Canadian shops create Fantastic FX for summer flicks

The decline of the American dollar hasn't prevented major studio pictures from using top-notch Canadian post-production shops for visual effects. Some of those shops have used proprietary software in addition to such Canadian-born staples as Autodesk Maya, Flame and 3ds Max, as well as eyeon Fusion to create eye-popping visuals for some of the most-anticipated movies on screens this summer.

The decline of the American dollar hasn’t prevented major studio pictures from using top-notch Canadian post-production shops for visual effects. Some of those shops have used proprietary software in addition to such Canadian-born staples as Autodesk Maya, Flame and 3ds Max, as well as eyeon Fusion to create eye-popping visuals for some of the most-anticipated movies on screens this summer.

No less than five Canadian companies in three provinces worked on visuals at various stages on Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, including Winnipeg’s Frantic Films, Ottawa’s XYZ RGB, Toronto’s Soho VFX and Vancouver’s Image Engine and Technicolor.

Creepy-crawly Skinwalkers has 500 visual effects done by Mr. X, whose president Dennis Berardi is also one of the film’s producers, along with Don Carmody. The Paris-based action flick Rush Hour 3 had some of its 3D VFX done in Vancouver by Entity FX.

Summer flicks such as the John Travolta-starrer Hairspray often rely on visual effects (in this case, thanks to Toronto’s Intelligent Creatures) to achieve light and breezy entertainment. Yet darker fare – such as Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof – can provide a gruesome treat, achieved in part by Frantic’s VFX team.

FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER

Release date: June 15
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
FX systems used: Autodesk’s Maya (3D), 3ds Max, Flame and Inferno; Shake (compositing); The Foundry’s NUKE; DNA Research (renderer, 3Delight); pipeline Effects Qube (render server); Adobe Photoshop
Canadian connections: Partly filmed in British Columbia, five Canadian companies worked on visuals at various stages.

Winnipeg-based Frantic Films spokesman Kevin Hill says his company was part of the team that worked on all of the pre-viz for the production, ‘helping to design and flesh out key action sequences and story elements within the film.’

Ottawa-based XYZ RGB went out to Vancouver to scan all of the actors (except the Silver Surfer) to create 3D models to be animated by FX companies. XYZ RGB used technology created by the National Research Council of Canada – the same kind of system used for scanning the Mona Lisa, because the shop says nothing else provides the level of detail the project required.

Toronto-based Soho VFX worked on a handful of VFX shots, primarily on the Mr. Fantastic character when his stretchable face called for animation. Soho used Maya for 3D and Shake for compositing, and shop partner and VFX supervisor Allan Magled says it also used proprietary software to allow those systems ‘to go a little bit further,’ for example, in rendering.

Technicolor-Vancouver did the process and transfer of the dailies. Meanwhile, across town, Image Engine also used propriety software developed by its R&D department. Visual effects exec prod Shawn Walsh says the company ‘basically got a 911 call’ from Ellen Somers, the film’s VFX producer, with a frantic turnaround situation on a shot featuring a satellite that was elevated to inclusion in the film’s trailer. The CG shot involves a communications satellite whipping by in outer space. It’s only 14 frames (a half-second on screen), but it required a team of 10 to 12 artists for two weeks, because the deadline was halved. The company also did a microscopic intra-cellular view of an infection in a blood stream, and another scene in which animated rotors lift a car off the ground. The shop also created a series of 3D holograms – Tachyon pulse units used to trap the Silver Surfer.

SKINWALKERS

Release date: July 27
Distributor: Lions Gate Films/Maple Pictures
Post systems used
FX: Maya (3D); Shake (compositing)
Editing: Avid suite
Canadian connection: Mr. X president Dennis Berardi is also one of the producers of Skinwalkers (with Don Carmody) through Red Moon Films. Mr. X worked on over 500 visual effects, including set extensions, makeup enhancements (eyes, teeth) and CGI (both an RV vehicle and a hawk). The company mostly used Maya for 3D modeling.

There is a huge battle sequence in the opening, an old-school western-type shoot-out with visual effects including muzzle flashes and bullet hits, and a shot of the CG hawk. There’s also a transformation from human to werewolf that involves shooting actors against a green screen later replaced by a matte painting element.

RUSH HOUR 3

Release date: Aug. 10
Distributor: New Line Cinema/Alliance Atlantis
FX systems used:: Autodesk Maya and Flame, Adobe After Effects
Canadian connection: Posted in part in Vancouver at Entity FX (also has facilities in Santa Monica, CA), visual effects for this newest installment in the Rush Hour franchise – which sees the buddy cop duo of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker taking on a Chinese gangster crew in Paris – ranged from 3D modeling and interactive lighting for a complex elevator action sequence to digital cloud and sky replacements.

HAIRSPRAY

Release date: July 20
Distributor: New Line Cinema/Alliance Atlantis
FX systems used: Maya (for 3D); SynthEyes (for tracking); and eyeon Fusion (for compositing)
Canadian connection: New Line Cinema pic was shot in Toronto, and T.O.-based studio Intelligent Creatures supervised the visual effects on this John Travolta-starrer. IC specifically handled 55 shots, including elaborate dance numbers shot on green screen, matte paintings of ’60s backgrounds, characters from billboards jumping to life, crowd duplication, digital makeup and CG hairspray.

Lev Kolobov, IC’s visual effects supervisor, explains that Travolta’s character (a woman) is a stay-at-home mom who gets so excited when she ventures out shopping that she sees the advertising come to life on posters, billboards and even graffiti.

This was accomplished with shots of ‘three singer girls shot on green screen. Then we took the original design from the posters and combined it with the green screen footage, so it has the effect of the posters coming to life and dancing,’ says Kolobov.

Another challenge for the visual effects department was the changing of the seasons, as the story required a summer background, and the pic was shot into fall and winter of 2006.

Summer exterior background footage was shot when the leaves were still green, then was later mixed with footage from inside a school bus, again shot against a green screen.
‘It was like a puzzle,’ Kolobov explains. First the school bus was cut in two, and then in four pieces for the green screen shooting, and then the exterior and interior footage was composited together.

GRINDHOUSE

Release date: April 6
Distributor: The Weinstein Company/Alliance Atlantis
FX system used: eyeon Fusion 5
Canadian connection:
Frantic Films worked on 29 shots for the Quentin Tarantino-helmed Death Proof segment of the two-part film. Tasks included wire/rig and crane removals in a scene where Rosario Dawson is on the hood of a car.

‘Frantic also did color corrections – turning red crosses to black on the doors in the hospital scene, for example,’ notes Frantic’s Kevin Hill. ‘We also worked on a shot to create the CG dust thrown up when a car spins out, [obscuring] what is happening.’