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Virtual production is the hottest industry topic right now and next week’s FMX 2012 in Stuttgart devotes an entire track to it sponsored by Autodesk, the primary conference partner. The Avengers, Battleship, The Hunger Games, the new Total Recall remake, and The Lorax will be spotlighted along with Avatar, Hugo, The Adventures of Tintin, War Horse, and Real Steel.
“With the advent of digital pre-production, production and post-production, virtual production completes the digital film production pipeline,” said Marc Petit, SVP, Autodesk Media & Entertainment. “Virtual production places the creative decision-making back into the hands of director. The on-set real-time interaction between Autodesk MotionBuilder and Autodesk Maya software, provides a wealth of highly flexible CG assets which can flow throughout the filmmaking process and free filmmakers to focus on expressing their creative visions.”
Virtual Production I – World Building: From Avatar to Tintin
World Building involves the construction of a digital world space — the invention of a fictional universe that can include aspects such as geography, culture, and history. Production
Designer Alex McDowell (Man of Steel) curates the World Building track, which explores how these fictional worlds come into being. For one thing, McDowell and Speedcam’s director Mario Janelle analyze the fusion of two worlds when they look at World Building for indie movies using the example of Juan Diego Solanas’ Upside Down, a sci-fi take on Romeo and Juliet starring Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst.
By contrast, art directors Andrew Jones and Jeff Wisniewski shift their perspective to blockbuster movies: together they illuminate digital worlds spanning from the Na’vi inhabitants in Avatar‘s exoplanetary Pandora to the highly detailed world of comic-turned-film Tintin.
Virtual Production II – Previs: Spielberg’s War Horse and Wiseman’s Total Recall
What becomes of this world once it is created? The Previs track, curated by Ron Frankel (president and previs supervisor, Proof Inc) and Chris Edwards (CEO & creative director, The Third Floor), looks at the collaborative effort that is required when complex scenes and preliminary versions of shots or sequences are visualized predominantly using 3D animation tools and a virtual environment. Edwards describes how The Third Floor branches interact and sheds light on the previs process in Len Wiseman’s Total Recall. In this context, he focuses on the building of a futuristic world that differs drastically from the 1990 Schwarzenegger cult classic.
In a second presentation, Edwards and Kevin Jenkins, supervising art director at Framestore, recount the creation of War Horse: Both specialists worked together on different key scenes. They explain how they realized the historical scenery thanks to Digital Art Direction and path-paving Previs, paying particular attention to authenticity. Moreover, Edwards elucidates how The Third Floor used detailed, emotional visualizations as a blueprint for the set construction, horse training and ultimate cinematic staging to visibly enhance storytelling in Spielberg’s War Horse.
The third Previs presentation, “Integrate not dominate: Previs and Virtual Production for a non-VFX show,” features supervising visual effects producer Friend Wells and Frankel, who analyze the importance of virtual production and previs for all of those film productions, which are not primarily based on visual effects — that is to say drama, comedy, and low-budget film productions in general. Both speakers base their talk on the film The Last Stand starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (January 2013).
Virtual Production III – Megasessions: ILM, Weta and more
Visual effects supervisor Erik Nash (Digital Domain), previs supervisor Casey Schatz (Giant Studios), and virtual production supervisor Glenn Derry (Technoprops) team up for one “Megasession” to guide the audience through the innovative workflow that helped turn Real Steel into a huge success.
In another “Megasession,” FMX goes back in time when Weta Digital’s visual effects supervisor Wayne Stables, CTO Sebastian Sylwan, and head of marketing David Gouge trace the origins of the 3-D adventure Tintin and its innovative and creative virtual production workflow back through early tests on Peter Jackson’s 2001 fantasy adventure The Lord of the Rings.
A third “Megasession” is dedicated to one of this year’s top Oscar winners: Academy Award winner and visual effects supervisor Rob Legato elaborates on his collaboration with VFX company Nvizage and the art department for Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. Together with Nvizage’s previs supervisor Martin Chamney, he explains how they sculpted both the practical set and digital set extensions of the railway station.
In a fourth “Megasession,” Steve Sullivan, senior technology officer at Lucasfilm, and Michael Sanders, dgital supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic, demonstrate the importance of virtual production for their everyday work at Lucasfilm and ILM.
Meanwhile, there will be two extensive presentations on Battleship as part of the “VFX: Showcases” track. Compositing supervisor Marshall Krasser explains in his presentation “Not just a Board Game” why the epic battles on the high seas and the alien attacks on Hawaii constitute further milestones in ILM’s long-standing VFX history. For this purpose, ILM implemented a novel water simulation system and utilized the digital pyrotechnics tool Plume.
Moreover, John Dietz, founder, producer, and VFX supervisor at Vispop, devotes his talk to The Hunger Games. Dietz supervised the work of Rising Sun Pictures, which contributed more than 200 vfx shots to the screen adaptation of the popular book series, including the design for the fully digital Capital City. For crowds, live actors were shot against bluescreen which were then digitally multiplied.
Show & Tell: Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax and Marvel’s The Avengers
Director Chris Renaud‘s Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax will be screened at FMX in its original 3-D version. In addition, the quartet of Illumination Entertainment’s Jacques Bled, Kyle Balda, Bruno Chauffard, and Yarrow Cheney explains how the moustache-wearing protagonist was brought to life on the big screen.
Moreover, FMX will screen Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. ILM’s VFX supervisor Jeff White is joined by Weta Digital’s VFX supervisor Guy Williams to speak about the working processes involved in creating this film.
And it certainly helped collaborating with producer Colin Wilson, who previously worked on Avatar. “He encouraged us to set it up and use it in San Francisco at the Saul Zaentz building,” Gregoire recalls, “and we went through this process where we looked at the storyboards that [second unit director] Mark Andrews had drawn, and we broke them down into beats and they had a one-day motion capture session with Mark in a suit actually playing the parts of the apes. I had one artist who is a great MotionBuilder guy, Jeremy Agamata, and he took those performances and broke them down into the set ups that we needed to have to shoot the sequence.”
So they broke the action into logical chunks and put the mocap animation together and then shot it with a virtual camera. “This not only allowed us to capture Andrew’s style of filmmaking but it also allowed us to amp up that sequence and turn it into more of a hand-held observational style, which was more energetic and what he wanted for the battle in the arena.”