Wednesday, 04 April 2012 19:00
Framestore Brings Wrath of the Titans an Eye for Detail
Press release from Framestore:
Framestore created some 300 VFX shots for two elaborate sequences for Wrath of the Titans, the Warner Bros. sequel to 2010’s Clash of the Titans. The film was produced by Bill Iwanyk and Polly Johnson, and directed by Jonathan Liebesman, with Nick Davis returning as production Visual Effects Supervisor.
Leading the Framestore team was Visual Effects Supervisor Jonathan Fawkner. “We were chiefly tasked with two sequences,” he says, “The first involving an encounter between Perseus’s team and a trio of Cyclops, the second (which follows the first closely within the film’s chronology) concerning Perseus’s groups assault on The Labyrinth, a towering maze which provides access to Tartarus wherein Zeus is imprisoned. So we had two very contrasting types of visual effects to deliver: photo-realistic near humans, albeit giant ones, interacting with environments and human actors; and an impossibly vast, constantly moving architectural environment.”
“For the three Cyclops, we decided that performance capture was the only route from the start, but that we’d play it a little differently from usual,” explains Fawkner. "An initial session was recorded before the shoot to explore the behaviour of the Cyclops and inform the cast and crew. Then the plates for the sequence were shot in forest land in Dorking, England in April 2011, without mo-cap referenced directly in camera but rather relying on the tried and tested "tennis ball on a stick" technique providing the most flexibility for the director and cast.”
An Eye For Detail
”By the time we came to the actual performance capture sessions at Shepperton studios, we had a sequence in the can, cut and camera tracked. We had an accurate scan of the set and by carefully laying out proxy trees and other obstacles, and by matching the topology with a movable sloping deck, we were able to composite the Cyclops into the plate live providing an incredibly intuitive and comprehensible tool.
Former international rugby player Martin Bayfield was cast for the mo-cap shoot, not least because, at 6ft 10in tall, he had something of an edge when it came to playing giants. Involved from an early stage was Animation Supervisor Paul Chung, who says, “Since Martin Bayfield’s performances would be used for all three – very different – Cyclops characters, I did a lot of research into how each of them might move and perform. I wrote some biographical notes on each family member to give Martin some material he could inform his performances with. The hot-headed, muscular younger brother, his fatter older sibling who always has to rescue him from the scrapes he gets in, and their dad, who both of them are a bit scared of – that sort of thing. Bayfield took all this on board and gave excellent physical performances.”
Bayfield would study the plate, the timing and the rhythm and, with Fawkner directing, attempt to hit his marks in each shot. The team would try as many variations as time would allow, and the various takes were delivered to the client to pore over and make selects from within hours of the capture, ready for editing in the normal fashion. Says Fawkner: "The massive benefit of doing the capture this way was that the animation was effectively blocked and locked very early on, leaving more time to finesse the details.”
Motion-capture has a bit of a reputation – not unearned - for creating a slightly unnatural ‘mo-cap look’. There are a lot of different elements that contribute to that, from the actor wearing the markers and where they are placed, to how you solve it, to how you put it on the character. There are maybe a dozen stages that this data goes through and detail can be lost at any one of them. So Framestore has developed a new pipeline. They use several witness cameras to complement the mo-cap input, increasing its accuracy. With Wrath, they also became the first company in the world to forge a partnership with IKinema, a company that makes software for the process of taking mo-cap and transferring it to a creature of a different scale. Framestore also built tools based on IKinema software that could help quality control the solving process, neatly comparing solve with witness cam footage. Not only does the solver prove incredibly accurate, but it also gives a newfound flexibility that streamlines the entire mo-cap solving and retargeting pipeline.
Nicholas Scapel, Head of Rigging, takes up the story. “So we got the action perfectly from Martin Bayfield the actor to Martin Bayfield the digital model. The key to great mo-cap is how you give it to animation. Many studios have a mo-cap department which has a large motion editing team – they cannot do technical animation – and they fiddle with the mo-cap to make it work in the shots and then it goes to Animation, who are often less than thrilled with what they get. We want to give as close as possible to the raw performance to the animators and to let them work it up from there.”
Monday, 27 February 2012 21:07
They wuz ROBBED
Whats up with the academy?
Do they HATE mocap?
It seems they dont vote for it, whatever they may feel about it.
Tintin shut out of the Animated Oscar running....not even a mention......
Rise of the Planet of the Apes losing to HUGO for VFX?
Andy Serkis not being able to compete for Best Actor.
I think that since more actors vote on oscars than any other craftspeople in the film industry....
..they fear it...and so dont vote for movies that contain it.
And animators are afraid for their jobs when Motion Capture is used.
So the powerful players in Hollywood continue to shut out projects that involve Motion Capture in the hopes that they can make it wither on the vine.
