ANIMATORS IN ACTION The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Weta Digital presents a peek inside the world of the animation team as they work out how to solve one of the most complicated shots in Peter Jackson’s film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. As part of an epic seven-minute action sequence, Bombur’s bouncing barrel shot required an elaborate approach. See how our animators suited up and used their own performances as part of the animation process.

Presented and directed by Dave Clayton; edited by Neil Mayo; camera work by Victor Huang; produced by Amy Minty.


First Look At Michael Mann’s Techno Thriller


Michael Mann has been busy finishing off his next film, a techno thriller that was shot under the title Cyber, but which appears to have a new name – more on that in a moment. In the meantime, the first two official images have appeared online, one via Filmosphere’s Twitter account, the other thanks to one of the movie’s actors, Holt McCallany. Check out the main image above and both in the gallery below.




The film – which if McCallany’s hashtag is to be believed, may now be called Black Hat – finds a furloughed convict working with American and Chinese partners hunting down a cybercrime network across the world between Chicago, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Jakarta. Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Tang Wei, Wang Leehorn and McCallany make up the cast, for a very contemporary story.

It’s certainly an enticing prospect to have Mann digging into a crime story again, and that’s a strong cast bringing to life the script he co-wrote with Morgan Davis Foehl. Hopefully, we’ll see a trailer before too long and Black Hat / Cyber / whatever itself arrives on February 20, 2015.

CGI VFX Breakdowns SAMSUNG Coliseum Spot MPC Advertising no sound

Check out this revealing behind the scenes VFX breakdown of the SAMSUNG TVC spot by the talented team at MPC! The ad was created to launch Samsung’s world first curved UHD television, with the commercial shot and delivered entirely in 4K and directed by Park Picture’s Nathan Price.

Official Website –
Facebook –…
Twitter –

MPC’s VFX team, led by Franck Lambertz and Carsten Keller, extended the purpose built coliseum, replicated the braying crowd and created the wide shot completely in CG. MPC’s pioneering technology and engineering departments re-worked parts of the pipeline in order to work at three different resolutions and frame rates simultaneously: HD, Ultra HD 25P and Ultra HD 60P for which viewing devices are still in development.

The cinematic opening wide shot was developed from a series of concept drawings by MPC’s in-house team. Initially using matte painting, the scene was then built up in CG, incorporating intricate details. The crowd is a combination of in-camera plates, 3D crowds and additional detailed matte painting.

Following a detailed 3D pre-vis and concept drawings, the shoot took place in New Zealand where the production team built part of the coliseum.

MPC’s 3D team then built the remainder of the structure using Nuke.

Director Nathan wanted as much of the action to be captured in-camera as possible, which required a huge cast and crew. MPC utilised proprietary crowd replication technology, ALICE to take the 200 extras and build up a crowd of over 10,000 in the wide shot. Close up crowd shots were shot as HD plates and built up into the scene

Official Batman: Arkham Knight Gameplay Trailer – “Evening The Odds”

Scarecrow returns to Gotham City to unite the Rogues Gallery in a master plan to destroy the Batman once and for all. When the citizens of Gotham are forced to flee, the remaining criminal gangs converge to take control of the city. Undermanned and overpowered, Batman aims to even the odds by bringing his legendary Batmobile to the fight. This showdown between criminal masterminds and the Dark Knight will decide the future of the city that Batman is sworn to protect.

BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT software © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Developed by Rocksteady Studios.BATMAN and all characters, their distinctive likenesses, and related elements are trademarks of DC Comics © 2014. All Rights Reserved.WB GAMES LOGO, WB SHIELD: ™ & © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (s14)

MALEFICENT: Making of by Wired

Wired purposes this great video about the VFX of MALEFICENT and especially about the impressive fully digital characters.
Angelina Jolie stars in Disney’s new Maleficent, featuring a forest world of detailed visual effects. Mike Seymour delves into how facial movement experts Digital Domain, worked to re-create realistic, fully digital counterparts to the story’s three fairies.

Warner Home Video Announces ‘Transcendence’

Transcendence’ arrives onto Blu-ray combo pack, DVD And Digital HD on July 22 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Burbank – The secrets to building super intelligence emerge in Transcendence, arriving onto Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital HD on July 22 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Transcendence stars Oscar nominee Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean series) as a researcher whose quest to create an all-knowing and all-feeling machine threatens to destroy mankind.

Transcendence marks the feature film directorial debut of Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister (Inception) and stars Paul Bettany (The Da Vinci Code), Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3), Kate Mara (House of Cards), Cillian Murphy (Inception), Clifton Collins, Jr. (Pacific Rim) and Oscar winner Morgan Freeman (The LEGO Movie).

