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Luma Pictures FX in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Luma Pictures recently completed some 150 visual effects shots for the new Paramount Pictures release Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, the largest 3D visual effects package contracted by the studio to an outside vendor. Lumas work included the films highly-praised underwater battle scene?one of the most extensive and creatively challenging CG sequences in the film?where a squadron of amphibious planes engages in combat with giant robots at the bottom of the ocean. Lumas effects work is also featured in trailers for the film, including one consisting entirely of footage culled from the underwater sequence. Lumas work on Sky Captain marked the studios biggest project to date, spanning six months and involving the efforts of more than 40 animators and visual effects artists.
The undersea battle sequence occupies nearly six minutes of screen time and consists almost entirely of 3D elements. The sequence involved a squadron of planes led by Captain Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie) who are attempting to reach an island via a route that takes them deep below the surface of the ocean. The planes dive into the water where they are met by a group of giant crab-like robots and an enormous battle ensues in which several planes are shot down and the robots destroyed.
The films producers provided style sheets and models for the planes and robots to Luma, who in turn modified, added texture detail, lit and animated them into the elaborate effects filled sequences, which they created. Additionally, the studio built the sprawling underwater environment. ?The ocean environment consists mostly of rocky terrain, a sandy bottom and plant life, explained Luma Pictures visual effects supervisor Payam Shohadai. ?The squadron travels first through open water and then underwater caves and canyons, before arriving at an underwater city. The creation of the city was headed by our texture supervisor, who has a background in architecture. It is made up of a variety of corroded ancient stone buildings, which were lit from below, giving them an eerie feeling.
For Lumas effects team, one of the chief challenges of the project lay in emulating the films unique ?retro-futuristic look. ?We worked very closely with the films design team, including the director, Kerry Conran, Shohadai said. ?The lighting supervisor, production designer and director had a very clear vision for the lighting. They wanted dramatic lighting with lots of contrast in the lit areas versus the shadows. This was a consistent theme of the film and made for a very cool and unique style.
The effects team was also challenged to create a scene that occurs entirely underwater. ?Production requested that the amphibious planes have cavitations coming off of their propellers, Shohadai said. ?We conducted extensive research and trials to determine how those types of elements would look in real life, then we balanced that with the design needs of the film.
?The underwater explosions were tricky, as underwater explosions actually end as implosions, he added. ?It also took time to determine how to adjust the animation to create the feel of being underwater. This was especially tricky when it came to creating and animating all of the sand and silt that resulted from the battles.
At one point in the sequence, the squadron passes the wrecks of several ships (including some notable wrecks that reference other films). ?We were provided with the models of the ships, and tasked with adding textural detail to the extremely corroded metal panels of their hulls, Shohadai explained. ?Although we found some excellent reference materials on the Web, most of it did not include true color detail. That was due to the simple fact that the photos are taken deep underwater, causing everything to appear bluish and desaturated. In order to make the wreckage look right in the context of the scene, we had to use our best judgment and color it as would appear if it werent underwater.
Luma Pictures completed its work on Sky Captain while undergoing significant expansion. ?We had moved to a new facility in Santa Monica just prior to being awarded the project, Shohadai noted. ?In addition, we had just made the transition from an all PC facility to an all Macintosh facility. Also, our staff doubled during the production. We had to plan carefully and work hard to enact all of these changes without disrupting our production pipeline.
Despite this, Shohadai is extremely satisfied with the results. ?As with any project, Luma brought a high degree of quality to the sequence we created for Sky Captain, he said. ?Our staff applies great care and attention to detail to everything we work on. Our artists take pride in their workmanship. In this case, the results are being called one of the most beautiful sequences in the film. We are all excited to have contributed in such a large way to this monumental film.
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