About Graham Edwards

I'm senior staff writer at Cinefex magazine. I also write novels. In a former life, I produced animated films for theme park rides and science centres. If you offer me a cold beer, I won't say no.

My Favourite Ridleygrams

Ridley Scott VES AwardI was delighted to read the recent news that Sir Ridley Scott is to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Visual Effects Society in February, in a presentation that the VES says “will honour Scott for his vision and dedication to storytelling that blends iconic visual effects and unforgettable narrative on an epic scale”.

It’s well-deserved. Over the years, Ridley has shown us some really cool stuff. As Mike Chambers, VES Board Chair, says:

“Ridley Scott is a defining voice of the feature, broadcast and commercial forms, and a true master of his craft. His vision and contribution to the art is incomparable and his impact upon the visual effects and technical fields is unparalleled. Ridley’s iconic films have entertained and inspired millions, and his oeuvre of groundbreaking work has been immensely influential.”

Well, he’s certainly influenced me. So much so that I can’t resist recording a few of the influential Ridleygram moments that hit me hard when I first saw them at the cinema, and which have been burned into my brain ever since.

Before I do that, however, let me explain what I mean by “Ridleygram”.

Trained at London’s Royal College of Art, and with a background in advertising, Ridley Scott has a keen visual eye which he’s always expressed by using quickfire sketches to explore shot design. Check out any behind-the-scenes article on one of his films and, sooner or later, you’ll trip over a pile of these trademark “Ridleygrams”.

I don’t know if actual Ridleygrams exist for the shots I’ve picked below – nor am I suggesting the sketches I’ve done to illustrate them are a patch on what Scott may or may not have drawn. But I do know that every one of my selections is informed by the master’s unique eye for composition.

Nostromo Corridor - Alien

Nostromo Corridor – “Alien”

If the 1979 sci-fi/horror classic Alien isn’t on your list of favourite movies, there’s something wrong with you. In a film so densely packed with memorable Ridley compositions, it’s hard to pick just one. So I’m choosing several – namely, all the corridor shots where Scott’s camera prowls restlessly through the empty interior spaces of the commercial towing vessel Nostromo.

These eerie establishing shots perfectly set the tone for the rest of the movie. They also showcase the groundbreaking production design of Michael Seymour, and hyperdetailed art direction of Roger Christian and Les Dilley, which at a stroke defined the “grungy future” aesthetic that changed the look of science fiction films forever.

Spinner Approaches Police HQ - Blade Runner

Spinner Approaches Police HQ – “Blade Runner”

Ridley Scott followed Alien with Blade Runner. A commercial flop on its release, the 1982 film went on to become first a cult favourite, then a bona fide classic. With its rich visuals of a future metropolis, it’s positively brimming with shots that fit my Ridleygram criteria.

The one I’ve picked is the aerial shot looking down on the police precinct tower. The camera swoops in, turning as it approaches, at which point one of the flying cars known as “spinners” spirals down to land on the roof. It’s a breathtaking ballet, made all the more impressive when you realise that Doug Trumbull and David Dryer’s visual effects team had to choreograph all those curving trajectories using only straight pieces of motion control track.

Barbarian Horde - Gladiator

Barbarian Horde – “Gladiator”

Scott abandoned the far future in favour of times past for his Roman-era epic Gladiator. Notable for its use of digital environments at a time when the technology required to create them was still in its infancy, the movie is by turns impassioned and spectacular, with a towering central performance by Russell Crowe as the avenging General Maximus.

You might think my Ridleygram choice here would be the hand-held shot which circles Maximus and his gladiator buddies as they enter the Colosseum. But you’d be wrong. That’s a show-stopping shot, to be sure, but the one that always sends a tingle down my spine comes much earlier in the film.

I’m talking about the big panoramic shot in which all those burning arrows and fireballs fly out across the forest clearing. Underpinned by the thunder of one my favourite Hans Zimmer scores, it’s the moment where Ridley says to us, “Forget everything you thought you knew about the Romans. This is what their war machine looked like at work. Shock and awe, baby. Shock and awe.”

Helicopter Crash - Black Hawk Down

Helicopter Crash – “Black Hawk Down”

In 2001, a year after making Gladiator, Scott dramatised the true story of a disastrous US military action in Somalia. The film’s pivotal helicopter crash was achieved using an extraordinary combination of techniques – a practical shoot of a full-scale chopper slung on cables and thrown around by Neil Corbould’s special effects crew, and a fully CG helicopter that was created by Mill Film, the animation of which used to drive a sixth-scale miniature whose motion-controlled blades kicked up practical dirt that was then comped back into the digital shot.

It’s a fantastic example of the kind of “seamless” visual effects we now take completely for granted. But more than that, it’s another amazing composition, filled with drama and a thousand tiny touches which place you, the viewer, right in the thick of the action.

LV-223 Approach - Prometheus

LV-223 Approach – “Prometheus”

Plot holes aside, Ridley Scott’s 2012 return to the Alien universe – Prometheus – is replete with visual wonders, nowhere more so than in the planetary approach sequence, gorgeously realised by the visual effects team at MPC.

Every shot of the interstellar survey vessel is a beauty, but the one that really shouts “Ridleygram” to me comes early in the sequence. It’s a wide shot where the camera is hanging just above the lightning-filled clouds of LV-223, with the moon’s gigantic parent planet filling two-thirds of the frame behind it. The spaceship is just visible, streaking from left to right as it descends into the atmosphere.

It’s a quick cut, and not nearly as much of a crowd-pleaser as the spectacular shot of the Prometheus actually touching down. But what it does do, in one simple stroke, is say, “Space is big. Humanity is small. Both are beautiful. Be awed.”

Watney in the Landscape - The Martian

Watney in the Landscape – “The Martian”

Only time will tell how high The Martian ends up ranking on viewer’s lists of favourite Ridley Scott films. I can tell you that, even though I’ve only seen it once, it’s already pretty high on mine.

I haven’t had a chance to study this entertaining yarn about a stranded astronaut as much as I have Scott’s other films, so I’m cautious about nominating my favourite moment. However, for the same reason I’ve picked out the LV-223 approach shot from Prometheus, I’m going to settle for now on any one of the many shots showing the film’s resourceful hero, Mark Watney, gazing out across the expansive Martian terrain.

Why those shots? The reason is simple: it’s because the composition is simple. So simple that each shot tells the precisely the story it needs to tell at a single glance. That simplicity is common to all the shots I’ve picked – even that apparently complex one from Blade Runner. A true Ridleygram is a perfect snapshot. It captures a moment, a thought, an idea, an emotion, and paints it on to the screen with minimum fuss and maximum effect.

