Luma Pictures took on another Marvel superhero production - The Avengers. Luma completed nearly 200 shots, focusing on creating the interior of the Helicarrier by digitally extending and enhancing a practical set. The company also reprised its role in creating Thor's supernatural armor.
Top, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, set to assemble The Avengers. Middle, Chris Evans as Captain America, and bottom, Robert Downey Jr. plays Iron Man in Marvel's The Avengers
Marvel's The Avengers united a band of super heroes, and also reunited those super heroes with the visual effects houses that worked on the previous movies featuring them.
For the Santa Monica-based Luma Pictures, which had contributed VFX shots to both Thor and Captain America, working on The Avengers was another chapter in the company's relationship with Marvel. "They're a fantastic company to work with, from the top down," says Luma Pictures Visual Effects Supervisor Vincent Cirelli. "They're a very organized company and we seem to have similar company philosophies in that we keep the same core group of people and move from show to show with them, rather than rebuilding a team for each film. It keeps a level of quality and consistency in all their films."
Luma Pictures Senior Producer Steven Swanson agrees. "We started our interaction with Marvel with a 350-shot sequence on Thor which focused on the Destroyer and the Bifrost arrival effect," he says. "They were really happy with our collaborative process and the quality of the work, which led to helping out on a few shots in Captain America, which in turn led to our work on The Avengers."
"It's a great relationship," Cirelli adds. "They tend to carve out some meaty CG-intensive work for us."
For a VFX picture the size of The Avengers, it takes more than one visual effects house to get the job done. WETA Digital and ILM did a large amount of work on The Avengers. At Luma Pictures, artists worked on almost 200 shots, utilizing an Isilon SAN running Linux, with "heavily modified versions" of Maya and Nuke. "We have a large development staff, so we've built wrappers to extend the capabilities of both packages," explains Cirelli. "We also built our own Maya to Arnold interpreter and recently completed a FumeFX port to Maya with Sitni Sati, which we used to created most of the cloud simulations on The Avengers."
All those tools came into play for Luma Pictures' work on The Avengers, for which the company revisited the character of Thor and -- the majority of its work -- created the interior of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, a high-tech, flying aircraft carrier on which much of the movie's action takes place. The production built a set that consisted of the first level of the large bridge with monitors and some high-tech semi-transparent glass panel displays. Luma's job was to create a digital set extension and enhancement to the bridge. "The majority of our work was inside the bridge. We built everything above the first level," explains Cirelli. "However, we also did an exterior extension where the camera is in front of the Helicarrier at night, looking into the front bridge windows and focused on Thor."
"It was exciting because we got to do some design work as well when creating the catwalk and ceiling," he adds. "We ended up taking design cues from the rest of the ship and proposing some of our own ideas to [The Avengers visual effects supervisor] Janek [Sirrs] who would give us his notes and show them to [director] Joss [Whedon]."
In the interior of the Helicarrier, Luma Pictures created the ceilings, all the catwalks and the bridge extensions, as well as clouds and blue sky.
In the interior of the Helicarrier, Luma Pictures created the ceilings, all the catwalks and the bridge extensions. "Any time the camera looks up or through the huge bridge windows, we did that," says Cirelli. "That includes the sequence when Hawkeye is shooting arrows as he and other Loki-possessed agents try to take the Helicarrier. "It's a huge blue screen stage and in order to populate the upper level, we added crewmen on cards in Nuke using a Gizmo we created," he says.
When an engine blows up in the film, Luma Pictures animated the environment to make the ship feel as though it was lifting due to the imbalance.
When an engine blows up, Luma Pictures animated the environment to make the ship feel as though it was lifting due to the imbalance. To add to the chaos, Luma also animated the buckling structural elements and enhanced explosions. "We had a lot of fun with this sequence," adds Cirelli.
Top: The Hellicarrier. Middle: Thor's magical tornado (also title image). Bottom: Iron Man's Tony Stark inside the Hellicarrier.
In another shot that Luma did, Nick Fury looks out the window of the Helicarrier and sees Iron Man soar by, with one of the Quinjets trailing closely behind him. Luma also took the graphic elements created for the monitors by another VFX house (Cantina Creative) and composited them, making sure they had the proper reflections and refractions. "They had panes of glass where all the monitors were, so they reflected all the production lights on set," says Cirelli. "There was a good amount of paint work that needed to be done before adding the graphics onto the glass."
Nuke is Luma Pictures' compositing tool, and to help create the look of the monitors, the company developed a Nuke Gizmo that allowed the artists to populate the space where the monitors would be, as well as populate the windows with pre-rendered clouds. The Gizmo was also used to place controls onto the ship's helms, which appeared as touch-screen tables and navigational wheels, with graphic content provided by Cantina Creative.
The company also worked on the character of Thor, adding shots of his magical armor forming in the center of a tornado, with large-scale swirling clouds, dust, lighting effects and a field of plants. "When he claims his power, his suit of armor forms around him," says Cirelli. "We had done a lot of look development on how the suit would do that on Thor and we were able to replicate the procedure for The Avengers."
Executive VFX Supervisor Payam Shohadai says the most artistically engaging scene was the wide shot of Thor and Coulson on the Helicarrier bridge at night. "This shot encompassed every little detail of the bridge and required a lot of rigorous lighting and look development to capture a realistic look," says Shohadai. "The asset was 'heavy' and contained a lot of metallic materials with blurry reflections, which are notoriously difficult to render clean."
Cirelli says that one of the biggest challenges of the show was that the Helicarrier needed to be created in minute detail, especially since the camera roved over every surface and would reveal any less-than-realistic details. "It was one of the most elaborate sets I've seen," he says. "They did an incredible job in terms of paintwork, craftsmanship and detailing. Creating something as detailed for every corner of the interior was a daunting task."
