Creating Monster-Size Effects

Category: In Focus
MONTREAL — Renowned visual effects production studio Rodeo FX tackled a comprehensive array of creative and technological challenges through its contributions to “Pacific Rim,” marking the company’s ninth collaboration with ILM.

Rodeo FX created and produced 200 visual effects shots for "Pacific Rim." From Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment, "Pacific Rim," directed by Guillermo del Toro, was released in July.

For "Pacific Rim," Rodeo FX was once again called upon to create exceptional environments and immersive 3D matte paintings. However, Rodeo FX's CG contributions were much larger than on any previous motion picture. In addition to environment work, Rodeo FX created, simulated, and animated fully CG creatures and vehicles for a variety of sequences. Rodeo FX was also responsible for all the variations of the interior Robot Head shots, which included building and animating a complex CG rig used to control the actions and movements of the robots - a seamless photo-real blend of both CG and practical FX.

Rodeo FX's President and Founder Sébastien Moreau, who served as the company's VFX Supervisor and Executive Producer for this project, said, "'Pacific Rim' represents yet another great collaboration between ILM and our company-in fact, this was the ninth time we've enjoyed the opportunity of working together. This was a milestone project for us. We did a great deal of 3D hard surface and animation work, representing 12 minutes of VFX screen time. Over 80 of our people worked on this project during the course of a year, and all of our shots were delivered in layers, to facilitate the stereo conversion. We are also especially proud that we were assigned to create all of the Robot Head interior shots, as well as an Alien Brain, our first 'Organic Creature.'"

Regarding Rodeo FX's contributions to "Pacific Rim," Lindy DeQuattro, ILM's VFX Supervisor, said, "The team at Rodeo FX contributed many innovative ideas to the design and animation of a number of shots in 'Pacific Rim,' including the conn pod interiors and the brains in Newt's Lab. Getting the timing right for a comedic moment can be very tricky in CG, but I always looked forward to a laugh when I reviewed their animation for the brain suckers.  At the other end of the spectrum, their establishing matte painting work for the helipad shots was moody, dramatic, and incredibly realistic.  Rodeo FX worked on a broad range of sequences which included asset building, animation, lighting and FX, as well as difficult compositing. I was very pleased with the results on all of it."

Matthew Rouleau was Rodeo FX's CG Supervisor on "Pacific Rim," supervising the team of artists that created the interiors of five different Robot Heads, one for each of the Jaegar Robots featured in the film. Through a combination of CG and practical FX, Rodeo FX developed the stilts mechanisms used on the feet of the live actors performing on set while they walked on Elliptical machines-in this manner, these actors, located inside the heads of the robots, were controlling the overall movements of the giant robots. Some concept work was done to help in the creation of this asset. Rouleau says, "The stilts mechanism was extremely complex and was comprised of thousands of interlocking pieces. The complexity of these stilts represented one of the most difficult and complex challenges we have ever undertaken in CG at Rodeo FX."

For "Pacific Rim," Rodeo FX also created its very first organic character, which was the brain of a captured giant alien. Rouleau and his crew constructed a CG brain that was set inside a very large water aquarium, which included water bubbles. The brain even had tentacles which had to "act" and move by intelligent thought.

In the area of environments, Rodeo FX had to create Hong Kong Bay. Says Jeremy Boissinot, Rodeo FX's Environment Lead, "We first worked on the layout of the Hong Kong Bay, which was an environment based on real life Hong Kong. Once the layout was approved, we started the environment matte painting, using photography references provided by ILM." Boissinot and his team also created the Shatterdome, a military base located within a cliff along the shore of Hong Kong Bay. The Shatterdome model, which was created by Rodeo FX from artwork received from ILM, was a large-scale asset split into different main sections - the command building, the helipad platforms and the cliff itself. "Director del Toro didn't want the Shatterdome to appear too futuristic," Boissinot notes.

Boissinot noted that one of Rodeo FX's biggest challenges was dealing with rainy environments. "We had to keep details in overcast or night-time environments with a great deal of atmosphere and rain. We also did some complex set extensions which featured a variety of light and rain effects." Boissinot worked in tandem with Robert Bock, Rodeo FX's VFX DP for Practical FX. Bock explains that Rodeo FX used practical effects elements to augment and improve the realism of the CG and FX in many scenes.

"We shot numerous rain elements and water -- many of these shots had to depict water patterns caused by hovering helicopters near the Shatterdome landing pad," Bock said. "We also shot driving mist and rain at high-speed, which was created by aiming compressed air at figurines of live actors to give the illusion that mist and rain was actually appearing around their bodies and on the ground as helicopters were landing." Practical rain elements where also used for many of the matte paintings and to augment several live action scenes which required set-extensions.

Rodeo FX's Laurent Spillemacker served as Compositing Supervisor for "Pacific Rim." Supervising a team of 30 within Rodeo FX's Compositing Department, Spillemacker oversaw all aspects of the compositing, to ensure a continuity of the look of the shots and the flawless integration of the CG work. Since the film was shot in 2D and post converted to 3D, Rodeo FX organized its work so the company could ultimately export every single layer.

"'Pacific Rim' represents the most comprehensive work our company has ever delivered," Moreau says.

Images © 2013 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND LEGENDARY PICTURES FUNDING, LLC. COURTESY OF INDUSTRIAL LIGHT & MAGIC / WARNER BROS. PICTURES.



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