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Lance Wilhoite on the VFX of "Ghosts of Mars"
By Catherine Feeny
August 31, 2001 02:37 PM PDT

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Train Explodes
4.34 MB QuickTime 3 Movie

Did the Internet play a large role in your proposal?
Yes. That’s how we got efficient. I was able to hire the industry’s top TD’s and work directly with them from all over the country. All it required was a set schedule for communication and diligent adherence to the show’s job structure. We worked hard to stay on track and John Carpenter appreciated that a great deal.

Who did the miniature work?
The model train shots are awesome; Ian Hunter and a crew of 32 built the train, weather balloon, cliff face and Martian terrain. I worked closely with the Production Designer to accurately translate the look to the miniatures. I was always very supportive of Ian and his crew and we developed a great relationship. They worked very hard and the results were obvious. John was amazed at the level of detail we were able to achieve and the subsequent flexibility it provided to get the angles I was visualizing. I had a great staff that helped me take large amounts of data.


Big Daddy Mars
7.31 MB QuickTime 3 Movie

How long was production?

It was about six months. I logged quite a few miles between Los Angeles and New Mexico. We’d shoot every night till sunrise in the desert then I‘d be on the 7:35 to shoot miniature plates in LA at 10:00. It was non-stop. Buy you know what… It was great. I loved looking at dailies with John and watching him get excited.  

How long was post?
There were four busy months and then wrapping up took an additional three.

Did you have a lot of interaction with Ian O’Connor?
Yes, he was the pyro guy. We had worked with him on "Star Trek: Insurrection" and I wanted our train explosions on the same scale. Together we scripted the sequence of charges based on the camera angles and relative position on the track. We then pre-stressed the doors and hatches of the model to maximize their outward velocity. We actually got a flaming piece of the train door to fly toward camera.


Desconso Loses Head
6.74 MB QuickTime 3 Movie

Can you break down one of the bigger shots, element by element?

There was one shot (VFX 5) of the train coming into the train station and security guards gathering around it. Production had a practical train on a pulley, but there was no way that was going to come off. So, instead we used a miniature train on a greenscreen pulling into a miniature station on a green screen with a matte painting of a city and the sky in the back. We shot the guards on a Sony stage with camera data taken directly from pre-vis scripted in Maya. We knew exactly how much screen, stage and lights we needed well before production. It was great to just show up and have everything line up with very little wasted time and materials. From our data we were able to calculate the position of the miniature train door on our practical set. I had the guards “knocking” at the right position and it lined up perfectly. That shot turned out really nice.


Warrios On Train
7.45 MB QuickTime 3 Movie

So what did you learn on this job that you will take to the next job?
I’m actually already on another project without much of a break. But my core team has made substantial improvements to our proprietary job structure and job controller. They tell me that if I leave my workstation for longer than ten minutes, my processors will be turned over to the render cue for everyone else to use! I think they’re taking this efficiency issue a little too far.


Ballon Crash
8.26 MB QuickTime 3 Movie

I believe there will be some major developments during the next 6 weeks that will really change the effects industry. Some critical mergers and vast improvements to key software will dramatically improve the efficiency and flexibility of effects production.

But yes, I’m getting lots of interesting calls. Usually from producers wondering how to get great effects for their projects done on a limited budget. I usually tell them they’ve come to the right place

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