In Part 2 of our Emmy coverage we talk to award winners Stargate Digital about their winning Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King/ Battleground. Stargate, nominated a stunning three times this year, won for Oustanding Special Visual Effects for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special.
Stargate Digital won for best visual effects for their work on Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King/ Battleground, but they were also nominated for their work in Grey’s Anatomy and also for Heroes. In this week’s fxguidetv we speak to team members from all three shows.
The Emmy award winning episode of Nightmares and Dreamscapes, was one of the stories in the Stephen King series (Episode 106). In this story the team at Stargate Digital were required to pitch an army of toy soldiers against the poor William Hurt. The film was one full of revenge or fight and not a light hearted comedy, so the team were challenged to not only sell the scale but also the serious intent of the drama. Interestingly the drama contained no dialogue the whole piece was played out with full sound but just lines of dialogue. In total Stargate digital completed 195 shots with a team of 38 artists.
William Hurt is over 6 feet tall and the toys were meant to be just 3 inches tall, but in addition to toy men the script called for toy Jeeps, helicopters, howitzers, and machine guns. The visual effects solutions ranged from motion capture to special effects makeup, computer graphics and level compositing.
The show was filmed in Melbourne, Australia, but set in San Francisco, so numerous set extensions were required. Additionally, it was impractical to shoot in such locations as the top of a moving elevator. Both 2D matte painting and fully immersive 3D environments were created to solve these problems.
At the start of production, the team broke down the script into a combination of blue screen (the army was green), motion capture and effects photography.. The motion capture sessions cleverly decided to use the same actors for both the blue screen special effects makeup/suit soldiers and the motion capture cg army toys.
The effects work was shot on the Arri D20 which the team really praised for its outstanding latitude for visual effects work. The camera allows the team to shoot the blue screen elements and get great keys even from out of focus foreground elements and then also key them and comp them (including resizing) on set. The matching of shots was made that much more difficult by the height issues. A shot over William Hurts shoulder should have been filmed from 60 feet up when scaled for the army guys. This was impossible due the height of the studio ceiling, so adjustments needed to be made to compensate.
Custom joysticks controls and software allowed the director to animate the jeeps and helicopters at the same time as the actors performed within the vehicles. Proprietary viewing software allowed the director, the actors, and the VFX supervisor from Stargate digital to view the performance of both the complex vehicles and actors using rough proxy models, composited with the background, in real time. Using on-set HD compositing stations, the VFX crew could check the line-up and lighting match between foreground blue screen and background plates before each take. Temp composites were delivered from the set directly to the editor to act as a guide for assembling the layers needed for each shot. You canhow the rough comps allowed for better alignment.
The compositing system consisted of a High Definition 4:4:4 switcher/keyer and an After Effects workstation with HD capture card. The director could actually leave the session with nearly complete animation already approved.
One of the most complex VFX in the show was the chopper sequence. During the shot, the camera flies up to a CG toy helicopter, enters the helicopter through the side door past a CG gunner, then pushes forward to a view over two bluescreenpilots. In the deep BG, two more helicopters are flying and we see William Hurt shoot one of them out of the air. The composite consists of 3 live action plates, 19 CG animation elements (helicopters, soldiers, lighting and Z depth passes, etc.), and several stock pyroelements. All combined in a shot that is 306 frames long.
Soldier suits and prosthetics were designed and custom built to fit creature suit actors cast specifically for this show.
Because of the high cost of the suits, only five suits were built. In order to appear as an entire squad, as many as 8 passes of soldiers had to be choreographed for each shot. from the award-winning project.
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