Motion Capture movies employ a lot of animators. Motion Capture movies feature a TON of animation, yet arent considered to be 'animated'.
Motion Capture performances are ACTOR DRIVEN. They REQUIRE actors. Unlike traditional CG which does not.
Somehow Actors dont fear computer generated effects like they do 'Motion Capture'.
I'm not sure where all this 'digital prejudice' comes from. Perhaps its just that people fear what they don't understand.
Its sad that Andy Serkis was robbed AGAIN and not even considered for a Best Actor nod for his role as Caesar.
Its suprising that Hugo won out over photoreal apes that carried an entire movie with their emotional connection to the viewer, a feat thats is hard to do for an entire cast of CG characters.
Just like all prejucide...its will eventually cease to be an issue. Motion Capture CANNOT be 'killed off' as its JUST film all over again. Its not a flash in the pan technique...its the future of the film industry.
Friday, 17 February 2012 19:38
Planet of the Apes': The Digital Muscle Behind the Oscar Nom
by Carolyn Giardina
Raising the visual effects ante by creating smart simians, Peter Jackson's Weta Digital -- which already has brought orcs and Na'vi to life -- is hoping for a sixth Academy Award.
This story originally appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.
It's no surprise that Weta Digital, the Wellington, New Zealand-based visual effects company co-founded by Peter Jackson, is known as the house The Lord of the Rings built -- it was rewarded with visual effects Oscars for all three Rings movies. But in the nearly 10 years since the last Rings, Weta has proven it can go beyond Middle-earth, bringing to life all kinds of creatures from King Kong to the blue-skinned Na'vi of Avatar.
PHOTO: 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' First Look: The Many Faces of Andy Serkis
In 2011 alone, Weta handled visual effects for X-Men: First Class, helped realize Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin and animated a new generation of intelligent simians for Fox's Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Its contributions to that last film have earned the company a spot in the current contest for the visual effects Academy Award and won it two Visual Effects Society awards.
Rupert Wyatt, the movie's director, knew he would have to go the computer-graphics route to bring Caesar and his fellow apes to life. "I was never a fan of using live animals for numerous reasons. Morally -- and practically," he says. "It would have been very hard to get them to do very specific things from a narrative point of view. Our one option was CGI, specifically using performance-capture."
Weta was a natural place to turn because it has been at the forefront of performance-capture. So Andy Serkis, who proved the viability of the process in Rings -- for which Weta experts filmed his movements and transformed him into Gollum -- was drafted to play Caesar. With a big part of the movie's $94 million budget going toward visual effects, Weta artists relied on both science and art.
PHOTO: Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Hollywood Premiere at Grauman's
The artists used medical data, explains VFX supervisor Dan Lemmon, to create "a new system of muscle and skin simulation. Basically it adds an additional level of simulation on top of the facial performance. Things like the way the muscles wrinkled and the way the flesh got mushed around on the face were a much higher-fidelity solution than we have had before." They even added touches like moisture beads on the apes' lower eyelids. Adds Lemmon, "We introduced advances on our translucency model to make the way the light interacts with the skin and the eyes more realistic."
Such attention to detail has made Weta, and its 850 employees, very much in demand. It is working on Jackson's two new Hobbit movies, currently in production, Ridley Scott's Prometheus, Joss Whedon's The Avengers and Zack Snyder's Man of Steel.
VFX supervisor Joe Letteri, a four-time Oscar winner and Jackson's partner in Weta, says: "Having Peter here definitely helps. We have been lucky to get these interesting projects and to be able to work with good directors on them. We are able to immerse ourselves wholly in a project, contributing ideas as well as techniques."
THE OTHER NOMINEES FOR BEST VISUAL EFFECTS OSCAR
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler, John Richardson
This is the final opportunity for the Academy to recognize the effects in the Potter franchise with an Oscar statuette. The series' most ambitious effort included loads of R&D and a collection of elements from CG characters to, for the first time, a fully CG Hogwarts school in which to stage the climactic battle.
STORY: Oscars 2012 Nominations (Complete List)
Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman, Alex Henning
With an emphasis on the artistic use of visual effects, echoing the film's focus on the history of movies, the effects team incorporated a range of techniques including CG, models and stop-motion. Even with its runaway train, "the movie doesn't stop and turn into a VFX moment," says Legato. Pixomondo was the primary effects house on the film.
Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor, Swen Gillberg
Lead visual effects house Digital Domain brought virtual production techniques on location, using performance-capture to make the 'bot bouts feel natural in their live-action environments. Says Nash, "Using the SimulCam system developed for Avatar we could 'see' the fights on a monitor during principal photography and react to what was happening."
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler, John Frazier
Industrial Light & Magic really upped the complexity on the latest Transformers film with 3D and the most complicated creature the company had ever created -- the snakelike Driller, made up of 70,051 parts. Says Farrar, "The Driller wrapped around that tilted building demonstrates everything we put into these movies."
