VINCENT FREI | ART OF VFX | SEPTEMBER 10, 2013 | Original Article
Martyn Culpitt started his career in visual effects with the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, then he worked on films such as VANTAGE POINT, INVICTUS and THE GREEN HORNET. He joined Image Engine in 2012.
Mark Wendell is in VFX for over 20 years. He worked on films like SHREK, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, SPEED RACER or PROMETHEUS.
What is your background?
Martyn Culpitt – Visual Effects Supervisor // I have been working in the Industry for over 20yrs. I initially started my career in film set construction at Marmalade Vision in Wellington, New Zealand in 1992. I soon realized I was more interested in the digital world so changed my job and worked my way through the editorial department of the company, becoming Senior Editor within the first few years. Following my interest in visual effects, I moved to the TV, film and visual effects industry as a 2D artist working on films such as THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, TROPIC THUNDER, TWILIGHT, ANGELS & DEMONS, INVICTUS, SALT and THE GREEN HORNET. I was asked to join Image Engine to work as the Compositing Supervisor for R.I.P.D. in 2012. I had always wanted to work on creature films and it was a great opportunity to expand my experience even further.
Since I started in the industry, I have always tried to push my work and keep learning every project, my goal was to one day become a Visual Effects Supervisor. When I was given the opportunity to work with Roland and the Team at Uncharted Territory as Visual Effects Supervisor on WHITE HOUSE DOWN I was thrilled.
Mark Wendell – CG Supervisor // I’ve been in the vfx and animation biz for over twenty years, wearing many hats, including CG supervision, lighting, compositing, pipeline, fx, tools development, layout, and I even have an ‘animation supervisor’ credit! That’s one of the things I like about CG supervision, frankly, is that it’s an excuse to do lots of different jobs throughout the pipeline. I started in this business back when there weren’t any schools for learning CG, and in fact I have a biology degree, so everything I know about CG was self-taught and learned on the job.
How was the collaboration with director Roland Emmerich?
Martyn Culpitt – Visual Effects Supervisor // Our collaboration with Roland was a very smooth process. Working through Marc and Volker we had direct feedback as soon as we needed it, so there was no wasting time. Roland always gave concise feedback and direction, but he would listen to us and appreciated our ideas, which helped us take the shots to the highest level we could together. It did honestly feel like a collaboration rather than Roland just giving notes.
What was his approach to the visual effects?
Martyn Culpitt – Visual Effects Supervisor // Roland, Marc and Volker had done a lot of previs for the film; most films do as it saves a lot of time in the end. On WHITE HOUSE DOWN, It felt like Roland took it to the next level where he would sculpt and design each camera and shot in previs and even further with the team at Uncharted Territory once they had completed filming, before passing it off to us to create the final shot. By the time we started working with them they had pretty much locked down every camera angle and shot. This gave us time to work on the more important details of each shot and given the time constraints we had this was ideal.
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CASSANDRA SZKLARSKI, CP | THE PROVINCE | AUGUST 14, 2013 | Original Article
For anyone who saw Neill Blomkamp’s breakout film District 9, it’s no surprise his follow-up Elysium is chock-full of elaborate flying machines, futuristic weaponry and an assortment of bizarre robots. Most of the effects were handled by Vancouver-based Image Engine, which also worked with Blomkamp on District 9. Smaller, specific tasks were spun out to the Embassy, Moving Picture Company, WhiskyTree and Method Studios, says Image Engine partner Shawn Walsh.
“We have a good reputation for doing visual effects work which is seamless,” says Walsh. “We would talk a lot with Neill about trying to un-sci-fi our work and he was very conscientious about consistently reminding us that we’re not trying to create something that is openly acknowledged as science fiction.”
Blomkamp’s latest vision, which boasts a budget roughly three times that of the $30-million District 9, stars Matt Damon as an ex-con battling his way to an idyllic space station reserved for the world’s richest. “He’s a very talented filmmaker, the kind of filmmaker that I think, appropriately, deserves the description of visionary,” Walsh says of the South African-bred director, now based in Vancouver.
“He’s very much in the school of James Cameron or (George) Lucas or (Steven) Spielberg in that he imagines a kind of complete world, a complete universe, and posits his story within that.”
