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RED PLANET

About The Visual And Sound Effects

With more than 900 effects shots, "Red Planet" needed a visual effects team that would be able to create a totally alien atmosphere and a terrifyingly real opponent in the sophisticated robot AMEE (Autonomous Mapping Evaluation and Evasion). "The visual effects will completely elevate the experience of this film," says producer Canton. "In any film today, there's an expectation for fun. The fun factor in this film is going to be large, and the effects are going to be dazzling and what you see on screen will be utterly unique. There's life on Mars, but it's not little green men."

Visual effects supervisor Jeffrey A. Okun specializes in what he calls "organic effects, designed to help tell stories and be invisible to the audience."

For Okun, who most recently created the sharks in "Deep Blue Sea," plausibility was key, especially when introducing unfamiliar environments and technology. "Our mission was to make audiences believe that this adventure is happening to these astronauts on the surface of Mars and that they are in a desperate struggle to survive. In order to empathize with the characters, they have to believe the story."

One of Okun's biggest challenges on "Red Planet" was bringing the highly sophisticated robot AMEE to life. "AMEE needed a personality and needed to interact with the human characters in a believable way," Okun explains. "It couldn't be a hunk of metal."

Okun and his team worked closely with Thomas J. Smith, special effects supervisor at effects house Cinesite, and explored the possibilities of motion-capture and key-frame animation to give AMEE fluid, humanlike movements. Images of AMEE were created on background plates which were then integrated into composite scenes with the actors. Finally, the subtleties of lighting on the robot's body as she moved, her shadow and the wisps of dust that she kicked up were added. "AMEE has a very Japanese feel to it," says Canton. "Cool is the right word to describe it."

"We have animators who move it around in the scenes, tracking actual camera movements, and a crew of compositors making sure that the variables like lighting are consistent," Smith explains. "Ultimately the actors seem to be moving naturally within the plates with AMIEB. It can cross behind objects or people."

At any given time, as many as 40 people were working together on the AMEE scenes, with Okun involved in all stages. Overall, he likens the process to composing music, another art form with which he's familiar. "In a film like 'Red Planet' you can feel a rhythm," he says. "There's a dynamic that is very similar to music.

Sound Effects Supervisor Dane Davis is earning a reputation for achieving the impossible, or at least the very difficult. After having created a totally immersive sound environment for "The Matrix," for which he won both American and British Academy Awards and an MPSE Golden Reel. Davis was ready for a new challenge.

Mixing equal parts imagination and physics, Davis attempts to explain the daunting problem of creating sound in an atmosphere where there can be no sound: deep space. "Sound is dependent upon air," he explains. "It cannot exist in a vacuum. If we're floating in space and a spaceship goes by, we're feeling the gravitational pull on our bodies as opposed to soundwaves going into our ears." It's more the illusion of sound than sound itself that occurs, "a kind of mechanical resonance."

Throughout the film, Davis grappled with the subtleties of atmosphere and relative levels of oxygen, as do the astronauts themselves. By creating a scrupulously realistic soundtrack, Davis places the viewer into the helmets of the astronauts, breathing their air and hearing what they would be hearing — a technique that evokes intimacy and heightens the drama. "The movie is about claustrophobia and suspense," he explains. "It's about being abandoned in a hostile environment,

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