It’s the holiday season, when parents search for that perfect toy for their good little boy or girl. At Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, the shelves are stocked from high to low with just about every toy imaginable: dolls, plush animals, planes, trains, and more. It is truly the strangest, most fantastic toy store in the world, and not just because of all the toys. Here, the toys come to life, as does the store itself.
But when the 243-year-old eccentric owner, Mr. Magorium, announces that he will be turning over the keys to the shop to his awkward and insecure manager, Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman), a dark and ominous change begins to take over the once-remarkable Emporium. The lively, bright toys have lost their color and their life, sitting immobile on the shelves as Molly and her young friend try to find the source of the problem and revive the magic.
Most of the movie, from Walden Media and Mandate Pictures, is filled with practical objects and effects, though a number of scenes have been infused with CG magic under the direction of Kevin Tod Haug, visual effects supervisor. Among those contributing digital effects to the film were Intelligent Creatures, FX Cartel, Bar X Seven, and Frantic Films, which also created a VFX-packed finale.
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium was never intended to be a VFX movie; rather, it features in-camera effects and toys that are animated via animatronics and puppetry. The original final sequence featured a tightly orchestrated scenario in which Natalie Portman’s character makes the toys spring into action. However, after the filmmakers screened the original ending, they decided they wanted a more magical finale than the mechanically driven toys could achieve, so the Frantic Films team was brought onboard to create this scene digitally in post.
A Scene That's Wet and Wild
Turbulent water plays an important role in various stages of college grad Christopher McCandless’s adventures, chronicled in both the best-selling non-fiction book Into the Wild from Jon Krakauer and its film adaptation.
The movie, like the book, is based on the true story of McCandless, a top student and athlete who, after graduating from Emory University in 1992, abandons his possessions, gives his entire $24,000 life savings to charity, and travels around the country, eventually finding his final adventure in Alaska, living in the wilderness until his untimely death.
“The water’s power, plus Chris’s battles to master it, are major symbolic threads through the movie,” says Mat Beck, president of Entity FX, which produced a number of digital effects shots, including those in the movie’s early Wash sequence.
During his initial flight from his conventional life, Chris pulls off the road and drives into the Arizona desert to park and spend the night. After a beautiful sunset, lightning storms are seen in the distant mountains as the camera cranes down to show Chris asleep in the back seat. A very wide camera pans left across the dark desert to find the tiny car at the base of a bluff—just as a surging wave enters from the right frame. Inside the vehicle, Chris awakens in response to the sound of the surging water. Over his shoulder, we look out the windshield to see a torrent of water as it hits the car. The car swings around violently to the right as the water hits and cracks the windshield. In a view from the bluff, we see the car smack into a big rock and lurch to a stop.
When the flood begins to recede, Chris smiles. In the morning, he puts on his pack and walks away from the muddy, battered car for good. This becomes a prelude for what’s to come in his journey. In fact, the movie opens with the story’s end, as Chris is found dead inside an abandoned bus in Alaska.
To create the desert scene, the Entity FX group had to battle 118-degree heat while shooting in Arizona. “The first and greatest commitment was to follow Chris’s journey. Some shots would have been easier in a more controlled environment as opposed to a desert location, but somehow not as good,” says Beck.
The crew also found themselves battling nature’s clock: The sequence is supposed to occur at night, though shooting at that particular time was not practical. “Shooting the wider shots in the ‘dusk for night’ meant very little time to get the actual shot, and for many of the shots, take two was not an option,” says Beck. “In one instance, the practical whipping around of the car made for realistic bounces inside and outside, but the motion broke the A-camera mount on the back of the vehicle.”
As for the water, the team used reference photos taken by Chris after the flood, to authentically reproduce what really happened to him throughout his two-year journey. The water itself is a combination of real water reference (ocean surf, water tank elements) along with CG splashes and highlights.
