The Embassy Teams with Director Neill Blomkamp on District 9
August 25, 2009

The Embassy Teams with Director Neill Blomkamp on District 9

Vancouver, BC - The Embassy Visual Effects dove deep into alien territory with high-impact effects for the Sony Pictures blockbuster District 9, which opened in the number-one spot in its opening weekend and has currently grossed more than $73 million (estimated) at the U.S. domestic box office. The film was co-written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, who was an original founding partner of The Embassy Visual Effects prior to embarking on a full-time, film-directing career.
Having just completed the Mark 1 sequence for Iron Man, the Exo-suit scene in District 9 was a perfect fit for boutique facility The Embassy, says a representative. The Exo-suit is a sophisticated piece of alien weaponry, essentially a larger-than-life mechanized suit of armor controlled by its wearer. The Embassy co-founder Winston Helgason spent one month on set in Johannesburg, South Africa supervising the sequence shoot.

The Embassy key-frame animated, rendered, and composited the Exo-suit for seamless scene integration. In total, The Embassy worked on more than 100 shots, largely in the film's 12-minute climactic battle sequence. The company also created small lobster-like alien creatures used by both the Aliens and Humans in a type of cockfight.

The Exo-suit sequence was shot primarily with RED Cameras, all handheld, so the Embassy team tracked and dropped the robot-like suit into the plates and used HDR lighting to match the hues on set. The CG in the scene was animated and rendered in Autodesk Softimage and composited using Shake.

The scene is very action-oriented and involved a lot of interaction between the CG Exo-suit with actors and set pieces. "This was a very complex sequence to work on. There were soldiers shooting, and each shot has composited bullet hits, dust on the ground for the suit's feet movement, and smoke added into the environment on top of the hero CG," says Helgason.

"This was our first time working with RED Camera footage for a feature, and while there were distinct advantages, such as no film grain and the ability to generate 4K versions of plates in-house, we were very mindful of the rolling shutter issues especially with the heavy compositing involved in reconstructing background plates," explains supervising compositor Stephen Pepper.

There was a lot of collaboration on this sequence amongst facilities, as extensive visual effects work was completed both at Image Engine in Vancouver and WETA in New Zealand, and there were assets from both facilities integrated into the final composite of the Exo-suit battle.