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Pixel Magic Creates Aerial Dogfight Sequence in Upcoming Hart's War

Combines CG and live action elements together By DMN Staff Writer
Pixel Magic, a division of OCS/FreezeFrame, announced it has completed a dogfight sequence combining computer graphics (CG) effects and live action elements for the upcoming feature film release, Hart's War. Hart's War, directed by Gregory Hoblit (Frequency, Primal Fear), is an MGM release scheduled for March 2002.

The story centers on Lieutenant Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell), a second year law student who is enlisted as an officer's aide in World War II due to his father's political pull. When he is captured and thrown into a German prisoner of war camp, top ranking Colonel William McNamara (Bruce Willis) assigns him to defend Lieutenant Lincoln Scott (Terrence Howard), a black POW accused of murdering a fellow white prisoner. Hart must struggle against his privileged past to prove that he is a true man of honor, worthy of his rank. In preparing a defense for his client, Tommy stumbles upon a plot that will force him to choose between his country, his own morality, and his life.

Pixel Magic was hired by veteran visual effects supervisor John Van Vliet to create the spectacular dogfight sequence for this movie. Pixel Magic's primary work was to model and animate a computer generated P51 and a Me109 dogfight with the Me109 eventually crashing into a POW compound.The entire sequence of 18 shots can be divided into two categories: Dogfight and Crash.

The most unique and challenging aspect of the dogfight was that this fight was to be seen entirely from the ground perspective. As shots ranged from close-up to wide angles, it was an absolute requirement that both fights looked completely photo real, and their flight physics be realistic and consistent with the actual flight characteristics. During the pre-visualization phase, research was done by Pixel Magic to make certain that the speed and maneuvers of the fighters, their paint scheme and insignias were completely accurate. Also, CG tracer fire and smoke was added to show the Me109 being fired upon by the P51. The color and frequency of the tracers were accurate to the WW ll era specifications.

In order to add a sense of anxiety and realism, many artificial camera moves were introduced. One shot called for the Me109 to fly by camera with the P51 firing from close behind. With a locked camera, the fighters would come across as an extreme motion blur.To make this shot more visually appealing, a CG camera move was introduced that mimicked a cameraman on the ground trying to follow two fast moving fighters as they flew across his field of view. As the CG cameraman panned with the planes, the audience gets a pristine glance at the photo-real P51 firing CG tracers.

Extensive plate manipulation was done for the opening 2 shots of the sequence in order to establish the German Me109 as the fighter that was being chased by the American P51. Two live action plates of practically opposite camera angles were joined together into a seamless sweeping camera pan that followed the pursuit.

During the practical shoot in Prague, windy conditions gave rise to seemingly different skies for every shot. As this sequence is only a few minutes in screen time, an overcast sky was required in every shot to maintain the continuity. This required extensive sky correction, in most cases, replacing the sky entirely. A massive overcast sky plate was created by Pixel Magic, and various portions of it were used in the shots. With moving cameras, replacing the skies required considerable rotoscoping and tracking.

The crash of the Me109 into the POW compound was a testament to the integration of computer-generated effects with excellent live action elements.The highly choreographed and pre-visualized crash called for the damaged and smoking German Me109 to descend towards the POW compound, strike a guard tower loosing a wing, and smash into the ground only to be stopped by rows of barbed wire fence.

In most shots, practical elements were shot for the compositors to use in the final assembly. These included fire trails, explosions, POW tent collapses, and other "destruction" elements. When combined with the CG fighter, smoke and debris, a realistic crash from dangerously close camera angles was achieved. Actors shot in separate passes were rotoscoped into the crash shots and in some cases duplicated to heighten the sense of the number of people in danger.

One of Pixel Magic's more challenging crash shots required matriculate animation of not only the Me109, but individual animation of the debris showering from the plane impacting and destroying half of a guard tower. As one of the wings gets sheared off in this impact, real life physics dictate the plane enter a steep bank and come crashing to the ground. Pixel Magic's animation team went through different revisions under the supervision of John Van Vliet until the CG motions matched real life physics.

Stopping the fighter plane from plowing through the entire compound were rows of barbed wire fencing. Shooting this practically was not a feasible solution, thus a CG solution was planned with multiple shots covering the various camera angles. Fire trails, explosions and mortar fire were shot in separate passes and used in the compositing phase. Pixel Magic's biggest challenge was to have the CG fighter interact with CG barbed wire fencing. These types of CG to CG interaction shots require intricate planning and animation as slight deviations reveal a computer-generated effect. As the plane snapped through a couple of rows of fencing, and finally becoming entangled in another two rows, specialized 3D software was employed to make sure the fence performed as it would. CG poles getting snapped and launched into the air by the crashing plane were added as the final element. Also, artificial camera shake was carefully introduced during the final compositing stage to add another level of realism to the shots.

Pixel Magic, a division of OCS/Freeze Frame, spans two generations of expertise in the creation of visual effects for film and television. The company was founded by Ray McIntyre Sr. in 1985, and quickly became a leading Hollywood optical effects company. To extend its tradition of services into the 21st century, Pixel Magic was formed in 1994, and under the direction of Ray McIntyre Jr., was transitioned from conventional optical techniques to a full digital platform. Services include compositing, 3D & character animation, wire & rig removal, digital film & Hi-def restoration, matte painting, main titles, digital opticals, digital trailers, HD/tape to film transfers, scanning & recording.

Feature film work in progress includes Spiderman, Blade 2, Hart's War, Deeds, and Half Past Dead. Recently completed work includes Behind Enemy Lines, Rollerball, Scary Movie 2, Driven, Bones, 3000 Miles to Graceland, and'Twas the Night.

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