Those are my favourite Ridleygrams. Which are yours?

Inspiring Animal Logic

What drives people to work in the visual effects industry? The glamour? The technology? All those ravening monsters and exploding spaceships? Or is it just another job? In an ongoing series of articles, we ask a wide range of VFX professionals the simple question: “Who or what inspired you to get into visual effects?”

Here are the responses from the staff at Animal Logic.

Getting Animated About Visual Effects

Visual effects and animation go hand in hand, so it’s not surprising to find animated films ranking high on the Animal Logic inspiration leaderboard.

“It was the animated shorts produced at the National Film Board of Canada that inspired me the most,” asserted head of animation Rob Coleman. “I loved the variety of techniques and artistry: Norman McLaren’s techniques of scratching on black leader and painting directly on to film; Co Hoedeman’s combination of sand animation and stop-motion puppets; Caroline Leaf’s paint-on-glass animation; and the hand-drawn films of Paul Driessen, Zlatko Grgić and Kaj Pindal.”

Watch Co Hoedeman’s 1977 Academy Award-winning animated short The Sand Castle:

The Sand Castle by Co Hoedeman, National Film Board of Canada

Coleman added, “Films which combined live-action and animation – Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and later, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? – had a huge effect on me, and directly inspired me to be an animator working in visual effects. For me, there is something truly magical about seeing a real person interacting with an animated character.”

For this scene in which Roger Rabbit emerges from the sink of Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), physical effects supervisor George Gibbs rigged a spout to pop up and spray a stream of water. Richard Williams's animation team worked over photographic prints - one for each frame of film - after which the optical department at ILM added tone and shadow mattes, and composited the multitude of elements.

For this scene in which Roger Rabbit emerges from the sink of Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), physical effects supervisor George Gibbs rigged a spout to pop up and spray a stream of water. Richard Williams’s animation team worked over photographic prints – one for each frame of film – after which the optical department at ILM added tone and shadow mattes, and composited the multitude of elements.

Khai Tuck Wong, digital artist (lighting), was inspired by a whole bunch of animated shows from screens both big and small:

“I grew up with all the 80s cartoon series. My all-time favourites were ThunderCats, SilverHawks, The Transformers and The Smurfs. Other favourites included the Disney 2D animated classics. Films of Hayao MiyazakiAt university, I was introduced to Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, and was blown away. Every single frame of the movie is a work of art. That led me to Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. They inspired me to major in film and animation.”

To get his creative juices flowing, Steve Agland, lead look development TD (lighting), looks to an oft-overlooked branch of animation. “One of my inspirations has been the (now rarely-seen) animation tradition of taking a great piece of music and animating a story to it,” Agland remarked. “Classic examples are, of course, Disney’s Fantasia, Bozzetto’s Allegro Non Troppo, and the Warner Bros shorts like Rabbit of Seville and What’s Opera, Doc?

Warming to his subject, Agland went on, “These works let the music drive and inspire the story, and like many creative constraints, this always takes the animation in interesting directions. It also adds a new dimension to the music itself, and a new way to enjoy it. I suppose music videos are the main outlet for this sort of work now. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that’s an area still very rich in both artistic and technical creativity.”

Let Me Tell You a Story

Most motion pictures start with a story. So do many of the people who work in visual effects.

“I’ve always been interested in stories,” agreed Ingrid Johnston, head of production at Animal Logic. “Through my studies, I also developed a passion for art – particularly photography and design. Completing a media degree with a focus on emerging technologies, and working on multiple independent theatre productions and shows at the same time, I realised producing was for me. VFX and animation was a natural progression combining all the things I love. Now I get to work with an amazingly talented group of people producing beautiful images and telling great stories. Where else would I want to be?!”

Equally inspired by storytime, Jarrod Anderson, digital artist (animation), recalled some of his earliest childhood memories.

“When I was young, we had a papier mâché dragon that hung from our bedroom ceiling,” Anderson remembered. “At night, our parents would tell us these incredible stories using just the dragon – flying it around the room and telling us about the lands and the people it visited. It all felt so real, and I was just fixated on this one model, this one storytelling tool.”

Draco, Industrial Light & Magic's digital star of "Dragonheart", reacts strongly to the suggestion that dragons are made of papier mâché.

Draco, Industrial Light & Magic’s digital star of “Dragonheart”, reacts strongly to the suggestion that dragons are made of papier mâché.

Anderson identifies a clear connection between those bedtime stories and the work he does today: “Having the tools to bring that sort of imagery and imagination to life is exactly why I dived into VFX. Seeing audiences laugh, cry and cheer for characters and creatures that don’t exist in real life is a fantastic feeling, and I love seeing what can be done with our ‘papier mâché’ today.”

When Art Meets Science

The balance of art and science in visual effects is something we’ve explored on this blog before. Will Reichelt, VFX supervisor, has been aware of the relationship between the two since his earliest years.

“With a scientist for a father and a teacher for a mother, I was soaked in technology, computers, games and graphics from a young age,” Reichelt noted. “When I discovered 3D animation at university, a light bulb went off with the realisation that what excited me most was the intertwining of art and technology.”

Aidan Sarsfield, head of production technology, managed to merge his apparently disparate interests into a single career path.

“Emerging from school with a seemingly unique interest in maths and art, I ended up in the only degree that seemed to fit: industrial design,” Sarsfield commented. “It was here that I discovered the fantastic work of Syd Mead, an industrial designer who had made a move into film with Blade Runner. His groundbreaking and visionary designs not only defined the futuristic worlds presented to us in movie theatres, they came alive unlike anything I’d seen before. I was convinced that film was a place where the imagination could truly be realised. The work of other designers like Ron Cobb and Chris Foss seemed to add weight to this idea.”

The urban environments of sci-fi classic "Blade Runner" were conceived by futurist and industrial designer Syd Mead.

The urban environments of sci-fi classic “Blade Runner” were conceived by futurist and industrial designer Syd Mead.

Byte-Sized Baby Steps

One of the areas where art and science seem naturally to merge is technology. Indeed, many of today’s visual effects professionals gained speed by riding the wave of the digital revolution.

“When I was ten, I watched a TV documentary about how computers were going to affect us in the future,” recalled executive producer Luke Hetherington. “It showed Silicon Graphics computers displaying a 3D wireframe model of a procedurally-generated tree. The camera was tumbling around the tree, and they were describing how they were free to make it into whatever they wanted. It struck a chord with me: the idea of a blank digital canvas where you could make anything you could think up, and it didn’t run out like our pens and pencils always did!”