Friday, 17 February 2012 01:10
AirMouse - the mouse that fits you like a glove
The AirMouse wearable mouse
It’s no secret... Studies have shown that excessive mouse usage can cause repetitive stress injuries. Unfortunately for most of us, “excessive” can mean anything more than a few hours a day. Fortunately, however, there are alternative styles of mice out there designed to be easier on the hands and arms. One of the more interesting ones to come along in a while is the AirMouse, made by Canadian firm Deanmark Ltd. What makes it unique is the fact that you wear it like a glove.
Deanmark founders Mark Bajramovic and Oren Tessler met in university, where Mark learned first-hand (no pun intended) what it’s like to OD on mousing. “Half way through our first year, I developed a computer mouse related RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury) and lost the use of my right hand and arm for several weeks,” he tells us. “Numbness, pain, most things that you hear about with RSI’s, I had it.” Later that semester, Mark and Oren heard about an ergonomic mouse being marketed in Europe. While they thought that particular product wasn’t perfect, it got them thinking about designing their own. The AirMouse is the result.
The wireless mouse utilizes an optical laser, and can run for a week without recharging. According to the company website, the clinically-tested product works by aligning itself with the ligaments of your hand and wrist. This lets you keep your hand in a neutral position, and transmits more of your vector force than would be possible with a regular mouse. Not only does this make it easier on your hand, but it increases your mousing speed and accuracy as well. The mouse is also designed to remain inactive until your hand is placed in a neutral, flat position, so you can easily go back and forth between typing and mousing. Other ergonomic designs have strayed from the AirMouse’s style of traditional flat, one-dimensional mousing, but Mark and Oren’s market research indicated that consumers tend to reject such products.
The AirMouse should be available for purchase within the next 6 to 12 months, at a price of $US129.
Monday, 12 December 2011 17:33
'Planet of the Apes,' 'Harry Potter' and 'Transformers' Shortlisted for Visual Effects Oscar Category
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences names its list of 15 awards contenders.
4:49 PM PST 12/9/2011 by Carolyn Giardina
Twentieth Century Fox
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon are among the 15 films have been selected for consideration for this year’s Oscar for visual effects.
The AMPAS list also includes Captain America: The First Avenger, Cowboys & Aliens, Hugo, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Real Steel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Sucker Punch, Super 8, Thor, The Tree of Life, and X-Men: First Class.
Going into this year’s competition, one question will be whether the Academy will reward the VFX wizards behind the Harry Potter finale.
No movie in the series has ever won an Oscar for visual effects. Only two—Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1—have been nominated.
There are numerous VFX veterans in the race; among them are:
--Apes senior VFX supervisor Joe Letteri, who has won 4 Oscars during the past decade for films including: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, King Kong and Avatar.
--Super 8 VFX supervisor Dennis Muren from ILM has won 8 Oscars for visual effects—a record in the VFX field. He received his first Academy Award for The Empire Strikes Back; Additional Oscars were awarded for Jurassic Park and The Abyss.
--Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2’s senior VFX supervisor Tim Burke has worked on ever Harry Potter film with the exception of the first, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. He previously won an Oscar for Gladiator.
--Transformers: Dark of the Moon VFX supervisor Scott Farrar of ILM had led the VFX on all of the Transformers movies. He previously won an Oscar for Cocoon.
--Hugo’s VFX supervisor Rob Legato won an Oscar for the VFX in Titanic.
In early January, the members of the Academy's visual effects branch executive committee, who selected the 15 films, will narrow the list to 10. A VFX bake off will then be held on Jan. 19, when members of the branch will view 10-minute excerpts from each of the 10 films. That evening the members will also vote to nominate five films for the Oscar.
The Academy Awards nominations will be announced on January 24.
Saturday, 12 November 2011 08:08
"The Adventures Of Tintin" is a preposterously fun movie, first and foremost, regardless of what technology was used to make it. It is very old-fashioned in storytelling terms, but cutting-edge in the way it's told. It tells a rough-and-tumble adventure story that is more real-world than much of what Hollywood makes these days, but it's animated in a way that removes it from reality completely. It is a film that seems to hinge on a number of contradictions, and that friction is just one of the reasons I really loved the experience.
Much has been written about how long Steven Spielberg's been interested in making a film version of Herge's long-running comic series, and one of the biggest questions that I've heard repeatedly is "Why would he do it as a performance capture animated film?" I think the first answer to that question is obvious after you see the movie and you see Snowy, Tintin's canine sidekick, in action. Snowy is a major character in the film, and has an outsized personality. Trying to get the same performance out of a real dog in the middle of a film also involving stunts and special effects and international travel would be a nightmare, and as it is, Snowy is one of the main highlights of the movie now. Also, there is a sense of scale and abandon to the way the action is staged in the film that would be a nightmare to orchestrate in live-action, and I think working in animation has set Spielberg free in a way I'm not sure we've ever seen from him before.
