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Bringing The Museum to Life
If all of the creatures in a museum can magically come to life, then just about anything else is possible. Rendering the impossible, possible, is the realm of visual effects, and almost half of NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB involved digital wizardry.

One of the film's most dazzling scenes takes place inside a lithograph by famed Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher, known for his often mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints, featuring incredible constructions and explorations of infinity. While this scene relied on a staggering amount of visual effects, much of it was actually done in camera and involved the expertise of a cross-disciplinary filmmaking team.

Levy and the writers wanted to take some of the rules from the previous films and take them to a new level, so they created a sequence where Larry, Teddy and Lancelot fall into one of Escher's lithographs, "Relativity," setting off what may be the most unique chase sequence in cinematic history. It's a race through an impossible world, with multiple planes, three levels of gravity and endless possibilities.

Levy says, "Escher created lithographs, drawings and artwork that take our understanding of gravity and dimension and blow those ideas completely wide open. 'Relativity,' which is arguably his most famous piece, takes three different planes of gravity and brings them together into this dynamic universe that operates with its own laws and rules that have nothing to do with our reality."

To facilitate blocking out the sequence, production designer Martin Whist built a 3-D model that mapped out the geometry and architecture of the print. Levy and his department heads had a dozen brainstorming sessions over several months to work out the dynamics, and then the pre-vis team animated a rough version of what it might look like in the movie. Levy recalls, "We went through at least half a dozen versions before we came up with a shot by shot equation, a kind of language that would tell the story in a way that felt dynamic and cool, but not so tricky that the audience would get lost. In a sequence that's so densely technical, one of the challenges is not to lose sight of what's at stake in the scene itself."

Conceiving, creating and filming the scene was like putting together and solving a complex puzzle. "Every image had multiple layers and multiple planes of gravity and there were 60 shots," says Levy. "Sixty shots times three layers - a lot of elements had to be grabbed and captured individually to combine into something seamless and unified. The sequence required incredible time, mental focus and devotion, but I think that the results will be worth all of that effort and the audience will go on a ride the likes of which they have never taken before."

Nominated for three Academy Awards (I, Robot, Real Steel, Iron Man 3), visual effects supervisor Erik Nash has worked on a slate of huge movies, but he says, "I'd never seen anything like this. When I first read the script, the Escher sequence really stood out as something that had a lot of potential for being something that an audience had never experienced before."

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