Many a VFX artist's career was inspired by the venerable Commodore 16 home computer. Photograph by Rept0n1x via Wikimedia Commons.

Inspired by the possibilities, Hetherington got stuck in. “I started learning how to programme animated binary sprites in BASIC on my Commodore 16, and knew that one day I’d get my hands on one of those Silicon Graphics setups. It was ten years before I got on to one and started to make animations and CG shorts. This was in the mid-1990s, so a lot of what was happening was being seen for the first time. Then Toy Story came along, and suddenly the whole world understood what we were all so excited about!”

Aidan Sarsfield also shared some fond memories from the early days of computing: “Luckily for me, computers, CAD and early CGI started to become accessible while I studied, and I jumped at the opportunity to begin digitally modelling and rendering some of my work rather than building it in the workshop. Suddenly I could present convincing, moving images of designs which had no basis in reality … and that’s where the journey began!”

Most enthusiastic of all was Matthew Estela, digital artist (lighting), whose trip down Micro-Memory Lane prompted total recall of a formative – and psychedelic – creative experience.

“I could claim my inspiration was Chuck Jones,” Estela mused. “Or I could claim it was Tron, which also hooked me. But really it was a single paragraph in an Amiga magazine.

“The Amiga was a brilliant home computer from the mid 1980s. One of its tricks was swapping colours rapidly – you could have an image of a rainbow on screen, and red would change to orange, orange to yellow, yellow to green, and so on. Do that at 30 frames per second and you’d get a pulsing, trippy rainbow. Big deal. It also had a great simple paint program – Deluxe Paint – which is still talked about in wistful terms today.

Get nostalgic with this online edition of the September 1991 edition of Amiga Format:

“This article I read had lots of tips and tricks for Deluxe Paint. Most were rubbish, but one caught my eye: make a new painting and set the palette to 32 colours, making 31 of those colours black and one white. Then set up a paintbrush like a roller so that, as you drew, it would lay down 31 black pixels and one white. When you hit “Tab” the colours would cycle, and the white dots scattered around the screen would dance along the lines you’d drawn. I was instantly hooked. The realisation that computers could make moving pictures blew my pre-teen mind. More than that – I myself could make moving pictures. I’d spend hours making pixels wriggle about, cross back over themselves, until the entire screen was filled with writhing, wiggling dots.

“It’s not by accident that one of the first things I learned to do in Houdini, over 25 years later, was make dots follow lines and wriggle about. Thanks Amiga! Thanks Deluxe Paint!”

Watch a video demonstrating the sort of images Matthew Estela used to burn his retinas with:

All in the Chemistry

Before the digital wave broke, filmmakers and photographers lived in a roll-your-sleeves-up world of chemicals and splicing tape. For some of the staff at Animal Logic, the old-school bell still rings loud and true.

“I have loved movies as far back as I can remember,” reflected Rob Coleman. “I vividly recall being very young and watching my dad thread a reel of 16mm film into a home movie projector. I could see the individual frames on the film, and remember the wonder of watching them come to life as they were projected on the screen at 24 frames per second. I wanted to make pictures move.”

Will Reichelt is another sucker for tradition. “When younger, I developed a deep love of traditional photography,” he commented. “Particular heroes were reportage photographers like Tim Hetherington, the incredible portraiture of Annie Liebowitz, and unique talents such as Gregory Crewdson who can tell a complex story with a single image. This art form is still extremely inspiring to me – I’m obsessed with learning more about how I can get better at it and integrate what I’ve learned into my work in visual effects.”

Watch a trailer for Which Way is the Front Line from Here? – Sebastian Junger’s 2013 documentary about the life of photojournalist Tim Hetherington:

Formative Years

For some of the staff at Animal Logic, early-years learning started really early.

“When I was just a wee primary school kid, I made home movies with my brothers,” recalled Matt Roe, digital artist (roto). “They eventually got sick of it, but I didn’t. Then one of my high school teachers gave me a copy of Adobe AfterEffects. After watching lots of behind the scenes segments on DVD, and watching YouTubers like Freddie Wong, Corridor Digital and Rooster Teeth, I thought I’d try turning a hobby into a career.”

As a small child, Dudley Birch, digital artist (matte painting), was a big fan of Disney animated features … but not in the way you might think. “Rather than watching the princesses (yawn) or the princes (goodie-goodies), it was the environments that I enjoyed,” Birch confessed. “Castles, jungles, beautiful skies, echoing chasms … that was all I really noticed. Twenty-five years later, I discovered that all that stuff had a name – matte painting – and that was that. All my interests were rolled into the perfect career. Painting degree specialising in landscape? Check. Love of technology? Check. The wonder of illusions, making a 2D image look real? Check!”

View-Master photograph by ThePassenger via Wikimedia Commons.It was one Disney film in particular that appealed to Kirsty Millar, VFX supervisor, even if she did experience it on one of the smallest screens imaginable. “I think the first thing that sparked something for me was looking at 101 Dalmatians on a View-Master as a child in the 1970s,” Millar remarked.

If only to prove the eclectic way in which a visual effects professional’s mind gathers its inspiration, Millar added, “The opening title sequence from Red Dwarf was another ‘Aha!’ moment for me – something about the way it starts framed close on this guy painting, and then the camera pulls out wide to reveal a massive spaceship.”

From a very young age, Daniel Scott, R&D support engineer, always dreamed of … well, throwing himself off buildings.

“Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to work in film, though I didn’t know at first what exactly my role would be,” Scott explained. “I thought being an actor sounded cool, but I never saw myself in front of a camera. When I heard about a breed of people who throw themselves down stairs, set themselves on fire and jump out of buildings, I though, ‘Yeah, stunts are where the real action is!” The danger didn’t put me off, although it did require a physique I later lost as an adult! Then, in the late 1990s, I heard a new phrase being thrown about and thought, ‘What about digi-doubles as a career?’”

A Culture of Creativity

Whatever spark it is that ignites the flame, many of the staff at Animal Logic agree that being surrounded by talented people is what really fans the creative fires.

“I still love that flash of inspiration, and developing the germ of an idea into something somebody else can enjoy,” enthused Matthew Everitt, animation director. “And I get to do it in an amazingly collaborative environment, with a crew of like-minded people, which makes the whole thing so much better.”

