In Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, Casey Newtown (Britth Robertson) stumbles into a mysterious futuristic land, a place that has also previously been visited by Frank Walker (George Clooney). When the two are united by a young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), the trio realize they must all return to Tomorrowland to save the future of our world. Helping Bird to imagine the locations visited by Tomorrowland’s characters was Industrial Light & Magic and visual effects supervisors Craig Hammack, Eddie Pasquarello and John Knoll (ILM was also aided in the visual effects effort by Rodeo FX and Hybride). fxguide finds out how some key sequences in the film – from the jetpack fly-through to the six minute Tomorrowland walk-through – were created.
Above: watch our behind the scenes look at Tomorrowland, thanks to our media partners at WIRED.
Jetpack through Tomorrowland
Early in the movie, young Frank (Thomas Robinson) is brought to Tomorrowland and quickly makes use of his home-made jetpack which he uses to explore the under-construction future city. The daring sequence sees Frank firstly in free-fall before he manages to operate the jetpack just before hitting the ground. He then zooms around the stunning architecture of Tomorrowland.
In previs, Halon helped create beats for the jetpack flight via planning sessions with Bird and production designer Scott Chambliss. Noted concept artist and futurist Syd Mead also contributed concepts for Tomorrowland’s city views. “A lot of it was working out how much of Tomorrowland to reveal before the main part of the movie takes place,” notes previsualization supervisor Tefft Smith II. “We wanted to show enough of Tomorrowland to get people excited but not enough to spoil the big reveal that happens later in the film.”
Since the jetpack flight would involve a bluescreen shoot of Robinson on a sound stage, Halon also delivered techvis for it. “Once we got the measurements for that sound stage,” says Smith II, “we could build a replica CG sound stage and work with the stunt co-ordinator Robert Alonzo and then say to production, ‘If you’re going to do this scene, this is the type of harness that you need and these are the kinds of camera moves you can do.’”
Second unit filmed live action portions of the sequence, which ILM then took on as a major visual effects sequence. “For his freefall sans jet pack,” outlines Pasquarello, “we had a fairly elaborate blue screen set up with Thomas rigged above an iFly set up just like the ones used for indoor skydiving. Most of these shots worked well as shot with only minor enhancements or reanimation to his performance.”
“The physics challenge came more into play during his actual flight grabbing and then acquiring the jet pack,” adds Pasquarello. “While you do everything you can to simulate actual flight with wind on his clothes and pulling his legs directionally for accurate flight simulation, we ended up doing a good deal of augmentation to him and his flight. In a few shots he became completely CG and in others, we did partial CG legs and arms to sell the gag.”
The jetpack flight displays Tomorrowland as ‘under construction’ in 1964 – Barry Williams from ILM’s generalist environment team built the city as a completely CG environment that was rendered in V-Ray. “I come from an architectural background,” notes Hammack, “so every aspect of the city was enjoyable for me. I particularly enjoy how light plays across form, so seeing the sculpting of the city was so great. There’s one shot where we break through clouds and reveal our city for the first time. You frame it with the brightest sun and shadows casting across the clouds – it’s just beautiful form.”
“We went into these cities building in districts,” adds Hammack. “To tackle such a large city we decided to assetize – buildings were individual assets, landscapes were assets and then larger districts were assets – so it’s an assembly box.”
Jumping between worlds
Casey is given a ring embroidered with a ’T’ symbol – when she touches it the character is immediately thrust into the world of Tomorrowland. This was shown on-screen as sudden jump cuts. “The simplest answer is good planning,” Pasquarello notes when asked how those jumps were achieved. “Craig Hammack helped plan and supervised the shooting of both ‘sides’ of these shots. They meticulously lined up Casey by going back and forth from one shot plate to the next that they were lining up. This was not perfect but made life back at ILM a bit easier on the compositors and layout artists that helped seam these together. We also relied heavily on our strong paint department to seal the deal.”
See Tomorrowland…in one shot
Armed with the ’T’ pin, Casey explores Tomorrowland in one six-minute long shot, with no apparent cuts. Here she boards a monorail and almost makes it to a space shuttle before the timer on the pin runs out and she finds herself having walked into a lake back in our world.
Again, previs from Halon was crucial for the planning of this ‘one-shot’ sequence. “We had to be able to travel through multiple locations in Tomorrowland but make it seem like it’s one take,” explains Smith II. “We also completed techvis on the shots so that they could work out where to stitch the cameras together since parts of it were filmed in Spain, parts in Florida and also Vancouver.”
