Special FX - Bow Down To Industrial Light & Magic (Part 2)

10/18/2012 3:36:38 PM

One – Create a digital ocean

ILM had already created CG oceans for A Perfect Storm and Poseidon, but it set up the Battleship Water Department to scale up a ‘fluid system’ based on Stanford’s PhysBAM physics simulator. Thanks to a new multithreading processing model, simulations could be run on one octo-core computer in a few hours, rather than the day it toll on Poseidon.

Description: One – Create a digital ocean

Create a digital ocean

Two – Keep it real

One of director Pete Berg’s priorities when making Battleship was adding a layer of realism to the FX work. “The typical response to CG is that it’s too clean,” says Visual Effects Supervisor Grady Cofer. “In reality, things weather with age. There are patinas and rust and oxidation, and we wanted to represent all of those things but on the alien ships as well.”

Three – Add some heft

When creating outlandish imagery with CGI – giant alien battleships, or example – it’s important to give your images a sense of heft and weight, says Animation Supervisor Glen Mclntosh. “The key was making sure that we gave the ship enough time to land, so you believe it’s 1000ft long. The only way to sell that scale is by letting things take their time to move.”

Four – Garnish with iMoCap

Battleship’s aliens made use of the iMoCap system pioneered on the third Pirates film. It allows CGI artists to work from performances captured on location. “Working so closely with the stunt team and choreographer, the animation crew and the motion capture we did down on the stage… integrating all of that into the aliens was a big challenge,’ says Mclntosh.

…and what next for SFX?

Augmented models

CGI is giving a new lease of life to old tech. the FX in Moon were created on the cheap with miniatures but to keep them from looking like ’70s Doctor Who props, CGI touches were used to sell the effects. Lens flares and dirt were also added digitally.

Get the tech

Add explosions and effects to your iPhone videos with Action Movie FX ($free). Sure, it’s not quite Spielberg but it’s a start.

Description: Action Movie FX

Action Movie FX

Homebrew CGI

A new generation is creating blockbuster CGI in their bedrooms. Take Gareth Edwards’ Monsters the director dug up a shooting setup for under $16,235.9 and crafted all the effects himself with software such as Adobe Production Premium ($2,915, His robot epic Forever is out in 2013.

Get the tech

Edwards gave life to his monsters with Autodesk 3DS Max ($5,699,, a 3D modeler with a handy creature animations plugin.

48 frames per second

The Lord of the Rings prequel could change the way we watch films. Peter Jackson is shooting the film at 48fps (as opposed to the current 24fps standard), which he claims blends CG with real footage more effectively. Detractors reckon the lack of motion blur makes the film look like a made for telly movie.

Get the tech

Most cams will shoot 48fps; mo-cap your own Gollum with iClone 5 and the Mocap Device plugin ($357, and Kinect for Windows.

CGI takes its time

Alfonse Cuaron’s upcoming sci-fi flick Gravity is a CGI innovator. The entire film was pre-rendered, with Sandra Bullock’s face shot separately and ‘backwards engineered’ into her spacesuit. These days, CGI sequences are getting longer and longer although the 17 minute opening shot is still pretty extreme.

Get the tech

Autodesk Smoke 2013 ($3,495, is a video and VFX package for Mac. Older versions cost $15,000 so this is a bargain.

We all go 4K

Universal Pictures is revisiting its classic films and giving them a spit and polish for its 100th anniversary celebrations. Next up is Jurassic Park, ILM’s most iconic SFX showcase, which will almost certainly be remastered in 4K resolution. Pun sharp, tri dimensional velociraptors? That’s fine by us.

Get the tech

Shoot 4K with JVC’s new GY-HMQ10 ($7046.5,, or go for broke (and a bank loan) with the Red Scarlet X (from $9,700,

ILM on the future of SFX and Film

1.    Virtual performances will become the norm

Pablo Helman, VFX Supervisor/ Second Unit Director

“It’s really great to see a performer being mirrored in a digital asset. This means that you can have a performer doing some kind of acting, and then convert that into a creature that does exactly the same and emotes it in some way.”

Description: ILM visual effects supervisor

ILM visual effects supervisor

2.    CGI gets less perfect

Glen Mclntosh, Animation Supervisor

“For Battleship we looked at WWII documentary footage. We noticed the cameraman wasn’t framing everything perfectly – he was overshooting when a plane hit the water, and in explosions the camera shook. Adding these flourishes helps to sell the reality of the film.”

3.    Processing power changes movie physics

Grady Cofer, VFX Supervisor

“I’m excited about a lot of the advances in simulation technologies such as PhysBAM. Not only did we apply a lot of those innovations to our water tools, but also to CG pyrotechnics, which we’ve really pushed in this movie.”

4.    SFX becomes filmmaking

Willi Geiger, Digital Supervisor

“Our industry’s now reached a point of maturity where we’re filmmakers, and we have to think like that – how can we serve the director and get their vision out there? It’s not just about adding flashes and bangs, it’s about creating visuals.”

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