Will Reichelt reflected on the importance of teamwork throughout the entire filmmaking process. “I’m fascinated by the alchemy of how all the different parts of a movie – photography, set design, make-up, costuming, music and visual effects – can combine to become a living, breathing story with a mood and atmosphere that goes beyond the original components. It’s the greatest thrill to be able to collaborate with world-class filmmakers and work on a small part of a piece of art that requires so much hard work from all manner of artisans and technicians across so many disciplines.”

Looking back at her early years, Kirsty Millar observed, “As a junior compositor working in London, I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by talented and inspiring people. John Hollis showed me how he could start with a completely blank canvas and create brilliant visuals. There were also incredible technical breakthroughs in the creative tools available to digital artists around that time – it was amazing to witness the dawn of digital filmmaking.”

Khai Tuck Wong recalled an inspirational tutor: “At the age of thirteen I had a great fine art teacher, Mr Ang, who taught me every Saturday for three years. He was a real personal inspiration and mentor who helped me take my painting to another level.”

For Madeleine Purdy, production assistant, the benefits of collaboration extend across the whole planet. “The internet is my main inspiration,” Purdy commented. “For me, it illustrates the fact that the enormity of the human cultural world depends upon innumerable tiny (and individually inconsequential) human actions, moments and words. Working in visual effects feels like making a million micro-steps every day, until you look back on what those million tiny moments have become. Learning the minutiae of the process of moviemaking is how I plan to understand the unfathomably huge world of stories around me.”

Cows and Naked Politicians

When asked what inspired him to become an animator, Matthew Everitt, animation director, replied: “Cows!”

A little prompting encouraged Everitt to elaborate:

“Actually, it was a cartoon showing four cows in a field, stood upright on their hind legs, hands on hips, like humans. One cow yells, ‘Car!’ upon which the cows all revert to standard quadruped, cow-like behaviour as the car passes. With the car gone, the cows all stand upright on two legs again.

"The Far Side" by Gary Larson“This cartoon, and others from The Far Side by Gary Larson, inspired the teenage me to start drawing my own, single panel cartoons. I bombarded publishers with my jokes and waited … and waited … Eventually a publisher sent back a ‘thank you’ note and actual, proper money! Nearly £100 for a joke that I’d made materialise out of my brain! This was a light-bulb moment for me – it made me realise that my creativity was worthless unless I shared it.

“I carried on drawing cartoons and selling them, then I began making flip-books and little films. I went on to study traditional animation with a marvellous teacher named Peter Parr, and from there I’ve spent the last 20 years animating for computer games, commercials, music videos and movies.”

For Daniel Scott, R&D support engineer, inspiration came not from boisterous bovines, but a naked politician.

“In the late 1990s, our local paper published an article about ‘retouching photos’ – this was before ‘to Photoshop’ had been coined as a verb,” Scott explained. “It showed an image of a local politician at a rally which had been retouched to remove his business suit … leaving him in his birthday suit! The article highlighted the lack of trust in photos given as evidence in a court of law. It inspired me to get into Adobe Photoshop and graphic design, which eventually led me to the VFX industry.”

The Final Word

Everyone has their heroes. Donald Walker, digital artist, has five:

“I was inspired by Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, Roger Rabbit and Marty McFly. Oh, and Hudson from Aliens.”


Watch Animal Logic’s 1991-2014 showreel:

Established in 1991, Animal Logic has offices in Sydney, Los Angeles and Vancouver, with divisions specialising in VFX, animation and feature film development. Its motion picture work includes visual effects and animation for Babe, The Matrix, 300, Happy Feet and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Following its success with The Lego® Movie, Animal Logic’s animation division is currently in production on Lego Batman and Lego Ninjago. Thanks to all the staff from Animal Logic who contributed to this article.

Special thanks to Mark Millar. Who Framed Roger Rabbit photograph copyright © 1988 by Touchstone Pictures and Amblin Entertainment. Blade Runner photographs copyright © 1982 by The Ladd Company. Commodore 16 photograph by Rept0n1x via Wikimedia Commons. View-Master photograph by ThePassenger via Wikimedia Commons.

Cinefex Goes Bimonthly

Cinefex starts bimonthly publication in 2016

“Please, sir, I want some more.”

Everyone knows those words. They’re spoken by the young hero of the famous Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist.

Like most people, you’re probably under the illusion that in the story, little orphan Ollie is asking for more gruel from the workhouse cook. You couldn’t be more wrong. What young Oliver really wants is more in-depth articles from his favourite motion picture visual effects magazine – Cinefex.

Always happy to grant the wish of a hungry fan, we’ve made a monumental decision. We’re going bimonthly!

Yes, you heard me right. After 35 years as a quarterly publication, Cinefex is about to increase its output by a massive 50%, publishing six magazines a year instead of four!

“What’s the catch?” I hear you cry.

The answer’s simple – there isn’t one. Each issue of Cinefex will deliver the same accurate, objective reporting and unmatched photographic support you’ve been relying on since 1980. The size and format of each issue will remain the same. The quality of the print will remain the same. It’s the same Cinefex you know and love, just more of it. No compromise.

Our first bimonthly issue, Cinefex 145, will be out in February 2016. As if that’s not exciting enough, our upcoming December 2015 issue, Cinefex 144, is now available to preorder. In it you’ll find a whole new batch of articles covering In the Heart of the Sea, The Martian, Everest and Crimson Peak.

Confused? Don’t panic. Our lovely online team have prepared a special FAQ page to answer all your questions about the change to bimonthly publication.

Oh, and you’d do well to remember what Oliver Twist said when he heard the news about the new Cinefex bimonthly editions:

“We’re going to need a bigger bookshelf!”

Crowd Pleasers

The distant crowds watching the chariot race in "Ben-Hur" (1959) were part of an atmospheric matte painting created by Matthew Yuricich.

The distant crowds watching the chariot race in “Ben-Hur” (1959) were part of an atmospheric matte painting created by Matthew Yuricich.

Movies are getting bigger. It’s a trend that a lot of people complain about. “Too much spectacle!” they grumble. “Too many battle scenes!” they protest. Once the nay-sayers have started, it probably won’t be long before they trot out that tiresome 21st century pejorative: “Too much CG!”

Well, I’ve got news for you. Hollywood’s obsession with size is nothing new. Ever since the dawn of cinema, filmmakers have been falling over themselves to put as much clutter on the screen as is humanly possible.

When it comes to actual human beings, it turns out that’s quite a lot.