Adapted from a screenplay by Jack Paglen, Transcendence was produced by Oscar nominees Andrew A. Kosove and Broderick Johnson (The Blind Side), alongside Kate Cohen, Marisa Polvino, Annie Marter, David Valdes and Aaron Ryder.

In Transcendence, Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the foremost researcher in the field of artificial intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him. However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed — to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can…but if they should. Their worst fears are realized as Will’s thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.

Transcendence will be available on Blu-ray Combo Pack for $35.99 and includes the film in high definition on Blu-ray disc, a DVD, and a digital version of the movie in Digital HD with UltraViolet.  Fans can also own “Transcendence” via purchase from digital retailers.

Source: Warner Home Video

The Third Floor Tackles ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ Previs

Previs supervisor Austin Bonang explains the extensive use of previsualization on Bryan Singer’s latest installment of the X-Men franchise.

‘X-Men: Days of Future Past.” All images © Twentieth Century Fox. Images courtesy of The Third Floor, Inc.

As you examine the visual sophistication of a film like X-Men: Days of Future Past, it’s not hard to see why major studios continue to expand their practical and strategic use of previs. No longer just an elaborate animated storyboard, previs has become an essential part of every aspect of film production, from the earliest look development to the final editing postvis.

As one of the industry’s leading previs companies, The Third Floor has worked extensively on many of this year’s biggest films. I recently had a chance to talk to previs supervisor Austin Bonang about his team’s wide-ranging work on the latest X-Men film, which included Sentinel design, onset SimulCam previs asset integration as well as prevising key Moscow and Washington D.C. sequences.

Dan Sarto: Describe the scope of The Third Floor’s work on the film? What was your role?

Austin Bonang: The Third Floor started very early on the film. Right before our Christmas break in 2012, Bryan [Singer, the director] pitched us his vision for the movie. We came on the project as soon as we finished the holiday break, storyboarding and blocking out ideas for a couple months before joining the production in Montreal, where The Third Floor also has offices. The production set up shop at Mel’s Studio, which housed the film’s sound stages. We worked with Richard Stammers [overall VFX supervisor from MPC] and Blondel Aidoo [VFX producer] initially at our offices and then on site in Montreal and back at Fox.

One of the first things we worked on was the Sentinels, both the future and 1973 versions. We built different types of models, exploring a range of designs while staying loyal to the original Sentinel concepts. Richard and his team were doing versions as well. The production designer was involved as was the director, who would review the work and give notes.

The future Sentinels were something new. They’re different than anything in the comics so it was necessary to figure out what they looked like, how they moved and how they behaved.  The production designer John Myhre compiled all of the designs for a presentation to the director and Fox.  From there, final decisions were made. So designing the Sentinels was a big collaborative effort on many different levels, with Framestore ultimately handling the design of the finished 1973 Sentinel and MPC taking on the future version.

DS: After the initial Sentinel work, what came next?

AB: We moved on to the Washington D.C. sequence. We worked on that for a bit, then set it aside based on some discussions and changes being made to the story. We moved on to the Rogue – Anna Paquin sequence that ultimately is not in the final movie. Brian Smrz, the second unit director, came to The Third Floor to oversee some of the sequence direction, coming into the office every day, giving us revision notes and supervising our work. We shot a couple actors in mo-cap suits at The Third Floor’s home base.  We also started working with a virtual camera, introducing it and planning how it would be used for the rest of the shoot.  We finished most of this sequence, kind of as a trial run before joining the filmmakers in Montreal.

DS: Tell me about the Moscow sequence.

AB: We started on it early. It wasn’t the first sequence they planned to shoot, but it was probably the most complex sequence in the movie just because there were so many mutants. Also, new Sentinels were being introduced and the tone and pacing of a darker X-Men film than anyone had seen before was being established. There wasn’t much dialogue as the story is told visually, mostly as a flat-out action scene. Bryan said several times this sequence had to be as effective as the “Night Crawler” sequence in X2. It really sets up the whole movie. All types of mutants and powers had to be introduced as well as the Sentinels who had their own unique abilities.

We did many versions of this sequence, probably 30 different passes, animating the previs and cutting it together. Once John Ottman and his editorial team came on, they started cutting it together with sound. Their expertise really helped us. Eventually, some things were moved around story-wise. We were a bit nervous showing the result to Bryan, but we knew we’d nailed it when his face lit up, he paused and said, “Now that is a significant improvement.” We’d finally arrived at a version he could shoot with.

DS: What source materials were you working from? Were there any concept drawings, storyboards, models or digital assets to guide your creative efforts?

AB: Bryan likes his previs to be as polished as possible since he’s using it to determine the directions he wants to take the film. We produced a lot of refined and detailed previs though sometimes the ball would be rolling so fast it was hard to keep up. We did have script pages. We were constantly getting updated script pages. Sometimes though, the description of action would be a bit vague. That’s when we’d go over things with Brian Smrz, who shot the majority of the second unit action stunt sequences.

