to say, `Oh cool, we`re going to make outer space on the computer the way they did in 'Superman Returns,'" but Darren really wanted everything to be organic,' visual effects designer Dan Schrecker says. So, he and his Amoeba Proteus colleague, visual effects designer and second unit director Jeremy Dawson - both Aronofsky`s college friends and his go-to effects gurus on 1998`s 'Pi' and 2000`s 'Requiem for a Dream' found a creative solution.

"We worked with Peter Parks (responsible for the film`s optical effects), who does science macrophotography of reactions in petri dishes, and that`s how we ended up creating all the outer-space footage," Dawson says. "There`s something beautiful about the idea of shooting outer space that way - the chemical reactions in that petri dish must be the same ones going on inside nebulas."

Afterward, Toronto-based Intelligent Creatures surrounded the shots of the spaceship set, which had been filmed in front of a 180-degree greenscreen , with a CGI bubble and then composited it onto the outer-space background. When Dawson and Schrecker finally saw the result of their labors, they were shocked by the film they`d helped to create. "This one is very heartfelt," Schrecker says.

'Night at the Museum'

It would be difficult to think of a visual effects obstacle that Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel didn`t surmount during the years he spent toiling on the films in Peter Jackson`s epic 2001-03 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy. But Rygiel, also second unit director on the film, managed to find one in 'Night at the Museum' - namely, creating complex effects that would play well in a comedy.

The film stars funnyman Ben Stiller as a night watchman who has to decide what to do when various exhibits spring to life, which meant that Rygiel had to animate not only a tyrannosaurus rex and a hoard of African animals but a virtual army of miniature cowboys led by Owen Wilson. With more than 400 visual effects shots required, several houses were recruited to finish the work: Image Engine Design, the Orphanage, Rainmaker and Rhythm & Hues.

Rygiel says he was determined to keep the action as photorealistic as possible, which required tremendous attention to detail. "We wanted the lion to act like a real lion, not a caricature, but hit its marks," Rygiel says. "You can easily build a (digital) dog and stick it out there, but it doesn`t look real until you start working on the mucous membrane in the eye. Very subtle things bring characters to life hundredfold, and it was caring for all that that made these characters look real."

Another challenge facing Rygiel and his team was how to create realistic miniature environments for Wilson and his fellow toy cowboys and Roman soldiers. "We started with miniature sets, but when we got down into the microworld, there are depth-of-field problems," he says. "You need endless depth of field for our guys to appear 3 inches tall, so we decided to do the whole world in virtual. The environments were generally all 2-D matte-painting set extensions derived from the real dioramas. Then, we had our live-action guys in the foreground - Owen Wilson and his compadres and the Romans. But the other 5,000 miniature soldiers behind them were all computer-generated using Massive (Software)."

In a strange way, however, 'Night' was like going home for Rygiel. "It had that same cornucopia of effects as (`Lord of the Rings`) all folded into a comedy," he says.

'Pan`s Labryinth'

Director Guillermo del Toro and visual effects supervisor Everett Burrell first teamed up on 2004`s 'Hellboy,' a comic-book-themed piece of action and eye candy with a budget in the neighborhood of $66 million. But when it came time for the pair to collaborate on 'Pan`s Labyrinth,' del Toro`s gothic fairy tale, which had a budget much closer to $5 million, they had far fewer financial resources to draw from - even though the production is, in some ways, almost equally ambitious considering its smaller scope.

Set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War in the 1940s, the story follows Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a young girl who is taken to an abandoned mill to live with her mother`s new husband. After she enters a garden maze, Ofelia finds herself transported into a new world inhabited by fantastic creatures and watched over by a faun named Pan (Doug Jones).

"We had to really be conscious because we only had so many shots we could go all out on," Burrell says. 'So, we could shoot what we wanted, but once we get into editing, we can`t have it all. We were budgeted for 200 shots, but afterward, we were at 400-plus shots, so it was a give and take."

In order to make the shots more effective, Burrell says he and his team at CafeFX embraced the idea of dark, grainy imagery. Specifically, he used shadows to his advantage - both to underscore the dark underpinnings of the fairy tale and to enhance the atmosphere onscreen.

"The lighting was very moody, and the creatures would go in and out of the lighting, and that created a nice template for us since our creatures weren`t lit in the bright light," he says. "It helped us integrate our creatures into the environment - like Pan, who would appear in the room coming from a shadow and exit into a shadow. So, it was an interesting entrance and exit device."

© 2006 VNU eMedia. All Rights Reserved

In-you-face f/x

War, pirates, flying and fantasy take CG center stage

The race for the visual effects Oscar is still a big guessing game, since some holiday releases remain unseen, including Paramount's "Charlotte's Web" and Fox's "Eragon." But so far, the race is ecclectic, including a war zone, fantasies and a 13-year-old's fantasy deathmatch: pirates vs. superheroes.

Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" took motion-capture and digital characters to a new level. Its villains, including Bill Nighy as Davy Jones, were captured on set, in a new process that Industrial Light & Magic considers a trade secret. Allowing thesps to work in a more natural environment, vs. a greenscreen, can improve the quality of mo-cap performances -- things Academy voters notice. Nighy's eyes were digitally replaced while retaining his emotion and expression.

Fox's "X-Men: The Last Stand," though, offered perhaps the most talked-about visual effect of the year: the opening flashback sequence in which Patrick Stewart and Ian Mc-Kellen appear some 20 years younger. The rejuvenation was accomplished by Lola Visual Effects without the aid of makeup. It represents a significant breakthrough, and the kind that gets the attention of the Acad's effects branch.

In the '70s, Christopher Reeve's Superman flew with a lot of rigging, and his "Metropolis" was New York. In "Superman Returns," the city is mostly CGI and the flying Superman is often a digital double, albeit a very lifelike one rendered by Sony Imageworks. Film's shuttle disaster sequence is a highlight, and the Orphanage's shot featuring a bullet bouncing off Superman's eyeball, in closeup, is a contender for effects shot of the year.

On the other end of the spectrum are two films that re-create some of the more violent events in recent history. The digital Iwo Jima invasion in "Flags of Our Fathers" is so faithful that even veterans have mistaken the shots for documentary footage. Digital Domain rendered not just the island but many of the landing boats and digital extras. The extras and boats were given artificial intelligence so they would automatically stay on their assigned paths and avoid bumping into each other. Many explosions, with plumes of water, fire and sand, were digitally enhanced. Also, Par's "World Trade Center" features an unnervingly accurate re-creation of the 9/11 attacks.

In contention too is Warner's "Poseidon," which boasts some intricate CG work. Pic's opening, with cameras circling and zooming in on the ship, is billed as the most complex digital shot in ILM's accomplished history.

From an effects standpoint, "Pan's Labyrinth" is like "The Chronicles of Narnia" crossed with "Flags of Our Fathers." It's provocative, but not as effects-dependent as the other contenders, and its violence may be too graphic for some.

With no "Harry Potter" or "Narnia" among this year's holiday pics, the big wild card here may be "Charlotte's Web." The live-action film promises to take the talking-animal picture (a staple on the animation side this year) to a new level.

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© 2006 Reed Business Information


Posted by dschnee at November 16, 2006 11:27 AM