"The Birth of a Nation" poster from the Moore Theatre. Photo and retouching by Joe Mabel. [Public domain, GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia CommonsAs long ago as 1915, publicity teams went into overdrive to promote D.W. Griffith’s epic The Birth of a Nation, proudly boasting that the American Civil War drama featured 18,000 extras and a whopping 3,000 horses. Thus began the crowd scene arms race, as successive productions vied to populate their pictures with ever-increasing volumes of performers.

Just check out these numbers:

  • Metropolis, 1927 – 36,000 extras
  • Ben-Hur, 1959 – 50,000 extras
  • War and Peace, 1966 – 120,000 extras
  • Ghandi, 1982 – 300,000 extras

Phew! Getting crowded round here, isn’t it?

Assembling a crowd is one thing. Choreographing it is quite another. It’s hard to imagine getting a group of 300,000 people just to stand in the right place, let alone direct their movements. Then there’s putting them all in period costume, laying on enough craft service tables to feed them all lunch, and the not inconsiderable task of communicating to them all simultaneously that the cameras have actually started rolling and it would therefore be helpful if everyone could stop picking their noses and face in the right direction.

Luckily, filmmakers desperate for a more manageable crowd have always been able to turn to a more reliable source of obedient extras: visual effects.

In the early days, crowd scenes were commonly expanded using matte paintings. And why not? If you’re paying artists to paint the top half of an enormous set you can’t afford to build, why not get them to paint in all those extras you can’t afford to hire?

Painted crowds work well enough, just as long as the shot is locked off and you don’t mind the fact that everyone appears to have been frozen in the act of playing musical statues. Surprisingly, if the shot is well-composed, the lack of movement is irrelevant – your eye is drawn to the essential action and you don’t even notice that your bustling crowd is failing to, er, bustle.

A little more sophisticated is the technique of hiring a small number of extras and photographing them in different positions over multiple takes. For example, if you want to create a full house in a large theatre, just get a small group of people to sit in one block of seats at a times, then combine each individual piece shot into a composite image.

But what about those really enormous crowds? Is there an alternative to sending out a six-figure casting call?

Of course there is.

For "Gladiator", VFX artists at The Mill populated their digital Colosseum with 33,000 replica Romans, created by projecting video footage of costumed extras on to thousands of virtual "cards" distributed throughout the arena.

For “Gladiator”, VFX artists at The Mill populated their digital Colosseum with 33,000 replica Romans, created by projecting video footage of costumed extras on to thousands of virtual “cards” distributed throughout the arena.

Actually, modern filmmakers have two commonly-used approaches at their disposal. The first is a 2D solution pioneered by The Mill for the crowd scenes in Ridley Scott’s epic Gladiator. To populate the film’s digital replica Colosseum with hordes of bloodthirsty Roman spectators, CG supervisor Laurent Hugueniot developed the idea of projecting video footage of costumed performers on to 33,000 virtual “cards” dotted around the amphitheatre.

Variations on this technique have been used widely ever since, although when the camera needs to get a little closer to the crowd action the 2D elements are sometimes replaced by fleshed-out 3D characters. It’s particularly well-suited to stadium scenes, and frequently appears in films not necessarily known for their visual effects. Remember those wide shots of grandstand crowds in Ron Howard’s Rush, or Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken? Digital doubles all, created by Double Negative and Hybride respectively.

Watch a video by Rodeo FX breaking down the 2D and 3D arena crowd simulation from Now You See Me:

Two-dimensional crowds are one thing. But what if you need to make an army capable of moving across fully three-dimensional terrain? Marshalling those 120,000 extras for the Battle of Borodino sequence in War and Peace was all very well, but let’s not forget the film’s director Sergey Bondarchuk suffered two heart attacks while making the movie. Surely there’s got to be an easier way?

Here’s where the second modern solution to crowd-wrangling comes in – the 3D simulation. This technique was pioneered by Weta Digital’s Steve Regelous in time for Peter Jackson to put 100,000 fully autonomous Middle Earth warriors on screen for the prologue of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

The widely-used crowd simulation software Massive was first developed at Weta Digital to generate 100,000-strong armies for the prologue of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring".

The widely-used crowd simulation software Massive was first developed at Weta Digital to generate 100,000-strong armies for the prologue of “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”.

The piece of software that acts as commander-in-chief of all those barbarian hordes is called Massive (Multiple Agent Simulation System in Virtual Environment), and is now developed and marketed by Massive Software. Since its inception, the market for digital crowds has expanded to the point where competitor products, like Golaem Crowd, have gained sufficient room to flex their virtual muscles.

The really cool thing about this kind of 3D simulation software is that every member of the crowd has its own brain. Responding to virtual sensory input, and communicating constantly with its neighbours, each participant – or “agent”, to use Massive’s terminology – decides where it needs to go and what it should do when it gets there.

In turn, the agent’s behaviour drives its animation. As long as an orc soldier is walking on level ground, it will lope along using a standard repeating walk cycle. If it encounters a slope, its gait will change so that it looks like it’s labouring uphill. If it bumps into one of those pesky elven warriors, it will draw its sword and enter combat mode.

As machine intelligence becomes ever more sophisticated, so the brains of the agents become more complex too. Not that they were dumb to begin with. According to Weta lore, early on in the choreography of Fellowship’s prologue battle, one squad of orcs decided that the elves they’d been called upon to face was more intimidating than they’d bargained for. Instead of engaging the enemy as the animators had planned, they turned tail and ran for the hills.

Only six shots from the podrace sequence from "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" used digital simulation to create the crowd of 350,000 alien spectators. The rest of the shots were composites of video footage of extras photographed by VFX supervisor John Knoll on a stage at ILM.

Only six ILM shots from the podrace sequence from “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” used digital simulation to create the crowd of 350,000 alien spectators. The rest of the shots were composites of video footage of extras photographed by VFX supervisor John Knoll on a stage at Industrial Light & Magic.

Everyone loves the roar of the crowd. As American baseball icon Ty Cobb once said, “The crowd makes the ballgame.” But can Hollywood crowds really keep growing forever?

How long will it be before we start seeing battles involving not hundreds of thousands of combatants, but hundreds of millions? Would such a crowd scene even make sense to the human eye?

Should filmmakers continue in their historic quest for spectacle, or should they stop, ahem, following the crowd?

Is bigger always better?

“Gladiator” photograph copyright © 2000 by DreamWorks SKG. “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” photograph copyright © 1999 by Lucasfilm, Ltd. “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” photograph copyright © 2001 by New Line Cinema. “Ben-Hur” image via Matte Shot – a Tribute to Golden Era Special FX.