Ultimately, though, the tools used wouldn't matter if the film was no fun.
And this film is nothing but fun.
From the very first frame of the film, there's a feeling that this is a labor of love. The opening title sequence takes us through the printed history of Tintin in a very real and tangible way, and then an early scene in the film introduces the character sitting for a portrait by an artist who looks suspiciously like Herge. He holds up his finished drawing next to the "real" Tintin, and that moment serves as a bridge from the pen and ink version to this new version. It's a very simple but clever move, and the screenplay by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish is loaded with little touches and tweaks that will delight long-time fans. They've adapted several of the books here, mixing and matching elements from a number of stories to create a rousing worldwide quest that is triggered when Tintin discovers a clue to a historical mystery inside a boat he buys at a street market.
There's a tactile quality to the world of the movie that I found impressive. Doing this as performance-capture instead of conventional animation gives the characters a physical heft that is very different than the squash-and-stretch feel that is essential when you're doing pure animation. I think the action sequences have an extra punch as a result, and it also means that when you see characters like Thomson and Thompson doing slapstick, it's the real interaction between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and not just their voices with someone else defining their characters physically.
I've already heard a few people complaining that Tintin is the least defined character in the film, and it's a hard spot for Jamie Bell to be in. Traditionally, the Tintin in the books has been a sort of blank page for readers to use to imagine themselves in the adventures. He doesn't come loaded down with some detailed backstory or some dense character mythology, and while I certainly like characters who have that sort of thing in some films, I like that Tintin is just… Tintin. He's a young reporter, he's got a dog, he gets in adventures. It's not much more complicated than that, and as a result, the movie maintains this crazy breathless pace as it races from plot point to set piece to character to plot point to joke… it's ridiculous how fast it all moves, and yet, there's a clarity to the storytelling that never feels frantic at all.
Because Tintin is a bit of a blank, the characters around him are drawn even more richly, and that's appropriate. I love Daniel Craig as the mysterious Ivanovich Sakharine, also on the trail of the clues that lead Tintin into a search for the treasure that was onboard a long-lost ship. I think Pegg and Frost are a great match as Thompson and Thomson, and their interactions with Silk, a sticky-fingered thief played by Toby Jones, are consistently funny. But if you're looking for a big personality in the film, look no further than Captain Haddock, played by digital superstar Andy Serkis.
And, yes, it's true. Serkis is the Lon Chaney of our age, a guy who has embraced the use of certain tools to slip from one skin to another, invisible inside the roles he plays. His Captain Haddock is a marvel, a man tortured by the idea that he lost his family's legacy and has no idea how to restore it, a man who has decided that the only way to cope with his pain is with drink. He doesn't show up until what feels like about halfway into the film, and once he does, it kicks into a higher gear. He and Snowy provide terrific counterpoint as Tintin works to solve the mystery, and they are often used as comic relief, but Serkis is such a good performer that he gives Haddock all these fascinating rough edges that make him seem human. I am sure that more actors will start getting comfortable with this process, but right now, Serkis is the one who has embraced it most completely and most successfully. If any other actor had played both Caesar and Haddock in one year, we wouldn't even be debating it. That person would be in the hunt for an award at the end of the year, easily. At some point, actors and the Academy are going to have to embrace the idea that this is no different than the heavy old-age make-up worn by Leonardo DiCaprio. If anything, motion-capture technology allows a greater range of expression at this point, and can do more to transform an actor without burying them completely.
For me, the real star of the film is Steven Spielberg. When I think of great action filmmaking that I love, I think of the way scenes build or the way gags are set up and paid off or the energy or a giddy sense of invention, and all of those things are on display here, and in a way that should serve as a reminder that this is the same director who made "Raiders Of The Lost Ark," one of the single best action adventure movies of all time. This might be the closest we ever come to seeing a movie that is being projected directly from Spielberg's brain with no filter in-between, and that's really only because of the technology. He was able to try things here that he could never do in live-action, like a jaw-dropping chase scene that covers several miles and several minutes, all in one long uninterrupted shot. You can almost hear Spielberg cackling as things unfold. The amazing historical ship-to-ship battle that opens the film is a textbook lesson in how to choreograph chaos without ever confusing the audience. There's also a huge battle between giant cranes near the end of the film that may count as the single strangest swordfight of all time, and again, it feels like he's just having fun.
I don't think "The Adventures Of Tintin" is a particularly deep film, and I would argue that there's little subtext here to be sussed out. No matter. The movie's title makes you a promise, and beat for beat, scene for scene, sequence for sequence, there are few films you'll see this year that deliver adventure this grand or this beautifully constructed. It is a casually great movie, a film that aspires to do nothing but entertain, a noble goal that it more than accomplishes.