Halon also worked with cinematographer Claudio Miranda on camera and rig choices. During shooting of the plates, particularly those against bluescreen, some of Halon’s previs was A/B’d with the actors to check on line-ups. After the many plates were shot, Halon returned to do rough stitches and also provided postvis of the real actors and previs backgrounds.
While on a monorail, Casey zooms past divers launching into a series of vertical pools stacked up on top of each other. Halon previs’d that action. “We actually did Google searches for famous divers and swimmers and we would just basically rotomate their actions in Maya,” says Smith II. “What we blocked out for motion is what they ended up using as a basis for final effects.”
ILM’s layout department, led by Tim Dobbert and helped by Greg Bossert and Dacklin Young, then set to task in bringing the plates together for a final ‘oner’. “Of course, Tomorrowland never looked better than is this utopian view,” states Pasquarello, “and our environment team and compositors led by Francois Lambert had their own crew dedicated only to this sequence to make it possible.”
In fact, Lambert notes that the sequence took 10 months to complete in compositing with around 12 compositors on it. “They would make it work for transitions where we would go and, say, follow a spaceship in the sky and the come back down. We had some morphs between two plates, these would be usually shot at the same place, and to the point where there’s a little movement in the cameras, so it’s a little easier to do those transitions. It was in retrospect very hard to do those transitions – once we got all the plates sorted, then we integrated the CG environment then it was all about roto’ing.”
Frank, along with Casey and Athena (Raffey Cassidy), realize they must return to Tomorrowland. To get there they teleport to the Eiffel Tower in Paris – which actually houses a rocket capable of traveling to the Tomorrowland dimension.
Scenes of the Tower splitting in two and launching the rocket made use of significant reference and survey data the visual effects crew acquired in Paris. “We had unique access to the tower that allowed us to completely survey it and the area surrounding,” says Pasquarello. “We shot in around the tower for a few days and it was spectacular. From there, we constructed the tower exactly matching the blueprints and this model build was led by Russell Paul who made sure of the accuracy. For the base of the tower, we had to improvise a bit since it was under construction at the time.”
“We built a fairly spot on model of the Eiffel Tower with our necessary modifications including its ability to split apart,” continues Pasquarello. “We also built the Spectacle Rocket and its silo. I think the biggest challenge was the scale of the event and also, selling the reality of turning the tower into a launch scaffold. For our compositors and TDs who lit the tower and Spectacle, they had the end goal of matching our tower reference and all of Paris surrounding. We were helped out by some great environment builds of Paris down below.”
Towards the end of the film, Frank, Casey and Athena confront David Nix (Hugh Laurie), who has taken on the role as leader of Tomorrowland. The trio battle Nix and are faced, amongst other things, by a futuristic robot known as Goliath.
“For the scenes of Athena interacting with Goliath,” explains Pasquarello, “she was usually on some partial practical piece of Goliath that was built and a live rig that we then would attempt to match into. The difficulty here was that as the sequence evolved, our shot pieces didn’t always mesh with the action that Brad required so Goliath and possibly Athena would become all CG. We were very happy though to have the Goliath set pieces to help with the integration wherever possible and then, our animation team led by Maia Kaiser, worked closely with Brad on the fight.”
Delivering VFX for Dolby Vision
Tomorrowland is the first film to be released in Dolby Vision, a new high dynamic range format. For the visual effects team, this meant taking advantage of the Sony F65 footage to push for a greater range between the blacks and whites of the image.
Lambert notes that the Dolby Vision format influenced scenes such as the final portal confrontation, which involved a beachside location that would normally be difficult to expose for both foreground and background action. “I can see this tech changing the way compositing will be done,” says Lambert.
Hammack suggests that one of the effects of constructing for Dolby Vision was working with the new range of contrast. “You have to crank the stars because they’re such a pin prick light source,” he says. “The combination of the 4K resolution and the extended contrast from Dolby Vision means once we crank those stars up they become insanely bright – they become overpowering and start to do ‘visual perception’ things.”
“There are certain story points in the movie that lend itself to the Dolby Vision,” states Hammack. “For example, the transition from our world to Tomorrowland which happens over the course of two or three frames. We typically go from nighttime scenes to incredibly bright daytime scenes – it’s all about the contrast.”
All images and clips copyright 2015 Walt Disney Pictures.
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