David Vickery Joins ILM London

David Vickery, ILM

David Vickery, ILM

Industrial Light & Magic – currently celebrating its 40th anniversary – today announced that BAFTA-winning visual effects supervisor David Vickery has joined its expanding London studio. Vickery recently served as production VFX supervisor on Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

In addition to supervising effects work, Vickery will also provide creative oversight on the studio’s other projects, while creative director Ben Morris takes on Star Wars Episode VIII as production visual effects supervisor.

Commenting on the appointment, Morris said:

“We have a number of exciting projects in the works and David is a creative problem solver with a great eye, both of which I know will benefit our clients and the studio immensely.”

ILM Head of Studio, Sam Mercer added:

“David has a stellar reputation amongst filmmakers and the visual effects community at large and I know he is going to be a strong addition to our global creative team and bring a unique perspective to his new role in London.”

David Vickery remarked:

“We’ve all grown up being inspired by the fantastic effects created by Industrial Light & Magic, but to be able to work alongside the people that create those visions is such an honour and an exciting prospect for me. Oh, and my first-born son’s middle name is Indiana. I need say no more.”

Vickery, who joins ILM after a 13-year stint at Double Negative, has been interviewed several times by Cinefex, most recently for the Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation article in our current issue. Go behind the scenes on some of his previous feature credits by delving into our back catalogue:

Image courtesy of Mark Osborne Photography / Industrial Light & Magic.

“Goosebumps” – VFX Q&A

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A

In 1992, author R.L. Stine published Goosebumps: Welcome to Dead House, a children’s book in which a houseful of zombies causes chaos in the small American town of Dark Falls. Five years later, the Goosebumps series ran to over sixty books, with individual volumes selling millions of copies every month and regularly appearing on bestseller lists.

Since then, Stine has continued to write new Goosebumps stories at a frankly phenomenal rate. The original series spawned a TV show that first aired during the late 1990s, at which time a feature film adaptation was also in development – with Tim Burton attached as producer – but the project bit the dust.

Now, R.L. Stine’s creation has finally hit the big screen With Rob Letterman directing from a script by Darren Lemke, Goosebumps chronicles the adventures of teenage protagonists Zach (Dylan Minnette), Hannah (Odeya Rush) and Champ (Ryan Lee) as they attempt to return the monstrous creations of R.L. Stine (Jack Black) to the pages of the books from which they’ve accidentally been released.

Overseeing the visual effects for Goosebumps were production VFX supervisor Erik Nordby (Elysium, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and VFX producer Greg Baxter (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Divergent). The majority of the film’s 900-odd visual effects shots were handled by MPC at their facilities in Vancouver, Montreal and London, with MPC Santa Monica doing extensive previs and postvis. Additional support was provided by Vitality and Instinctual.

In this VFX Q&A, Cinefex spoke to both Nordby and Baxter about the challenges involved in bringing Stine’s menacing menagerie of monsters to life.

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A

How did you first get involved with Goosebumps?

ERIK NORDBY: We were brought on board early in development. Preproduction hadn’t officially begun, but Rob Letterman had already spent some time working through a lot of designs. This proved very valuable for us because most of our full CG creatures had a solid design concept fleshed out – and in some cases fully approved, all the way up to the studio level. As many teams know, this is often very difficult to achieve early on, but is incredibly valuable in solidifying a shooting approach and an efficient asset plan.

GREG BAXTER: I got a call from Sony and met with Rob Letterman back in September 2013. Rob had already been developing the story and designing some key monsters for several months. Meeting with Rob and hearing about his vision for the show was amazing. I left that meeting knowing I was going to join this project.

Were you familiar with the Goosebumps series of children’s books?

ERIK NORDBY: Like most of the crew, we were familiar with them and their popularity, but didn’t have much specific knowledge beyond that.

GREG BAXTER: Familiar? Yes. Had I read them all? No. I had to do a little research on the creatures we were tasked with bringing to life. But I could really see how the series had been such a hit – the stories were more fun than scary and were all very engaging.

ERIK NORDBY: One of the biggest surprises was how intensely revered the book series is by a certain generation. One of Rob’s early points of connection – which I thought was really smart – was to equate our generation’s love of early Amblin films with this generation’s love of Goosebumps. The Goonies, for instance, was a good touchstone for us in remembering that love of the adventure/horror balance.

How closely did you work with Rob Letterman?

GREG BAXTER: Rob was fantastic. We worked very closely with him throughout the almost two-year process – from concept through development, shoot, editing and final VFX look. His background in animation and VFX compositing helped our dialogue tremendously, as we could jump directly into technical notes and bypass some of the usual steps to get from director’s vision to final on-screen content.

How long were you working on the project?

GREG BAXTER: Twenty-two months from September 2013 to July 2015. Although, honestly, I’m still working on it with wrap, stereo and home video details. VFX keys on shows like this are among the first on and last off the project.

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A

What was the biggest challenge for the VFX team?

ERIK NORDBY: This film had an extremely wide visual effects spread … without a wide budget to go with it! That was the number one VFX challenge on Goosebumps. There were many all-CG creatures, with each one requiring a different approach and a unique balance of R&D and design development.

GREG BAXTER: The monsters were our major task, for sure. We not only had to create fully detailed hero characters, but they were all so different – in size, shape, texture and movement – that each monster was a huge project on its own. We had a hero Abominable Snowman, Army of Garden Gnomes, 30-foot Praying Mantis, Werewolf, Vampire Dog, Man-Eating Plant, Ginormous Blob …!

How did you approach integrating all these outlandish monsters into the live-action setting?

GREG BAXTER: Rob wanted this to be a very photoreal film, with even the most fantastical creatures feeling as though they existed in the real world. While we were able to reference existing animals, insects and objects for the Mantis, Werewolf, Gnomes, Poodle – even the Abominable Snowman – some of the others were a bit more difficult. With the Blob, for example, there was very little reference to draw from other than the book and Rob’s concept of what it should do in the movie.

What else did you deliver apart from the monsters?

GREG BAXTER: There was a lot more VFX work, from matte paintings and set extensions to complex FX simulations. We had to run full digital doubles of our actors for the Ferris wheel ride at the end.

You spoke about the enormous differences between the various monsters. Can you give us an example of some of the extremes?

ERIK NORDBY: The Blob required a huge amount of fluid-sim R&D – many months’ worth – and almost as much work in terms of look-dev. It was amongst our most intangible creatures on-set, since its scale was so mutable. The Blob had to fit into our blocking instead of driving it.

