In the second episode of NBC series The Event, a plane once headed to kill the President mysteriously emerges from a wormhole only to crash-land in the desert, care of VFX from Stargate Studios. Lead compositor Diego Galtieri discusses the crash seen in the episode, which received a VES Award nom in the Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Series category.
fxg: Can you tell me about the design of the crash? Was it storyboarded or previs’d
Diego Galtieri: Jeffrey Reiner, our EP and Director, sat with a storyboard artist to design the sequence. Then we shot the background plates and previs’d the scene using them. Visual effects supervisor Victor Scalise worked with editor Ron Rosen to time out the CG planes to make the scene flow. We took some license to make to sequence more exciting, for example by designing the shot where the plane comes towards the camera.Watch a breakdown of Stargate Studios’ VFX for the plane crash
What kind of live action plates were shot? Were there things done on location to help with integration of the plane and also to aid in tracking?
Galtieri: Yes, the live action plates were shot on location. We shot aerial plates from a helicopter for the beginning shots before the crash. The ground shots were shot with a Steadicam on the back of a gator. We had a Jeep running where the plane was intended to be placed. This also gave us some basic practical dust on the ground that we used for reference for the CG dust.
fxg: How was the plane modeled, animated, lit and rendered? Can you talk about the tools you used?
Galtieri: The plane was modeled, animated and lit using Maya, and rendered using mental ray. The CG dust was made in 3ds Max using FumeFX. Our visual effects supervisor shot HDRIs of a set-piece of a real plane for the crash aftermath and for the talent to interact with. Those HDRIs were used for lighting.
fxg: In terms of compositing, what approach did you take to integrating the plane into the scene?
Galtieri: For the plane we had separate CG passes for beauty, diffuse, reflection, specular, shadows, lights and exhaust fumes. I had to dial them to match the real plane set-piece on location. For added realism, I generated displacement maps for the heat distortion and added camera shake. The ground shots were the most challenging because of the number of practical elements and CG passes that I had to integrate. We used After Effects for compositing and boujou for tracking.
fxg: The dust and sand it kicks up are really great – were they CG elements or practical dust elements added in and how was this achieved?
Galtieri: We used a combination of CG and practical dust. The 3D artists did a great job on the CG dust and I mixed it in compositing with practical dust elements from Stargate Studios’ library that were keyed, retimed and scaled accordingly.
fxg: What were some of the other important considerations for compositing (such as parts of the plane that break off, shadows, reflections and camera shake)?
Galtieri: We had CG debris passes for the parts of the plane that break off, with their shadows. In some shots I displaced the shadows using the ground texture. Camera shake was added as needed. For the shot where the plane comes out of the wormhole, we keyed the depth pass to extract the edges of the plane where it intersects the wormhole, to give them a glow. The same depth pass was used to mask the part of the plane that is behind the wormhole.
fxg: How did you approach depth of field?
Galtieri: We used CG depth passes for the plane getting out of the wormhole and the shot where the plane comes towards the camera. Most shots were wide enough so we didn’t need to address this issue.
fxg: How long did the sequence take to final and what was the crew involved?
Galtieri: It took us three weeks in total. Since it was a very demanding sequence, we got it earlier than the rest of the episode so we had enough time. We spent the first week working on the previs only, and the rest with the lighting and final animation and compositing. We had four 3D artists and two 2D artists working on this scene.