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Computers are not always used for large scale projects, where the companies love to promote the advanced technology used in their films. Many of the jobs computers do are not so flashy. And lots of the time the studio would rather that you didn't realize there had been computers at work. And it's to these little things that we devote this page.
Rod Removal - When puppets are used to fulfill a scene, they don't move by themselves. The puppeteers below manipulate the models by hand, and then computers are needed to digitally remove the rods. That way the puppets look alive, and the audience hopefully won't know the difference. Similarly, actors are sometimes required to "fly" in a frame. By hanging the actors, and then digitally removing the wires and compositing the actor into the shot, the character appears to fly. A prime example of this technique is the final action scene from Mission Impossible. Tom Cruise's character is propelled by an explosion to land on a speeding bullet train. The shot combines the best of 3d computer work with a small amount of extra help: the wires used to fly Cruise through the frame were removed by Industrial Light and Magic. Hopefully you'll suspend your belief in reality to think that Cruise actually flew through the air. Sorry if we spoiled the effect for you.
Scenery - For the "Avalon" scene in Dragonheart, the
director needed a convincing castle that could have been the historic
home of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The digital
effects crew at Illusion Arts combined pictures of the coast of Catalina
Island with a digital painting of a castle and computer generated mist.
The waves crashing against the shores next to the castle were all
computer anmiated as well. For interior shots of the castle, an existing
castle in Eastern Europe was combined with computer generated columns and
headstones for a more historic and gloomy yet significant look.
Twister had its own problems with the surroundings. As detailed in the Twister page, the crews had to shoot in different locations, Iowa and Oklahoma. This caused a problem, because the corn in Iowa was beginning to grow tassels. ILM had to remove the tassels to make the corn blend with the wheat from Oklahoma. ILM was also responsible for creating houses and barns for the tornados to rip apart.
Lighting - When the Twister crew tried to film stormy
weather in Oklahoma, they ran into lots of sunlight. The sky was easily
corrected by having artists at ILM paint in series' of malicioius looking
clouds. However, lighting on the ground was an entirely different
problem. While the tornados could be modified to appear without the
extra lighting, the rest of the surrounding area would still appear
sunny. Several of the shots were simply darkened and the tornado applied
to match that lighting.
Dragonheart also had a few lighting problems. When working in scenes invovling the dragon's heart, the director wanted a red glow to come from it. The light from the heart was entirely computer generated. Another problem stemmed from the lava in the dragon's cave. The light from the set just looked to fake. So the teams softened the light on the actors faces, adding a bit more of a glow to it, and also gave the rest of the surrounding area a soft glow.
Another spectacular example of lighting can be seen in Independence Day. When the alien ships are flying into position, computers were used to create made by the ships. These shadows crawl up buildings, flow across Central Park, and climb the Statue of Liberty as the ships move along.
Lasers - Another place that computers are used is to create those classic sci-fi stand-bys: laser blasts. In many cases, computers are used to animate a particle or cylinder moving very quickly from origin to target and blurred to create the effect of laser blasts. Other times the lasers a simply drawn in by hand using any number of programs.
Missiles, Smoke - When the planes in the movies launch their missiles, the missiles don't alwyas pack it. So, computers have to take over the job. Independence Day and True Lies both contain excellent examples of how well missiles can be rendered, along with the smoke trails behind them. Since everybody assumes it's real, the studios don't bother making a big deal out if it.
Titles - Before you can watch a movie, you have to know which movie you're watching. And since the audience can get bored real fast if there's nothing interesting going on, the studios have come up with all kinds of fancy title sequences to amaze theater goers. One of the most recent and most spectacular titles came from Twister. 525 Post Productions was in charge of creating a title that would set the audience up for a film full of special effects. What they came up with was swirling debris, flying letters, explosions, and lots of wind. Using Discreet Logic's Flame, 525 started off with 20,000 images, combined those to create the final 1,300 images, and finished with 32 layers of computer generated imagery. While this is one of the most complex titles around, it gives you an idea of the fine details that go into making a title for a movie.
Extras are all the little things that people don't notice. The little details that every computer effects shot require are the major center of the extra bits. Even the smallest little items are special. In this summer's The Island of Dr, Moreau, Marlon Brando's costume didn't fit quite right. ILM was paid $50,000 to airbrush out the underwear that was peeking out the back. THAT'S called attention to the little things.
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Last Updated on August 22, 1996