Eclipse, the third installment in Stephenie Meyer’s super-successful vampire film franchise, The Twilight Saga, was always going to be a challenge to visualise, but director David Slade’s realisation was released to great acclaim and Vancouver-based VFX company, Image Engine, played a substantial part in the on-screen dramatisation of this aesthetically challenging and technically demanding project.
Having been impressed by Image Engine’s Academy Award® nominated work on District 9, Slade initially briefed Image Engine to bring naturalism and a raw feel to specific werewolf shots dubbed the ‘Historical Wolves’. However, the scope of Image Engine’s work quickly grew and they went on to tackle over 300 shots on the project.
Company partner and Visual Effects Executive Producer, Shawn Walsh comments, “Image Engine handled a very diverse portfolio of work on Eclipse including some complex compositing challenges. We were an early adopter of NUKE; our proficiency paid dividends and helped us to deliver stunning results.”
The CG wolves became the most complex part of the project and required the most detail and Image Engine created an entire proprietary fur pipeline from scratch. The compositing team, helmed by Hamish Schumacher, also used The Foundry’s software to give vampires their super human characteristics and realise stunning digital environments.
Schumacher explains how NUKE helped significantly. “One of the benefits of NUKE, which we used heavily on The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, is the ability to write tools and expressions on the fly with ease. An example of this would be the training sequence for the Cullen vampire family. The whole premise of these shots was a thing called “Vampire Speed”.
The actors were shot on location fighting and Image Engine was tasked with speeding them up to super-human pace. However, it was substantially more complicated than just adding a re-time node as this would have resulted in jerky camera movements. To stabilize the plates and avoid jerkiness, the camera curves (which had expressions that linked to the re-times to which they applied) had to be filtered out. The plate speed needed to match the ever-changing pace of the edit.
Using NUKE, Image Engine tracked the non re-sped plate in 3D and generated cameras for compositors and CG artists. Schumacher and his team then created an expression within NUKE that allowed them to change the camera so that it matched the re-speeds, allowing the compositors to export the new cameras straight out of NUKE. Hamish adds, “This was super-beneficial, as plates didn’t need to be re-tracked when the speed was changed later in the production.”
The vampire-speed effects were developed on-set by Senior Compositor, Shervin Shoghian, whilst embedded within editorial, at Vancouver Film Studios.
Image Engine also handled extensive digital environments. In one spectacular mountain top sequence, a digital environment extension seamlessly integrates a scene set on a sunny day in summer with a snow-scene shot on an indoor stage.
Hamish comments “Two thirds of the plates were shot inside a big studio with basically one layer of set dressing (snow covered shrubs and rocks) behind the actors. Our goal was to make the final shots look like they were shot up in the mountains in the middle of winter out in the freezing cold. With the help of some in-house matte painters, the compositors were able to use NUKE’s 3D system to project various layers of snow-covered trees and mountains into the background to help sell an inhospitable location. The icing on the cake in these shots was the decision to add a light amount of snow wafting between the background layers and foreground characters, which really helped to make the sequence look like a very cold environment and tied everything in together nicely”.
Image Engine also worked closely with boutique digital matte painting vendor Hatch FX, who supplied a master matte painting for the mountain top environment. They combined this painting with extensive location digital SLR photography taken by Visual Effects Plate Supervisor Robin Hackl on location at Mount Seymour. Ultimately the resulting mountain top environment incorporated on-set and location photography taken in dramatically different lighting scenarios, digital matte paintings, digital SLR, and digital atmospheric effects to achieve a seamless result in the final footage.
Image Engine Visual Effects Supervisor, Simon Hughes, (The Losers, Immortals) comments “The 3D functionality within NUKE has helped grow the capabilities of the compositor far beyond what was previously achievable with other software, changing the role of the compositor considerably. The tools within NUKE have taken compositing into 3D, where the artists can create fully functioning geometry, deform it, create projections, import geometry from other packages, setup cameras, light scenes and render.”
Image Engine’s Company Partner and Visual Effects Executive Producer, Shawn Walsh, adds “NUKE has been an exceptional tool for us. Especially from the perspective of internal tool development. We have developed several custom features such as geometry and camera caching using our own proprietary file format that really enables us to access the 3D environment much more fluidly and robustly than many other 2D compositing pipelines.”
Schumacher contributes “NUKE really delivers when you need speed, which is essential at the final delivery stage.”
“The traditional role of compositing has developed far beyond what it was a few years ago and NUKE is at the centre of this.” adds Hughes.
Image Engine runs NUKE on Linux operating Centos 5.1 64-bit. They use HP xw6400, xw6600 and Z600 workstations with nVidia Quadro FX 3500, 3700, and 4600 graphics cards.