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EVAN ALMIGHTY

Visual Effects
While in days gone by, miniatures, rear projection and optical matting would provide a flood of biblical proportions on the silver screen, it was no longer feasible to bring movie audiences images that they could see through in an instant. To meet the specifications of the director and producers, Evan Almighty would need to break new ground (erm, water) in how it would render torrential waters onto an unsuspecting city.

In charge of the visual effects for the production was VFX supervisor Douglas Smith. Smith, the veteran filmmaker who cut his teeth on such seminal epics as Star Wars and Star Trek: The Motion Picture has recently brought his talents as VFX head on pictures from Independence Day and Dr. Doolittle 2 to Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat and The Longest Yard. It would require every trick in the book to bring Evan Almighty to life. Smith offers, "Evan was an ambitious task…and a huge technical challenge.

Getting the audience to believe that this flood and the computer-generated animals were real required enormous effort and care on visual effects team's part. I loved the fact that I got to help in re-telling of the story of Noah's Ark.”

The San Francisco-based visual effects giant, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), was charged with working with Shadyac and Smith to create the flood that provides the breathtaking climax to the comedy. It would take an ILM crew of 80 people more than a year to develop just the water shots for the film.

All the elements of the production were carefully storyboarded, then roughly animated on computers through the process of previsualization ("pre-vis”). Once "prevised” scenes were agreed upon, the production team—including the director, production designer, director of photography, special effects coordinator and visual effects supervisor—analyzed the shots to decide what could be done practically and what had to be represented through visual effects.

For example, if Shadyac wanted to show a giant wave crashing against the side of the ark as it flowed down a body of water, a decision was made whether it was best (or even possible) to photograph the scene on location, or on set, with a partial section of the ark in front of a giant blue screen. In every case, the pre-vis process helped guide the choice of process, location and the CG wave sequences that followed.

According to ILM's visual effects supervisor, Bill George, there were three stages mandatory to make Evan and his clan, their neighbors and the animals' journey on the ark as seamless as possible. "Creating the water is a very long process that requires a lot of artistry and a high degree of technical skill,” George provides. "Once a background plate was shot, we did a match move—which is to re-create the movement of the camera in the computer—and that gave us a scene that we can work on.”

He continues, "Next was the fluid simulation: the computer takes component pieces, such as the ark and the trees, and you send virtual fluid through there. Then, the computer figures out how the fluid would flow around these objects in nature.” That would be a trial and error process for the filmmakers, because of the number of parameters to set for water, such as velocity, wind and gravity.

Once fluid simulation occurred, it was on to step three, the rendering stage, which would make the flat surface of the water on screen not so flat after all. As water has reflections, refractions, mist and waves, those component pieces all needed to be built in to make the images realistic. And they were built in separately. George says, "Our compositors had to control how bright the reflections on the water were, as that changes from scene to scene. So many pieces had to come together correctly for the flood to look like it was really happening.” Indeed, one shot alone could take 15-20 weeks to<

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