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Cinesite Makes House Come Alive In 13 Ghosts

(October 26, 2001)
Cinesite has completed work on 175 shots for the upcoming Warner Bros. Pictures feature release 13 Ghosts. The film is a remake of the 1960 William Castle horror film about a family that inherits a spectacular old house that is haunted.

13 Ghosts stars F. Murray Abraham, Tony Shalhoub and Shannon Elizabeth. It was directed by Steve Beck, with cinematography by Gale Tattersall. The film's visual effects supervisor is Dan Glass.

"The house is a very contemporary space," says Mike Fink, Cinesite's senior visual effects supervisor on the film. "There's glass and steel everywhere in a rectilinear design that echoes the international style. The walls are almost entirely glass etched with runes and diagrams to protect the living from the ghosts."

The exterior of the house never existed in reality, with the exception of a small area by the front door, therefore virtually all exteriors were computer generated. Interiors were photographed on sets with CG elements added. All of the elements and animation design of the house, the "clockworks" mechanism, and the ocularis began at Manex Effects in Northern California prior to Cinesite working on the film.

The clockworks, which is entirely computer generated, lies underneath the house and is crucial to the film's climax.

"It's a hugely complicated machine," says Fink. "There's really no way you could build it physically. It could only exist in a computer." For those scenes alone, Cinesite put together close to 40 shots. The machine was modeled and set up in Maya at Manex then animated and rendered in Renderman at Cinesite. Every shot required match moving and compositing a live-action plate with the machinery.

Cinesite artists used Cineon software for these composites. Cinesite also created many CG glass explosions. "The explosions are computationally intense," says Fink.

"It's a two-story house that's the size of a football field. Every window and every interior wall is made of glass, which had to be blown out in the computer. We used particle-based software on these shots, with rigid body dynamics to break the glass in the right form. The design of the film was very interesting and the footage looks great. This project was really an application of today's cutting-edge effects techniques to tell a great story. We had to make the house come alive."

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