What if the seemingly benign devices we use to control our lives came under hostile control, your cellphone, GPS, public information terminals, even the train system? This is the horrifying future is explored by Disturbia director D.J Caruso in Eagle Eye, supported by the work of Sony Pictures Imageworks, who contributed 250 shots.

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The director DJ Caruso with Actor Billy Bob Thornton on location

In the film Eagle Eye, Shia Lebeouf plays a contemporary slacker who finds himself under the control of a malevolent all-seeing mastermind driving him towards nasty destination. On this journey his character is joined by a similarly tortured female co-star, played by Michelle Monaghan, who cannot understand why her life has been overtaken by some force that can send her personalised messages from an anonymous TV screen in a McDonalds Restaurant.

Bill Dawes caught up with Jim Berney, Visual Effects Supervisor and David Smith, Digital Effects Supervisor at Sony Imageworks, which created visual effects on over 250 shots in Eagle Eye to enhance scenes that look like they are happening in the real world but that would be impossible to shoot on a set or location.

A lion's share of the work was put into creating a full 360 degree view of the inside of the supercomputer and the heart stopping tunnel chase where Shia Labeouf and Billy Bob Thornton are chased through the Chicago tunnel
by an all CG spy plane that has been sent to stop them from reaching their destination.

Most of the action that takes place in the computer room was shot on a partial set and then the details were filled in by digital artists creating a panorama of the inside of the computer where only a small section had existed before. Other highlights of the visual effects work are a high speed car chase through the streets of Chicago and an attack on an FBI building that was shot mostly on bluescreen.

Break out

Play a QuickTime movie of the sequence.

During his interrogation, Jerry (Shia Labeouf ) is sprung from an FBI office by a giant crane arm that comes crashing through a window. This scene was shot on a bluescreen stage with the actors, while Imageworks recreated in CGI the Chicago area around the building.

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Jerry Shaw on the run after escaping from the FBI

"We had to manipulate the environment to create a building that's being constructed across the street and add the CG crane that the villain could control to come in and smash the building so our hero could jump out ," said Berney.

This shot follows a familiar theme for the main body of FX work created by Imageworks for Eagle Eye, which involved integration with the practical elements already shot by the director. "We always work with the requirements of the scene," said Smith. "We can provide a full 3D New York as Imageworks has done for Spider-Man. In this case we were looking out the window so we just needed to create a bit of perspective in some of the camera moves. We took practical photography shot from a single location on set and we give that dimensionality by re-projecting that onto realistic low resolution models of the landscape of that area of Chicago. Where that falls apart we take additional photographs or we have some skilled matte painters who can go in and fill in the holes with some realistic facades or street views.

"In this case we were able to do something fairly simply that created nice impact and a sense of space for that scene, There are cases where a matte painting suffices where there's not a lot of dimensional movement. We can add depth by creative lighting and atmosphere."

"There were practical equivalents of all the elements we created for the film, whether it was the planes, cranes, trains or Chicago. It was our job to create digital equivalents and then blend it all together seamlessly and this is where having a physically based renderer came in very handy. We didn't have to go around and cheat everything and paint a lot and do it all in layers," said Berney.

GI Rendering a Hi Tech Computer room

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The computer room sequence

The Arnold Global Illumination Renderer was an important contributor to the Imageworks VFX work on Eagle Eye. This renderer is being co-developed by Imageworks and was given an extensive workout on Eagle Eye after its success on the 3D animated feature Monster House.

One of the critical sequences that Arnold contributed to was the visualization of the supercomputer , which is at the heart of the imagined Pentagon where Artificial Intelligence and all-seeing surveillance is used to control the terrorist threat. For this sequence, the director constructed an environment on-set built that consisted of a large array of glowing metallic hemispheres. It was Imageworks' job to massively extend this.
"The look of the computer was inspired by a hydrogen bubble chamber use do capture neutrino's (subatomic particles) said Berney. "Its a large scale environment full of hemispheres that are glowing."

"The facsimile built on location was only able to be built to a limited height," said Berney.
"It was our job to recreate that in the volume they wanted. The portion they had built used reflective spheres and had lights bouncing all around the place. It looked as if it was going to be difficult to achieve a realistic look when rendered at the resolution that we needed for film. But we were able to use Arnold to render the computer with true raytraced refections and real global illumination of what would happen in that environment."

David Smith added, "There have been raytracing renderers available for a while, but they did not meet our production requirements in terms of the number of frames that we render and the resolution that we need with our production deadlines. Arnold gives our artists a little more control of what they are doing and they spend less time managing the technical aspects."

"They can light as someone on location does and not have to worry about the technology."
Jim Berney said, "More time is spent with the aesthetics instead of trying to get over technical hurdles as has been the situation in the past."

Hard Surfaces

In addition to the computer, Arnold was used for some of the other hard surface objects such as drone aircraft and some hyperactive cranes.

In one particular sequence, the actors drive into a wrecking yard only to find their vehicles are caught and flung about the place by a group of cranes under the control of the unseen mastermind.
In this case there was a lot of wire work with the cars that required extensive rig removal and the placement of CG animated cranes in the shot.

Explosion at the end of the Tunnel

Play a QuickTime movie of the sequence.

There is no shortage of violent car chases in Eagle Eye, but one of the most spectacular shots comes towards the climax of the film in a tunnel sequence involving a CG surveillance aircraft, truck crashes and massive pyrotechnics. "They shot some aspects in a real tunnel which was maybe 60 yards long which we extended to around 600 yards in CG," said Smith."

"The huge pyro practical effects were shot outside at an airbase along with truck rolling and car rolls and we had to place them inside our CG tunnel. That's where the Arnold renderer came in very handy with the interactive lighting

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Filming on location

"To create the tunnel we built the environment, then gave it some cement material and then we placed 1700 florescent lights along the tunnel and turned them on as illuminating objects. The global illumination and raytracing of the Arnold software allowed that light to bounce around . "Typically we would have to cheat in the past and use fewer lights or reduce the kind of global illumination we can get from a raytracer. In this case we were able to lay those lights out, turn them on and let the computer calculate what it would really look like. It made the extensions fit in seamlessly and when we had to incorporate stunt sequences and practical effects shot outside.

"It gave us a realistic looking tunnel to wrap around the practical effects. The explosions are in your face but I don't think people will notice the tunnel. In this case the story called for more of those kind of supporting effects that don't call too much attention to themselves."

Several scenes were shot on Chicago's busy mass transit system. Both first and second units also shot several parts of the heart stopping car chase in Chicago, including the start of the chase with Monaghan behind the wheel of the Porsche Cayenne.

The filmmakers artfully used dozens of locations in and around Los Angeles to double for everything from an airport in Indiana to a small village in the Middle East.

DreamWorks/Paramount's "Eagle Eye" Starring Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan opened #1 at the US domestic boxoffice this weekend, fetching an estimated $29.2 million despite competition from the first debate on Friday night.


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