At the other end of the spectrum there’s the Werewolf, which required a very structured on-set approach. Since the Werewolf was a human-sized biped, it needed to be directable and shootable, and the cast needed to be able to act around it. This meant a human proxy stand-in, with a high degree of athleticism and wolf-arm extensions. We added tracking markers which allowed quick turnaround for first pass blocking, and kept the edit fluid before we had to lock things down.

Where did some of the other monsters sit on the spectrum?

ERIK NORDBY: Abby, the Abominable Snowman, was a hybrid: too large to have a human actor perform, but small enough that we could provide a blocking eyeline reference. Our PAs ran through the scene with Abby’s head on an eight-foot-tall stick. The gnomes were shot with hand-made stand-ins which the actors could interact with and smash. Shooting empty plates allowed us to fully replace and fill the frame with their CG equivalents.

How about lighting reference – did you use regular grey/mirror spheres?

ERIK NORDBY: We really tried to leverage creature-specific reference spheres. During preproduction, we tracked down many fur samples, and Rob helped us pick a good, solid, real-world equivalent for our furry creatures. We wrapped the samples around spheres, and combined them with skin samples – leather or a prosthetic piece. For every setup, we would shoot these spheres in their respective lighting. We would also shake the fur around, giving our FX artists great dynamics reference.

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A - Werewolf

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A - Werewolf

Let’s look at one of the creatures in more detail – the Werewolf, for instance?

GREG BAXTER: The initial 2D concept design for the Werewolf was provided by Carlos Huantes. Carlos then built a miniature maquette which we cyberscanned via 3DS in Burbank. This was our initial starting point for MPC to model and augment from.

Who performed the Werewolf on set?

GREG BAXTER: John Bernecker was our stunt proxy for the Werewolf. He performed on-camera for just about every Werewolf shot, including running on all-fours atop a grocery store freezer. Erik and MPC Supervisor Pete Dionne built a custom facial capture rig with Go-Pros and a bicycle helmet, capturing John’s snarling for additional animation reference.

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A - Werewolf

Tell us about the development of the digital Werewolf character.

GREG BAXTER: MPC went round after round trying to solve the intricacies between human and canine facial expressions for the Werewolf close-ups. We often had to dive back into the model to solve some subtleties in facial performance. A canine snout doesn’t allow for much range, so we had to cheat that a bit in the model.

The run and walk cycles were also problematic, due to our design having the hind feet act as bipedal feet. The way a canine’s ankles bend results in awkward movement, and we didn’t want to come across comedic and so detract from the scarier moments.

Then there was the drool! What “real” werewolf drool might look like and how it performs had to be tested and re-tested to read the right way in the comedic beat when R.L. Stine (Jack Black) is hiding under the produce shelf in the store.

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A - Ferris wheel

Towards the end of the film, a Ferris wheel detaches from its mountings and rolls through a forest. How did you approach this spectacular sequence?

ERIK NORDBY: The Ferris wheel sequence was meant to be visceral, entertaining and, above all, believable. We needed to create a shooting situation where we could achieve all the photography of the kids practically and insert them into a wild but well-planned ride.

Tell us about the practical shoot.

ERIK NORDBY: The previs existed early on, and it was a great guidepost. From that, we created very elaborate techvis which focused on one central idea: the Ferris wheel cab that the kids were in would be fixed in space and the camera would inherit all the wheel’s motion.

John Frasier, and his special effects team built a cab that could be safely and securely hung in the middle of our greenscreen stage. It could swing, but would not travel in any other axis. We then inverted the motion of the cab into the camera in the techvis, to illustrate to the camera and grips what they needed to accomplish with the Technocrane. There was a little give and take because the moves were sweeping and the wheel was so large. We would shoot each take, roughly key it, and comp in the previs background to check if we had accomplished our task.

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A - Ferris wheel

Since you were shooting on a greenscreen stage, presumably the backgrounds were all created digitally?

ERIK NORDBY: Yes, everything besides the kids and their cab was CG. This required a fully-rigged CG Ferris wheel with all the other cabs, a kilometre-long CG forest for the wheel to run through, and distant 2½D matte paintings for the high angles. Once we became embroiled in the sequence in post, it was clear we needed a lot more tree interaction than previously thought. This pushed the complexity – and therefore the render time – through the roof.

Goosebumps - Cinefex VFX Q&A - Ferris wheel

How do you feel about your work on Goosebumps, looking back?

GREG BAXTER: We had an awesome crew on this show. Everybody really enjoyed the experience of making the movie … except for the late-night shoots in the hot, humid, bug-infested Georgia woods!

One memorable moment came when Rob had to direct an army of both practical and virtual creatures attacking the high school. Blocking out that performance required a lot of comedic work. In the middle of it all there was a crazy big thunderstorm, so we had to seek cover while the greenscreens took the brunt of the storm. But we survived, rebuilt the greenscreens and resumed shooting.

Special thanks to Stacey Leinson, Rebecca Rehak and Mick Mayhew. Goosebumps photographs copyright © 2015 and courtesy of Columbia Pictures/MPC Film.

Rogue Nation – Cinefex 143 Extract

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to snap up a copy of our latest magazine edition – Cinefex 143. Part of your mission briefing is to read this exclusive extract from Keeping it Real, Jody Duncan’s in-depth article about the stunts and effects of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

David Vickery, on loan from Double Negative to serve as the production’s visual effects supervisor, worked closely throughout the shoot and postproduction with visual effects and associate producer Maricel Pagulayan, who carefully chose a visual effects team that included Double Negative, with graphics supplied by One of Us and SPOV.

One of the highlights of Rogue Nation is the show-stopping sequence in which Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) hangs onto the side of an Airbus A400 military transport plane as it takes off. The stunt was first worked out in previs executed by The Third Floor London, under the guidance of Christopher McQuarrie and David Vickery:

“We actually built a CG model of the A400 for the previs,” said The Third Floor previs supervisor Vince Aupetit, “with all the exact measurements, referencing blueprints and photographs of the plane. Airbus provided technical data to the production, as well, and gave us information as to what speeds the plane would reach as it was taxiing and taking off. We put all of that technical information into our previs so it would be as precise as possible. And then, we visualized the camera angles and beats of the stunt itself.”

“We tried to re-create the circumstances exactly as they would be when they actually shot this scene,” said Aupetit. “We considered things like wind turbulence and the size of the different windows and doors on the plane, and how they functioned. On our CG plane, we had the actual structures Tom could grab onto, as well as all the rigging for the camera. Everything in the previs was done with the idea that they were going to have to shoot this for real.”

