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Cinesite Creates Seamless VFX for King Arthur

Provides nearly 500 visual effects shots for feature film (July 07, 2004)

Cinesite (Europe) Ltd provided nearly 500 visual effects shots for King Arthur, a worldwide release by Buena Vista Pictures. The film features Clive Owen as Arthur and Keira Knightley as Guinevere. It was directed by Antoine Fuqua and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. The director of photography was Slawomir Idziak, PSC.

"King Arthur is an epic story in a realistic and historical tradition," says Cinesite CEO Colin Brown. "We created several massive illusions that are seamlessly interwoven into the visual fabric of the story. They have to look and feel realistic without appearing inconsistent with the action of the film."

Cinesite mainly focused on two huge battle sequences.

In an ice battle early in the story, King Arthur's outnumbered knights confront the Saxon enemy on a frozen lake surrounded by a steep mountainous gorge. Their attack forces the Saxons to cluster together. Their combined weight causes the ice to buckle and the lake swallows the Saxons. Cinesite's digital artists created the entire environment for this sequence using a combination of 2-D and 3-D digital renderings with the aid of proprietary software designed for the task.

Cinesite concept artists worked directly with the director to communicate the look and feel he wanted in the ice battle sequence. Three approaches were used.

Firstly, digital matte paintings were created, using reference photographs shot both in the Scottish highlands and the French Alps. In the second process, digital matte paintings were split into separate planes and a 3-D camera track was applied to give the appropriate parallax. Using Cinesite's proprietary software, a shake macro was created which was given directly to the 2-D compositor in order for them to create the final composites. The third and final approach used a fully computer-generated environment for the ice lake and valley.

The original live action was filmed on a gravel surface covered with artificial snow. Cinesite later replaced this with computer generated ice and snow layers, which the director could orchestrate into the shots according to the live action.

Cinesite created 3-D geometry that pre-mapped all the ice cracks procedurally and allowed for the natural random thickness, translucency and texture of the ice. Some shots, which are entirely computer generated, show the ice cracking from underwater. Cinesite also added CG particulate to recreate a realistic, murky, lakebed environment.

Live-action elements were filmed at Pinewood Studios in a large outdoor paddock tank against a blue screen. Mechanical ice blocks were filmed with flailing costumed stuntmen sliding into the water. The surface of the ice blocks was largely replaced with CGI ice textures by Cinesite's team of artists.

Effects Associates, a Cinesite subsidiary company, filmed ice and snow explosions, and ice and water running down blue boards to create additional elements that were incorporated during the compositing process. Elements were converted to computer picture files with a Northlight scanner. Following completion of the digital intermediate at another facility, Cinesite also filmed out the European release negative using their ARRI recorders. After elements of visual effects shots were composited, they were recorded back onto 35 mm color intermediate film, which intercut seamlessly with live-action footage.

Cinesite also contributed images to the battle sequence at the end of the film. The facility created thousands of digital warriors, using custom-made crowd simulation software. Visual Effects Supervisor Matt Johnson explains that the software has an "artificial intelligence" component that enabled the digital warriors to recognize and move smoothly around trees and other 3-D objects. Much of the action for effects sequences was filmed with a Steadicam, which provided fluid camera movement. Johnson was on the set during filming in Ireland and at Pinewood.

"Part of my job was making certain that the effects process intruded as little as possible, and I believe we were successful," Johnson says. "Within the given production parameters, there really was no location which would have represented the environment Antoine (Fuqua) envisioned, so we always knew we would need to do a lot of work to create the space digitally, and we accounted for that while the sequence was being filmed."

Cinesite's current slate of films includes Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, Sahara, Phantom of The Opera, Alien vs. Predator and Alfie.

About Cinesite
Cinesite (Europe) Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Eastman Kodak Company and is part of the Entertainment Imaging division. One of the most comprehensive visual effects facilities in the world, Cinesite's services include model construction and model unit photography, digital effects (compositing, digital matte painting, 3-D modeling and animation), visual effects supervision, previsualization, film scanning, laser recording and physical effects (pyrotechnics, weather effects, mechanical effects etc.). For more information, visit


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Related Keywords:Cinesite, VFX, King Arthur, visual effects, Cinesite (Europe), Buena Vista Pictures, Antoine Fuqua, Jerry Bruckheimer, Slawomir Idziak, Colin Brown, composites, Effects Associates, Northlight, ARRI, Matt Johnson, Steadicam,


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