For Moscow, we had the actual shooting location scanning data, which we used to recreate the set in virtual 3D space within Maya. So we knew exactly what we had to work with. Understanding and working with the limitations of the actual set was crucial to prevising sequences that could actually be shot. That was important because we had to make sure our 12 foot tall Sentinels weren’t bumping their heads on the ceiling. The script pages took us on a basic path from A to B. But we had to fill in all those little fight scenes. Hypothetically, Iceman is going to fight over here. But how are other events going to affect where he’s fighting further into the sequence? We didn’t want arbitrary fights going on in random places just because it was cool. Every fight had to serve a purpose within the story. The fights all had to flow into each other.

We got some assets from the art department, including initial SketchUp models for environments that we would then convert in Maya. We received one-sheets of the character art. But the majority of the assets were created from the plans and concept art.

For the Sentinels, initially we built a rough version based on the concept art. But later, we replaced that with the high-res version built by MPC. The previs needed to feature some detailed shots of the creatures’ mechanisms which our models didn’t have.

DS: So some of that sequence work would be considered techvis?

AB: Yes. We were always very mindful of the actual sets. Once the sets were built, we always went down and made sure the camera crane they were using would fit and all the camera moves within the previs were doable. For example, in the Quicksilver bedroom sequence, the scenes were pretty tight because the set was very small. We actually rehearsed that scene on set and realized that the crane didn’t allow for a particular shot because there was a wooden beam in the way. We had to have the set designer remove the beam. Our head of virtual production, Casey Schatz, built a virtual camera rig for us modeled after the one used onset, so we could make sure not to overextend the camera and crane within the previs.

For the Quicksilver sequence, they also didn’t want to build a full CG character. They wanted to shoot it with the real actor as much as possible for believability as well as cost. So for example, we had to figure out how to get him running horizontally on the wall. We ended up using two different treadmills, one green, one blue, and when the character jumped, they just flipped the camera. It worked really well. Through techvis, it was possible to figure out how to shoot the sequence without having to resort to all digital actors.

We did some reshoots on the Washington D.C. sequence. Originally the sequence was shot on an outdoor set, but the reshoot had to be moved indoors on a smaller soundstage. So we had to measure how much room was available on the new set to ensure the camera moves could be reshot with enough space. We recreated the new set virtually inside Maya just to make sure everything fit within that space.

DS: So the goal there was to see whether or not and in what way the actual set or the shot itself had to be modified?

AB: Exactly. We wanted to make sure all of the previs camera moves could be shot on the actual set. We didn’t want any of the camera moves to feel too “CG.”

DS: You eventually came back to the Washington sequence?

AB: Yes. We did. It became a big part of the monastery sequence because of the juxtaposition of the two, which were both happening at the same time. During the film’s big climax, there’s a lot going on in both locations because it’s a time travel sequence. We were working on them almost at the same time. We edited them together so we could make sure they flowed together. The Washington sequence changed a lot. We came back to it many times.

In the shot where Magneto lifts up this giant stadium and flies with it through the air, for example, we had done something completely different initially using the Washington Monument. That stadium idea came much later. 

DS: You mentioned virtual cameras. How often were they used in the previs as well as during the actual shoot?

AB: Once shooting started, Casey was onset not only running the virtual camera but also a SimulCam setup. Before onset shooting began, a lot of the Moscow and future monastery battle was framed up on the virtual camera. Brian [Smrz] came in and shot it himself, because ultimately he was going to shoot a lot of that onset.

We’d animate the action Brian wanted and Casey would put it into MotionBuilder. Then Brian [Smrz] could come in and shoot the action with the virtual camera exactly how he wanted the action to take place. It gave him a lot of control.

DS: So you put together previs sequences and assets at that point that wound up onset in the SimulCam?

AB: Right. And that becomes very important when you have CG characters like the future Sentinels that are 12 feet tall and 1973 Sentinels that are even taller. You need to make sure the actors’ eye-lines are where they need to be while fighting against these creatures. With the SimulCam, the director, the DP and everyone who has a monitor offset can see exactly what’s happening and where that CG elements are supposed to be within the shot composition. It allows the filmmakers to give more accurate direction.

DS: Overall, what were the biggest challenges your team faced on this project?

AB: Does the weather count? [Laughs] Probably the biggest challenge was just the scope of everything. There were so many characters to consider and so many mutant powers. How can you give them all screen time and make them all interesting without milking everything for too long? Also, there were a lot of moving parts and people working on them. But everyone came together with great camaraderie and the goal of making just a really good film.

This film had a lot of effects. It would have been easy to just go wild and crazy with any idea, like having 12 digital characters running around on screen at the same time. But we were always looking to make sure these sequences could be filmed in a realistic way.

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.