For those who haven’t seen Elysium and want the effects to be a surprise, stop reading now — although there’s plenty more than what’s outlined below. Here’s a look at how some of the wild images came together:
The film takes its name from an orbiting paradise that offers sanctuary from a polluted, disease-ridden Earth in the year 2154. Walsh says Blomkamp consulted scientific experts to come up with a plausible space habitat.
“We approached it very much like an engineering or design firm — we approached it by breaking it up into its component parts and designing each and every one of those independently,” he says of the fictional super-structure, which he described as “a bicycle wheel spinning in space.”
“It’s based on this idea that’s called the Stanford torus, which was a NASA jet propulsion lab idea of what kind of a shape would you need to create in order to create a centrifugal force that would create gravity,” he says, adding that other parts of Elysium are inspired by images from conceptual artist Syd Mead.
2. The droids.
Image Engine was in charge of an array of robots, known here as droids, that fulfil several tasks on Earth and Elysium ranging from food service to health care to policing. Anytime you see a droid moving “it’s 100 per cent computer-generated,” says Walsh.
This was achieved by filming an actor in a grey suit performing the scene first.
“Essentially, we removed the actor from the plate and replaced him with a digital version of the character that’s moving in a very, very close approximation to what the actor did,” Walsh says.
3. The weaponry.
The Embassy handled the film’s wild weapon effects, which include a powerful anti-aircraft railgun and an impressive force field-type shield, says Walsh.
“Neill has kind of a gearhead background that leads him into creating these sort of fantastical weapons in his movies and he has worked with the Embassy before.”
The villainous Kruger, played by District 9 star Sharlto Copley, gets one of the more unique toys — a sort of energy shield that can turn on in an instant to deflect whatever flies his way.
“It was a bit of a worry of ours to understand exactly what that thing was and how it functioned and they managed to make it look extremely physically real,” says Walsh.
He says Image Engine devised a laser-like device that Damon’s hero uses to cut a hole into a spaceship from afar.
“There was a practical effect of blowing the hole open, and the door essentially, but then we had to reverse engineer it so you didn’t see the hole. And then obviously all of the sort of tracer markings and burning embers and smoke and stuff was visual effects,” he says.
4. The vehicles.
The assortment of aircraft includes a sleek, red Bugatti-like shuttle, crafted by Moving Picture Company, that ferries bad guy William Fichtner to and from Elysium. There’s also the more utilitarian fleet used by the government-run Civil Cooperation Bureau to keep Earth-dwellers in line and several rebel crafts used in a bid to smuggle illegals onto Elysium.
But Walsh is most enamoured by the Raven, a monolith Kruger uses to swoop in on his targets, armed with automatic guns, missiles and an all-seeing surveillance system.
“It kind of becomes this bird of prey,” Walsh says of the creation, handled by Image Engine. “We used helicopters to show framing and staging and movement as well as editorially to get the interaction of dust and debris from the ground when a vehicle comes in and lands or takes off. And then essentially we remove the helicopter and add in the computer-generated vehicle.”
5. The City of Los Angeles.
“It’s in this slow, grinding, sand-paper like decline,” Walsh says of the city’s imagined future, laid bare in a fly-over shot provided by Industrial Light & Magic.
Squalid shanty towns that dot the landscape are actual slums on the outskirts of Mexico City, says Walsh, while dilapidated skyscrapers are inspired by actual L.A. city plans.
“We researched with the City of Los Angeles which buildings had been approved to be built but had yet to be built,” says Walsh.
“So anybody who’s a real student of the downtown area of Los Angeles will be able to pick out these buildings that don’t quite exist but somehow are very accurate to the future plans of Los Angeles.”
IAN FAILES | FX GUIDE | AUGUST 13, 2013 | Original Article
Even before the release of his first feature film, District 9, Neill Blomkamp had impressed audiences with his dystopian visions in short films and various other projects he had tackled with a background in CG work. Now with Elysium, Blomkamp had the opportunity to explore both a gritty future world – set in 2154 – and a pristine space habitat where the wealthy now reside. The director reunited with his close collaborators Image Engine, and particularly visual effects supervisor Peter Muyzers and visual effects producer Shawn Walsh, to tell the story of an ex-con Max (Matt Damon) seeking to get to Elysium despite the efforts of Elysian goverment minister Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and mercenary agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley).
fxguide goes deep into many of the design, practical, miniature and digital effects efforts required to bring Blomkamp’s Elysium to the screen. We talk to Image Engine, Weta Workshop, Whiskytree, Method Studios, ILM, The Embassy, MPC, Kerner Optical, MastersFX and concept designer TyReuben Ellingson.
