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STALINGRAD

Physical and Visual Effects
According to the script, Stalingrad is in shambles, ash is in the air and also covering the ground with a thick layer. The filmmakers used artificial cellulose ash, requiring several bags each day. Still, digital simulation had to be used to generate the necessary atmospheric effects for the master shots, as the mortars couldn't cover all of the location. Furthermore, although the air and surface attacks in Stalingrad involve spectacular explosions, the military was not consulted at all for the project. Mikhail Maryanov was the pyrotechnics supervisor, and there were 16 pyrotechnicians in his crew, dealing with complicated creative tasks, such as exploding the building.

Stereo shooting had challenges which the pyrotechnicians had to take into account while directing the physical effects. Before shooting the battle scenes, the director made sure the specialists thoroughly examined the location. They removed the stones, dug holes for the charges and then covered them up with soft peat. Every person involved knew his moves in order not to be blown up. Nevertheless, every person had his own pyrotechnician, who remotely handled a particular explosion. The cast and crew had to be careful and accurate to make the scene spectacular and exactly the way the director wanted it. The rehearsals were of great help. Mikhail Maryanov had experience with various explosions, yet it was the first time he had to blow up a whole building, and exploding the building was one of the most important scenes in the film, as the filmmakers only had one take. Had anything gone wrong, it would have been impossible to erect the building one more time. Thankfully, the effect was achieved perfectly.

Nonetheless, several explosion sequences were digitally enhanced. The quality of visual effects has drastically risen due to digital film production and technological development. In Stalingrad, there about 230 CG shots. The number is quite small, but one should take into account the way of shooting and the editing. As the film was shot in stereo, Fedor Bondarchuk resorted to long shots. For instance, the opening sequence with the plane flying over Fukushima lasts for about two minutes. This sequence, like almost all the other visual effects, was entirely computer-generated by the artists of Main Road|Post studio and supervised by Arman Yahin.

ArmanYahin's digital studio created a lot of explosions for the film. For example, shrapnel could not be used during the explosions to ensure the safety of the actors and the crew. Such things were added with the help of CG. Another example is the scene featuring an air strike on the Nazi troops and tanks. There is also a slow-motion sequence of a shell that breaks through the wall of the building. It's impossible to shoot scenes like that in real life, which is why the episode is entirely CG and animated.

Before dealing with the digital development of a scene, the studio artists created concepts based on the filmed sequence. The draft was approved with the director and became a starting point for the work on the graphics and color. The film includes several scenes that were originally drafted not only in storyboarding but also in previsualization, as 3D animatics. Those episodes include the tank attack and the crashing of the plane. Following the director's directions, artists and animators developed graphic drafts. After that, the sequences were moved to the final stage of the process. As for the striking scene with the burning Red Army soldiers, it was not previsualized. Yet it underwent significant digital development. Main Road/Post added fire, mixing real flames with a digital simulation. They also added digital models of people in several sequences and used color grading to turn day into night.

It took about three months to develop and polish fire simulation with Houdini software. In addition to the pyrotechnicians' work on location, the final version of the film also features a lot of digital fire sequences.

Digital models of people were used in the sequences where the burning Red Army soldiers fall down the cliff. They were designed and animated in a 3D editing program, based on actors' photos. The animation technique mixed key frame and motion-capture animation. Motion capture was performed with the help of the markerless Kinect technology and IPi Soft software. The photos of actors in costumes were taken as a starting point for the textures.

In one scene, Soviet planes shoot down a German Henkel bomber, which crashes in the square in front of Gromov's house. This scene is entirely digital, and created with the help of CG and animation. Working on the digital model of the plane Main Road|Post 3D artists studied the photos of the original German plane, as well as the model of the plane on location. These shots were being developed for about a year and encompassed all the technologies available to Main Road/Post specialists.

The digital model was created with the help of Autodesk Maya, while the dynamics of the crashing was imitated in Houdini software. The whole set of Stalingrad was digitally recreated, too, using multiple photos of the actual location. Three specialists from the studio were present at the filming at all times.

The scene with the plane, like the rest of the action scenes in the film, is stylized in a hyperrealistic manner, according to Arman Yahin. Besides fire, smoke and destruction simulation, the team did a lot of background editing. For instance, the Fukushima scene was filmed on the same set as Stalingrad, but from a different angle, and with a different sky and background. All the buildings several dozen meters away from the camera were digital. Those were 3D models of the buildings, sometimes 2D projections on low-poly geometry.

Arman Yahin believes that Stalingrad will be a breakthrough for the developing Russian filmmaking industry.

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