The previs not only served creative and technical purposes, it also helped to reassure Airbus, which had some reluctance about turning over one of its mega-million-dollar aircraft to production and was also anxious about damage to the company’s reputation should something go awry. “Their caution was understandable,” David Vickery commented. “It was an extremely valuable plane, and they didn’t want it to be damaged. They also didn’t want anyone to be hurt. By designing the shots so thoroughly in advance, we were able to go to Airbus and show them exactly what we wanted to film.”

Read the complete article in Cinefex 143, which also features Ant-Man, The Walk and Terminator Genisys.

All content copyright © 2015 Cinefex LLC. All rights reserved.

Terminator Genisys – Cinefex 143 Extract

Series T-800 Robot in "Terminator Genisys" from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

Series T-800 Robot in “Terminator Genisys” from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

Just like Arnie, Cinefex is back – with our latest magazine edition! In this exclusive look inside issue 143, we’re treating you to an extract from Wrinkles in Time, Jody Duncan’s detailed analysis of the visual and special effects of Terminator Genisys.

Visual effects for the film were the province of a team of vendors including Double Negative, MPC, ILM, Method Studios and Lola. Essential practical support came courtesy of Terminator veterans Legacy Effects:

Legacy Effects provided practical endoskeletons used as in-camera props or as on-set reference for computer animated endoskeletons that would be composited into the action in postproduction. Founding members of Legacy Effects, as young artists working for Stan Winston Studio, had built the endoskeleton puppets employed in The Terminator. For Terminator Genisys, Legacy updated that original design, working from production art department concepts.

“The new design retained the essence of the old endoskeleton,” said Legacy Effects supervisor John Rosengrant, “but added a few new design touches, such as a reshaped pelvis and a more streamlined look, overall. We built three of those full size: one hero that was put in shots for lighting reference; a semi-puppeted stunt one that was hero-looking but made of urethanes so it could take a beating; and one that looked burned, which became the catch-all reference for burned endoskeletons on set. We also built a hero torso that was used for similar shots of a damaged or burned Terminator.” Legacy built an insert head, as well, for a shot of a brain chip being replaced in a port in the endoskeleton’s skull.

The Legacy Effects crew digitally modeled the hero endoskeleton, and then produced its more than 250 individual pieces through rapid prototyping. “Due to the new materials we have to work with,” said Rosengrant, “the final assembled endoskeletons were much lighter than they were when we had to puppeteer them in The Terminator. Back in the day, they weighed a ton!”

Read the complete article in Cinefex 143, which also features Ant-Man, The Walk and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

All content copyright © 2015 Cinefex LLC. All rights reserved.

The Walk – Cinefex 143 Extract

The Walk posterIt’s time for another peek into our latest magazine issue, Cinefex 143. Today we’re taking you behind the scenes on one of the tallest tales of the year – The Walk, which chronicles the extraordinary true story of Philippe Petit’s spectacular wire-walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

VFX supervisor Kevin Baillie took overall responsibility for the film’s dazzling visual effects, with individual sequences crafted by a team including Atomic Fiction, Rodeo FX and Universal Production Partners.

In this exclusive extract from Joe Fordham’s article, Skywalker, director Robert Zemeckis discusses the genesis of the project, and reveals how his interest was sparked by Mordicai Gerstein’s fairytale-like picture book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers:

“It was a children’s book,” said Zemeckis, “but I thought, ‘Wow, that’s interesting,’ and when I researched the story, I discovered it was quite amazing. We bought Philippe’s rights and, three years before Man on Wire appeared, we were well into designing our film, because we did it in a strange way. The most powerful part of Philippe’s story was the walk, but I felt that would not translate effectively to the page as a screenplay. My decision was to create an animatic to present the story in the most powerful way possible.”

Zemeckis interviewed Petit and, using Petit’s narration, fashioned an animatic with a pool of artists at his own studio, ImageMovers Digital, led by The Third Floor previsualization supervisor Eric Carney. “It was an hour-and-50-minute previs of the movie,” recalled visual effects supervisor Kevin Baillie, who was part of the ImageMovers team. “It showed everything from Philippe’s inspiration as a child all the way through his walk between the Twin Towers. It was such a powerful way of conveying Bob’s vision for the film. It contained the DNA of the story and was a very clear communication of what he intended to show on screen.”

Read the complete article in Cinefex 143, which also features Ant-Man, Terminator Genisys and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

All content copyright © 2015 Cinefex LLC. All rights reserved.

Ant-Man – Cinefex 143 Extract

Ant-Man - Cinefex 143

To celebrate the launch of Cinefex 143, we’re treating you to a sneak preview of all the articles inside. First up is Microcosmos, Joe Fordham’s extensive look at the effects of Marvel’s big (or is that little?) summer hit, Ant-Man.

Under the expert guidance of visual effects supervisor Jake Morrison, a VFX team including Double Negative, Method Studios, Luma Pictures, Industrial Light & Magic, Cinesite and Lola Visual Effects – with Prime Focus World and Legend3D handling stereoscopic conversions – meticulously crafted the film’s miniature magic.

Our exclusive extract outlines the work of the “macro unit”, which operated concurrent to the main unit shoot photographing specially constructed sets:

“We approached macro-world scenes like ‘pack shot’ product photography in television commercials,” explained Jake Morrison. “The art department took small sections of the main unit sets and rebuilt them as six- to eight-foot extractions. Macro sets were built 1:1 scale – we never tried to make anything oversized – but detail was much higher. Macro unit art director Jann Engel had bags of dead bugs, gummy bears and all sorts of nasty debris that she dressed in.”

To line up shots, the macro unit used a tiny rapid-prototyped model of Ant-Man, smaller than an HO-scale model railroad figure, and a P+S Technik Skater Skope periscope lens with a rotating nodal head that placed Frazier lenses as low as possible to floor level.

After motion control photography of macro unit sets, production plate photographer Teddy Phu Thanh Danh and Alex Wuttke gathered still imagery using three Canon 5D cameras on Dr. Clauss Rodeon panoramic heads. “The joy of the process was discovering the detail in what we’d shot,” said Wuttke. “To the naked eye, the macro sets looked quite mundane – a rusty pipe, or the corner of an old floorboard – but when we photographed those with a 100mm lens centimeters from the subject and did our preview stitch, the information it revealed was mind blowing. Jake’s strategy of using real objects with natural wear and tear really paid dividends when we got into macro scale, because there was no artifice. An astonishing level of detail appeared before our eyes.”

Read the complete article in Cinefex 143, which also features The Walk, Terminator Genisys and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

All content copyright © 2015 Cinefex LLC. All rights reserved.