Lance Wilhoite on the VFX of "Ghosts of Mars"
By Catherine Feeny
August 31, 2001 02:37
|Train at Shining Station
2.7 MB QuickTime 5 Movie
Did that require more time on the set?
No, not at all. I am very sensitive to minimizing the intrusion to the
production. And in fact, on many shots, my team was able to get most of
the data we needed as they were finishing the setup, with no extra time
involved. In another example, Carpenter needed a fight scene on top of
the moving train. Production had only one practical locomotive out in
the desert that was moved with a pulley. And the high winds every night
made the outdoor use of a green screen very risky. The economical solution
was to stage the actors in green screen and comp them onto our miniature
train and landscape. We took the basic angle from the storyboards, wedged
15 different animatics of the full composite and let Carpenter choose
the exact shot. We then interpolated the scene data from Maya and gave
production all the necessary information such as camera height, angle,
lens, light positions and intensities. It was amazing how little time
it took when nearly all the decisions were made ahead of time.
John and his DP Gary Kibbe expected a bit of a challenge
when we had to shoot the actors actually standing on the green screen.
They were used to the old digital green standard, where spill and color
suppression issues arose from the subjects being too close to the screen.
But what I suggested to them was a new mixture of green paint containing
a vibrant phosphorous.† Black lights
excite the chemicals and provide a much cleaner exposure with almost 35%
less luminance. Less luminance means less spill, less blue suppression,
softer edges, better comp.
2.7 MB QuickTime 5 Movie
How did you go about choosing different artists and companies to work
Iím kind of an effects nut. And I have come to know lots of artists at
companies big and small. I know who did what on many different films.
I look for a match of experience with the kind of effects Iím looking
for. R & D budgets can obviously be reduced when the artist or team
has created similar shots. One problem with the big shops is that they
have a chain five or six people long, and to me, it is like the old Kindergarten
telephone line game. By the time the shot strategy gets down to the guy
pushing the buttons, itís been filtered through lots of different people.
Itís not only horribly inefficient from a time and cost standpoint, it
also has a propensity to cloud the intent of the directorís original vision
for the shot. And what often happens is that the director is ďsoldĒ the
shot from one of the effects producers or handed an overage bill to cover
additional man days to try and get it right. Over even worse, upper management
will conceal the discrepancy and reduce the time, machines and people
allocated to other important shots. Either way, the budget, the effect
and ultimately the film suffers. This drove me to build the concept of
the super technical director.
|Vapor From Mouth
6.81 MB QuickTime 5 Movie
How does the super TD differ from a regular TD?
all know the type. Theyíre the small handful of guys,(and gals), youíll
always find at effect shops big and small that are brilliant, gifted and
the driving force behind the really beautiful and challenging shots you
see on the company reel. They started out years ago in roto and paint,
went on to animation and compositing and ended up as animation supervisors
or the managing technical director. Then, upper management removes them
from doing shots and instead has them going around the shop, lending their
expertise and advice to the junior animators actually doing your effects.
The bigger companies, rightfully so, use this technique to breed the next
generation of top staff. †But the sad truth is that all too often, the
top people in the company are not doing your shots. And as a result, a
large part of your effects budget is really subsidizing the training of
newer artists. Itís the way larger shops stay afloat. But it is definitely
not the best use of valuable production money.†
After doing the math on lots of shows, Iíve found itís much more
efficient to give a super TD blocks of common shots. Meaning they handle
the entire process from start to finish. I donít know how many times Iíve
observed highly paid artists sitting at idle computers waiting for shot
elements from the Roto & Paint Department or temporary animatic slugs
from animation. On ďGhosts of MarsĒ, I had the super TDís multitask at
every turn. For example, as they waited for an animatic to finish rendering,
theyíd be writing roto shapes and garbage mattes for the next shot. Iíve
found that most really gifted TDís are naturally efficient with time and
process. And they donít like waiting around! I also saved many hours with
a proprietary job structure allowing me to work seamlessly with gifted
artists all over the world with floating licenses distributed quickly
8.98 MB QuickTime 5 Movie
Iíd have the team create an iteration of the shot by noon and editorial
would FTP a Quick Time from our site. John would look at it when he got
there at 1 and give us feedback. The super TD, John Carpenter and I would
talk about the progress and direction of the shot. It wasnít filtered
through six different people. We were able to turn around the next version
of the shot in a couple of hours. We got iterations to him before he left
for his lunch break and while he was still thinking about it. The shots
looked excellent and John Carpenter was blown away by them. Gary Kibbe
has been Johnís DP for most of his features and he told me they were the
best effects ever done on any of his movies.
|Earth From Space
7.21 MB QuickTime 5 Movie
The feedback chain being shortened is key to cutting to costs in the effects
business. Thatís how we were able to make it cheaper without sacrificing
quality. I also used two of the best matte painters in the business --
Richard Kriegler and Peter Lloyd. They worked with me on "Star Trek:
InsurrectionĒ and they are brilliant. They live in Santa Barbara.