Oblivion Previsualization
Issue: Volume 36 Issue 6: (Sept/Oct 2013)

Oblivion Previsualization

The Third Floor previsualized a number of scenes for the science-fiction movie Oblivion. Prior to production, Previs Supervisor Nick Markel met with Director Joseph Kosinski to sketch out 25 sequences, including the opening battle, the drones’ attack on the alien Scav compound, and the final aerial battle.

For the sequence when the drones attack the Scav compound, known as Raven Rock, Markel and his team began by building all the models in Autodesk's Maya, re-creating the power plant in New Orleans used for the live-action shoot. "Since our team was based in LA, we had only photos and dimensions to work with, but were still able to create a pretty accurate model. We also had to create the main characters in the scene, along with Scavs." For the Scavs, Markel created a "kit" of interchangeable parts so the artists could quickly add variety. The drone, on the other hand, was a direct handoff from the art department. "We down-res'd the model and then used motion-capture and keyframe animation for the characters."

For animation, the team used Autodesk's MotionBuilder and Maya, as well as a host of proprietary tools, including custom character rigs and an extensive library of previs-ready assets called The Ark. While artists tapped some basic particle effects for bullet fire and the contrails of the Bubbleship, they kept most of the effects within the realm of geometry and textures that could be played in the Maya Viewport without software rendering. 

Like in Iron Man 3, the crew used Xsens' camera-less motion-capture system for mocap. "One of the key shots in the sequences was following a drone through the entire facility," says Markel. "The shot took quite a while to develop since it was so long and involved, but ultimately two artists - one in previs, one in post - worked out the parameters of what would happen and how it could be executed." Finally, Markel and Kosinski added temp music to the edit to get a feel of how it would play in the sequence.