FMX 2012 – day three

Time flies at FMX 2012 – and day three was one of the quickest but also biggest. An enormously popular session saw ILM and Weta Digital present their VFX for the equally enormously popular The Avengers film. There were more great virtual production sessions, including one on Real Steel, and focuses on work in India and Montreal.

The Avengers with ILM and Weta Digital

ILM's Jeff White. Photo by Reiner Pfisterer.

Visual Effects Society executive director Eric Roth welcomed attendees to this session with ‘Good afternoon’ and received a thunderous applause. Such was the buzz about Avengers – see fxguide’s in-depth coverage here – and the work by ILM and Weta Digital for the film. Interestingly, many in the audience had not yet seen the film since it had only recently opened in Germany. But all were treated to some of the best breakdowns presented at FMX – things you will never see anywhere else.

Weta’s Guy Williams began with a look at the Captain America jump from the Quinjet. We saw a before and after plate of Chris Edwards jumping onto a green bag. Because the shot was a oner following Cap down through the sky, Weta made the character completely digital for the whole shot, requiring roto-mation of the live action. To validate the process, they showed the client the shot, but only the CG version, and it was approved. We then saw breakdowns of the mountaintop scene with Thor and Loki, which featured projected matte paintings, and then the forest fight between Thor and Iron Man. One amazing shot features Thor being ground into a cliff face – a scene relying on some intial mocap for the action and then incredible levels of animation and effects, cloth sims and compositing to realize.

Weta also worked on Hawkeye’s arrival at the Helicarrier and the subsequent engine explosion. The fluid sim for that ran for 36 hours and used deep compositing for the many layers of explosions, particles and debris. An impressive addition to the aftermath of the destruction on the Helicarrier were bubbled panels caused by the heat which were created by using edge maps for the ship’s panels and putting a large frequency distortion on them. Some nice volumetric clouds breakdowns were a feature of those Helicarrier shots, too.

The audience looks on at The Avengers presentation.

ILM visual effects supervisor Jeff White then began a quickfire presentation of his studio’s work – we just saw so many shots of the New York battle, the aliens (with faces added late in the game), Hulk and Iron Man. The Leviathans were particularly interesting since ILM had to make them an armoured flying worm with a ‘nougaty’ soft centre, and sell their enormous sense of scale. They also had to add what White called a ‘sushi platter’ of Leviathan guts whenever one was destroyed.

We saw breakdowns of the New York scenes, including the panoramic HDR photography set-ups made over an eight week shoot (garnering 275,000 images) and how ILM used a NY model lined up to their photography to solve what was viewable in each shot. All the little details were there too – plantboxes, sandwich boards, traffic lights, cars, cars with doors open to show a city that was being evacuated in panic and police cars (which had the benefit of having flashing lights, a good way to show movement). 360s of the environments could also then be pinned onto Iron Man, say, to help with reflections.

For Hulk, White showed a very cool reference shoot of ‘Green Steve’, a muscly stand-in painted green who performed many of the moves seen in the final film on set (we also saw a much smaller Green Steve for scenes shot in Ohio). Breakdowns here included the skin texture shoot, Lightstage set-up, dental moulds, cloth sims, vein maps, lifecast of Mark Rufalo and the unique rig to highlight Hulk’s eyes which were darkened by his large brow (it was interesting to hear that in live action often torches are shone onto actor’s eyes to highlight them, too).

Here is a making of Hulk from our media partners The Daily And ILM’s Jeff White.


The virtual production of Real Steel

From L: Casey Schatz, Glenn Derry and Erik Nash.

We’ve covered Real Steel in some great detail at fxguide, but this session really showed how different departments and artisans – from mocap to virtual production tools to visual effects – came together to make the fighting robot film possible.

First up was Erik Nash, Digital Domain’s visual effects supervisor, who introduced the panelists and showed examples of how their work aided the final VFX process. One example was logistical previs created for Metal Valley (the scene where Max slides in the rain down a cliff before being saved by Atom’s hand). The area was modeled in Maya by Giant Studios’ Casey Schatz with cranes, lighting equipment, rain bars and other things months before anything was shot – we even saw a before and after still image that matched almost exactly with the final on-set set-up. Stay tuned for an interview with Nash in an upcoming fxguidetv episode.

Giant’s Casey Schatz then continued the previs theme and the work his studio does to help set up the capture environments with IR cameras. Some cool things he showed related to preparations before shooting – he made a sun/shadow animation app for the zoo sequence that established where the sun and shadows would be at all times of the day to enable the best virtual production.

Noisy Boy punches Midas at Crash Palace.

Then, virtual production supervisor Glenn Derry from Technoprops discussed the hardware and logistical set-up required. They literally rented trailers to hold video assist, editing, Codex, simulcam, a Truelight and image-based capture equipment and personnel. He also talked about additions made to the film camera that allowed Giant to pull metadata on focal length etc without being too much of a disturbance to the camera operator.

It was another big day for virtual production at FMX, with additional presentations on Hugo, virtual production in games and Zoic’s system used for many television series.

Focus on Montreal

One of the more enticing aspects of FMX is the worldwide showing of speakers and attendees. To match, a series of special sessions focusing on Montreal, Vancouver, Poland and Estonia have been part of the week’s presentations. Today, we saw Hybride’s Pierre Raymond discuss strategies and thoughts on film & game convergence. Montreal-based Hybride, founded in 1991, is now a division of Ubisoft, and so has first hand knowledge of working in the games and film fields. Raymond discussed the convergence of these areas, showing some nice examples from Assassins Creed: Lineage and also their recent work for Hunger Games. Other studios presenting from Montreal were Modus FX, Mokko Studio, Moment Factory, as well as CentreNAD.