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Houdini and Asylum Called into Action on Black Hawk Down

(January 22, 2002)
Side Effects Software announced today that Asylum, a Santa Monica-based effects house and a user of Houdini, has completed an impressive array of visual effects for Black Hawk Down.

Asylum created a wide variety of effects for the film, and their use of Houdini centered on the creation of computer-generated (CG) elements ranging from bullet hits to helicopter wash.

From acclaimed director Ridley Scott and renowned producer Jerry Bruckheimer, based on actual events, Black Hawk Down is the heroic account of a group of elite U.S. soldiers sent into Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993 as part of a U.N. peacekeeping operation. Their mission: to capture several top lieutenants of the Somali warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, as part of a strategy to quell the civil war and famine that is ravaging the country. Young Rangers and veteran Delta Force soldiers fight side by side against overwhelming odds. For 18 harrowing hours, they remain trapped and wounded in the most hostile district of Mogadishu until a rescue convoy can be mounted to retrieve them. Outnumbered and surrounded, tensions flare, friends are lost, alliances are formed and soldiers learn the true nature of war and heroism.

"We had an extremely short schedule to deliver more than 100 shots," said David Santiago, effects technical director at Asylum. Working from live-action plates the artists were assisted with direction from Ridley Scott, Editor Pietro Scalia and Asylum's visual effects supervisors on the film, company founder Nathan McGuiness and visual effects supervisor David Jones. "We handled everything from tracer smoke to bullet damage on buildings. It was the ability to set up automated tools and scripts in Houdini and make these available for use by several artists on our staff that helped us to get things done on time," continued Santiago.

"We are all big fans of Houdini over here," commented David Jones, visual effects supervisor, Asylum. "I've been using the software for years. Houdini was the optimal solution for a lot of the complex procedural effects we had to tackle on Black Hawk Down."

The Houdini set-ups were done procedurally, using object relationships to generate general effects that could quickly be custom-tailored. To produce scenes involving bullet spray on buildings and the ground, for example, an animatable shooter and target ball setup was created. Any building or terrain geometry in the target area would be damaged whenever the shooter ball "fired". The generated dust and debris particles would automatically be displaced by the proper physical angle with respect to the shooter. Then, such attributes as the amount of the spray, the placement of the effect or the size and shape of the particles themselves could be easily adjusted as needed. In this way, Asylum's artists could use simple functions to produce dramatic interacting elements < from a shower of dust particles to large chunks of falling debris without having to hand-script all of the elements in the sequence.

Other effects completed by Asylum in Houdini included CG smoke, sparks, ground explosions, haze and "helicopter wash" the swirl of chaos churned up when a helicopter lifts off. Custom shaders were created in Houdini to complete the realistic look. Once rendered using Houdini Mantra and composited into the movie, all of the CG is incorporated behind the scenes to support and enhance the film's drama.

"There are always visual effects that are planned from the beginning, for example, expanding explosions that were shot on set with the safety of the actors in mind," said Santiago. "Then there are visual effects that become desirable as the filmmakers look to improve the dramatic effect of the evolving product. We are really happy to have been equipped, both with our artists and with our arsenal of software tools, to take on and turn around visual effects work for Black Hawk Down within the time period the production required."

About Houdini
Houdini is an award-winning 3D animation software package that includes a comprehensive set of capabilities for digital content creation including modeling, animating, compositing, characters, textures, shading and rendering. Houdini has been used to create stunning visual sequences in blockbuster feature films including "The Mummy Returns", "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas", "X-Men", "Hollow Man" and "The Matrix".

Houdini's unique and award-winning Visual Procedural Network technology facilitates quick learning, rapid experimentation and the ultimate in production flexibility. Its revolutionary, fully non-linear architecture lets artists work the way they think. The powerful new customizable interface has been designed to handle the most sophisticated production environments with efficiency.

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Related Keywords:special effects, filmmaking

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