The artists also created a CG replica of the car, to replace the areas of the vehicle that were covered by the camera mount during filming and to provide a tracking surface with which the CG splashes and flowing water to interact. According to Beck, 3D artist David Alexander wrote scripts for the splash particles to generate surface flow once they collided with the model. This generated “wet maps” in which a specular shader showed wet areas where the splash had hit.
The 3D modeling was done in Autodesk’s Maya, while rendering was achieved using Mental Images’ Mental Ray running on a Linux-based renderfarm. The splashes were Maya particles.
The artists also placed bushes in the desert for the water to swirl around, allowing compositor Eli Jarra to add some foam and highlights, thus providing a hint of spatial information in the dark.
“The last push into the car was shot by a Steadicam operator riding on a crane. The crane armed down and then the Steadicam operator walked toward the car,” explains Beck. “We tracked that move in 3D and added a CG stand-in for Chris in previs. Once the move was approved, we exported it to a motion-control system, then shot the actor against greenscreen with matching lighting and dropped him into the environment.”
The group used Autodesk’s Flame and Inferno for the compositing, while tracking was done using 2d3’s Boujou.
In all, the group worked on approximately 14 VFX shots in the film, which is a non-effects movie. For Beck, the biggest challenge overall was showing just enough detail to convey the scene and the emotion, without having the imagery and visual effects look fake or overlit—in effect, making it appear natural, thereby emphasizing the theme of the movie.
NEWS | MICROPROCESSORS
Leaders in the Processor Industry Benefit from Strong Demand and Price-War Lull
In the third quarter, Intel and AMD both managed to gain share in the global microprocessor market due to robust sales of PCs and servers, and the cessation of the companies’ brutal price war, according to iSuppli Corp.
In Q3 2007, Intel accounted for 78.7 percent of global microprocessor revenue, up 0.3 of a percentage point from 78.4 percent in the second quarter. AMD fared even better, with its share rising by more than twice that of Intel to reach 13.9 percent, up 0.6 of a percentage point from 13.3 percent in the second quarter. The two microprocessor suppliers gained at the expense of their smaller rivals, whose collective share of global revenue declined to 7.4 percent in the third quarter, down from 8.2 percent in the second quarter.
iSuppli’s final revenue ranking of global general-purpose microprocessor suppliers in the third quarter accounts for sales of all types of general-purpose microprocessors, including RISC chips as well as the PC-oriented x86 devices sold by Intel and AMD.
Yet again in the third quarter, the two microprocessor giants accounted for an increasing share of total market revenues. Combined, Intel and AMD claimed almost 93 percent of global microprocessor revenue in the third quarter of 2007—an increase of 2 percentage points compared to the third quarter of 2006.
In fact, Intel and AMD benefited from strong sales of computers in the quarter. Global PC shipments, including desktops, notebooks, and entry-level servers, amounted to 68.1 million units, up 13.8 percent from 59.9 million during the same period in 2006, and up 11.1 percent from 61.3 million in the second quarter of 2007.
The companies in their third-quarter financial calls stated they had seen a reduction in the aggressive pricing that has ruled throughout most of 2007. This signifies the beginning of the end for the x86 microprocessor price war, iSuppli believes.
“The combination of strong PC and server demand, combined with stable microprocessor prices, led to a prosperous quarter for both Intel and AMD,” says Matthew Wilkins, principal analyst at iSuppli.
Several factors contributed to a reduction in microprocessor market share in the third quarter. “Pricing trends were influenced by many variables, including the consistent strength in computing markets, Intel’s rapid migration to its new Core 2 architecture microprocessors, and the increasing penetration of multicore products in the market,” Wilkins says.
While the pricing battle may be coming to an end, Wilkins believes that the competition will continue to be extremely fierce.
“AMD’s launch of Barcelona and Barcelona-derived products gives the company a stronger portfolio with which to compete, and with Intel shipping its products based on its new 45nm manufacturing process, neither company is resting on its laurels,” Wilkins notes.