Warning: this article contains plot spoilers
Above: Watch an exclusive breakdown of Image Engine’s visual effects for Elysium, thanks to our media partners at WIRED.
“Ever since District 9,” says Peter Muyzers, “we were talking with Neill about this concept of Elysium and what it meant. Neill is very open with his key members of his team, and he involved a lot of people early on. And even though we’re doing a sci-fi film, say for the spaceship, we went and looked at reference. He spoke to Syd Mead who is a great concept designer and has great legacy, and Syd Mead was the inspiration behind a lot of this.”
We spoke to Syd Mead in 2007 at Siggraph for fxguidetv.
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BILL DESOWITZ | AWN / VFXWORLD | AUGUST 12, 2013 | Original Article
Even before finishing his acclaimed, Oscar-nominated breakthrough hit, District 9, director Neill Blomkamp began envisioning a more ambitious sci-fi action/adventure about the haves and have nots. The result is Elysium, which stars Matt Damon trying to escape impoverished Earth in 2154 to the luxurious space station where disease has also been vanquished.
"District 9 was a singular anti-Apartheid metaphor whereas Elysium is a more general metaphor about immigration and how the First World and Third World meet," explains the South African-born Blomkamp. "But the thing that I like the most about the metaphor is that it can be scaled to suit almost any scenario. Like Elysium can be South Africa and the future of LA is Zimbabwe with people crossing the border. It can be a pocket of LA where it's like Compton and Beverly Hills. It can be California; it can be the U.S. and Mexico."
Elysium is the ultimate gated community patterned after Bel-Air, while Earth is a futuristic vision of Mexico City, and that's exactly where the director shot it. Conversely, he shot the Elysium scenes in pristine Vancouver.
Once again, Blomkamp turned to Vancouver-based Image Engine as his VFX hub. However, the challenges were far greater than District 9. "If you look at District 9, the focus was on creating a digital alien and variations of that digital alien and creating convincing performances on a repeated basis throughout the film in a very consistent manner," suggests VFX producer Sean Walsh, who worked alongside VFX supervisor Peter Muyzers. "But the scope and diversity of work that was completed on Elysium was much broader so we had the droids, the immigrant shuttles, the Raven assault vehicle, Elysium and tons of other miscellaneous work and compositing. And Battleship, The Thing, Immortals and Zero Dark Thirty really contributed along the way to our capabilities in terms of ramping up for Elysium."
Indeed, there was significant R&D in terms of volume rendering that came out of simultaneously working on Zero Dark Thirty and Elysium. There was also massive scale world building and handling all of the assets. "We were looking at 3 trillion triangles when the full extent of the [Torus spinning] ring was tessellated for rendering," Walsh adds. "Being able to push very large-scale, heavy-duty assets through our pipeline was something that does require progressive R&D over time to build up a toolset that can handle that kind of data. It's more about fine-tuning and magnifying the full suite of tools that have been built up over a diverse range of projects and pushing those tools to their fullest extent."
The main challenge was the outer Torus ring itself along with the complex geometry of the opulent landscape within it, particularly the foliage, while the large body of water acts as a balancer to keep the high-tech world spinning.
"Neill gave us conceptual design work, some created by Syd Mead as far as the Torus station," Walsh continues. "Peter and I put together an internal design team. We came to grips with the extent of the build into post." In keeping with its pipeline capabilities, Imagine Engine took on the major hard surface aspect of the Torus ring and reached out to more appropriate companies to handle the Elysium landscape."
"We entered in a unique situation with Whisky Tree in San Rafael as an in-sourcing/outsourcing where we synced the pipelines so they could deliver these beautiful 3D elements to Image Engine and we could be rendering separate elements of the same shot," Walsh says. "We essentially built our own digital environment team by contracting another company. We would set up shots, animate shots, get a lot of approval aspects doing the Elysium shots in advance with Neill and get him comfortable about how we were framing Elysium. And then we'd start to go to work building the kind of resolution that you see in the film, which was extremely detailed. We used Maya, Softimage, 3Dlight and Arnold to render, and composited in Nuke."