To be able to create this high level of realism, Luma Pictures used Arnold to partition the ship into quadrants to reduce the render time and get the amount of detail on the screen "so it felt seamless with the set."
According to Luma Pictures CG Supervisor Richard Sutherland, this was the third full show for which the company used their Arnold interpreter to render. "To speed workflow during our look development phase, we developed an illumination caching system for preview renders, and tweaked the translation of large numbers of objects," he says. "For the large-scale volumetric clouds, we rebuilt and enhanced a cloud-building system based on Maya fluids. There were several shots of Thor summoning a Thor-nado, which gave us a chance to improve some of our FumeFX to Maya pipeline."
The most artistically engaging scene was the wide shot of Thor and Coulson on the Helicarrier bridge at night.
"Partitioning allowed us to turn around the simulations very quickly so we could get feedback," adds Cirelli. "We have spent a few years developing this specific pipeline and it has proven to be a practical solution when dealing with huge data sets."
Cirelli credits The Avengers's visual effects supervisor Sirrs for running a tight ship and orchestrating the complex work from many sources. "With so many visual effects houses working on it, it was shockingly seamless," says Cirelli. "Janek is meticulous and it was evident from the very first asset turn-over. Everything was prepped and streamlined. As we started up a sequence, the other facility was finishing up on the assets we needed."
Although digital visual effects have become commonplace, it doesn't mean that they're easy. The production of a huge action-adventure blockbuster like The Avengers could fall into chaos without the careful planning and choreography of the film's immense number of visual effects. The success in doing so is a credit to Sirrs as well as all the facilities he worked with to bring the movie to the screen.
The Avengers also underlines the importance of the mid-sized visual effects facility to take on crucial and not-insignificant pieces of the large VFX films. As The Avengers themselves have proven, teamwork is indeed the secret to success.
David Boyd, ASC has lensed 10 episodes of AMC's highly popular 'The Walking Dead,' and also directed the sixth episode of the second season, "Secrets." Creative COW's Debra Kaufman spoke with David about shooting style, lighting and lens choices, and staying out of the way. To celebrate the new season of The Walking Dead, Creative COW Magazine is pleased to reintroduce you to David Boyd, the show's original DP, with unique insights to share on its shooting.
You don’t need to be a fan of the circus--or Mexico--to be mesmerized by this story of the Ponce family who struggle with issues of debt, marital conflict and filial responsibility against a backdrop of a century-old family business. Let Debra Kaufman introduce you to Aaron Schock and his story of how his documentary takes viewers under the Big Top in rural Mexico. Circo airs on Independent Lens beginning May 3rd, 2012.
From the first air race in 1909 to the present day, spectators have been thrilled by the tremendous aerial acrobatics and speed performances that adept pilots and their beloved aircraft are able to achieve. "Air Racers 3D," produced by 3D Entertainment in association with L.A.-based Pretend Entertainment and Stereoscope, is an in-depth exploration of the fastest motor sport on Earth at the annual Reno National Championship Air Races & Air Show, and commemorates this century-old sport in IMAX 3D. The COW had the opportunity to get into the cockpit with the makers of Air Racers 3D.
Cinematographer James Mathers discusses shooting Brake, an indie thriller starring Stephen Dorff that was directed by Gabe Torres from a script by Timothy Mannion. Nathan West and James Walker produced with their company Walking West Entertainment. The movie opens up theatrically in Los Angeles and New York on March 23.
Marshall Curry is most interested in a subject when reality cuts against his expectations. That's exactly what happened as this talented Emmy & Oscar-nominated director, producer, writer delved deeply into a story about the Earth Liberation Front in "If a Tree Falls," which is nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary on Sunday.
Realizing that 3D would be a superb way to portray the prehistoric world of the Pterosaurs -- beautiful flying creatures with 35 foot wingspans -- Anthony Geffen and Sir David Attenborough's maiden voyage into stereoscopy was begun. Step back in time with Creative COW as we look into the making of Flying Monsters 3D.
Bobby Bukowski offers an inside look at one of the first features shot with ARRI Alexa ProRes, and how the camera completely reshaped the cinematographer's approach to 360-lighting. Bobby also talks about the DP's role as one of the characters on a set where actors don't rehearse, and preparation is the key.
Award-winning cinematographer David Moxness, CSC has made a name for himself most recently in his work on FRINGE, a mystery/thriller about an FBI agent who works to solve strange crimes with an institutionalized scientist who works on "the fringe" of accepted science. In addition to FRINGE, whose new season premieres on September 23, Moxness also recently shot the miniseries The Kennedys. Among the series' 10 Emmy nominations is one for Best Cinematography, Moxness' first Emmy nod; Moxness also took home a Gemini Award (the Canadian equivalent of an Emmy) for Best Photography in a Dramatic Program or Series. He previously won the American Society of Cinematographer's award in 2007 for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Episodic TV Series for an episode of Smallville, and has been nominated for numerous Canadian Society of Cinematography Awards and Leo Awards. Debra Kaufman spoke to Moxness about his most recent work.
Creative COW’s Debra Kaufman had a chance to speak with the editor of Cowboys & Aliens, Dan Lebental, who was also Favreau’s editor on Iron Man and Iron Man 2. Cowboys & Aliens stars Harrison Ford as the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde and Daniel Craig as a stranger with no memory of his past in an event film for summer 2011 that crosses the classic Western with the alien-invasion movie in a blazingly original way.
Creative COW Magazine is copyright 2006 - 2013 by Creative COW®. All rights are reserved.
No reprint rights are granted except to educational institutions such as universities, colleges,
art academies and other training academies. All other rights are expressly reserved. [Top]