Were the crowds CG or were people against a greenscreen?
Ollie Rankin: All the crowds were CG, laid out and rendered in Houdini using our proprietary crowd pipeline. We have found that aside from the immediate foreground where it is always preferable to have practical extras, if possible, the flexibility of having fully CG crowds is worth the extra effort required to make them look photoreal. For instance, at any time a character in a CG crowd can have their position, orientation, behavior, or clothing changed arbitrarily, whereas with green screen extras, most of those characteristics are locked-in on the day of the shoot and become very difficult to change in post. Similarly the demographics and layout of a CG crowd can be art directed at will, while a green screen crowd cannot be, to the same extent.
1969 inaugural parade on Pennsylvania Ave, this is a all virtual shot with cg people, cars and buildings made by Method Studios. © 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved. Images courtesy Method Studios Vancouver.
Can you describe the process from start to finish from one of your shots?
OR: One of the more interesting shots, methodology-wise, was set at the Del Mar racetrack. It is an “over the shoulder” shot, craning up behind Hoover and Tolson as they watch their horse win a race. The principal actors and a handful of extras were shot on a partial stadium set constructed on the Warner Bros. lot while the horse race was shot separately with a static camera. We first tracked the camera move of the foreground plate, then used that to apply a corresponding camera move to the background plate. At this point a matte painter was able to get started de-modernizing the racetrack plate and adding in the hills that overlook Del Mar. Meanwhile the 3D team was tasked with building a stadium according to both the design characteristics of the partial set, yet also matching the dimensions of the stadium at the racetrack location. Once the stadium architecture was approved, we began filling it with digital extras. Their clothing was matched to the wardrobe of the extras in the plate and they were choreographed so that a percentage were celebrating the win, while others bemoaned the loss, and still others ignored the race finish altogether. The lighting of the foreground and background plates was inconsistent due to differing weather, time of day and relative sun position at the two locations, so we graded both plates to meet in the middle and then lit our CG accordingly. This all came together in compositing to create a shot that really gives the audience a sense of being there at the race track with Hoover and Tolson.
Del Mar racetrack as they cross the finish line, Method added midground cg crowd and background mattepainting added to bluescreen plate. © 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved. Images courtesy Method Studios Vancouver.
What software did you use for compositing, rendering, and general 3D?
Geoffrey Hancock: At Method Studios Vancouver we use various software depending on the requirements of the shot. Primarily we use Maya for modeling and texturing and often render environments and vehicles in Mental Ray. Houdini is used for our crowd system
Did you develop new techniques for this project?
OR: We saw this project as an opportunity to replace the weakest link in our crowd pipeline, the deformation procedural that generates the crowd geometry on-demand at render time. Previously this had been a monumental hack which involved running the Renderman procedural that ships with Massive, then locating and stealing the geometry out of RAM and re-formatting it for Mantra, Houdini’s renderer. Instead we have built a new and significantly more flexible and robust deformation procedural based around the Cortex open source project.
1935 inaugural parade on Pennsylvania Ave, this is a all virtual shot with cg set and cg parade made by Method Studios. © 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved. Images courtesy Method Studios Vancouver.
Thanks Geoffrey and Ollie for sharing all this with the Death Fall community and special thanks to Ellen Pasternack and Rita Cahill for making this interview possible.
All Images and Videos are courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved. and Method Studios Vancouver.