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Smithsonian Alive: The Effects
When the magical tablet from the Museum of Natural History finds its way to the Smithsonian, something enchanted happens as a whole new host of exhibits come to life. This was made possible by the masterful digital magic of a visual effects team headed by Visual Effects Supervisor Dan Deleeuw, who created the CG for such characters as "Rexy” in the first Night at the Museum, and the award-winning effects house Rhythm & Hues. Together, they would be responsible for making a world in which marble statues sprint, century-old plywood airplanes soar, national landmarks speak and the Egyptian Underworld bursts open inside the Smithsonian Castle.

Despite his involvement in Larry Daley's previous adventure, Deleeuw was stunned by the dazzling array of effects the second one would require. "My first reaction to BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN was simply how large the film was going to be,” he says. "Then I took a trip to the Smithsonian that revealed how even more limitless the ideas could be. Touring the National Mall and seeing the Lincoln Memorial, and really feeling Lincoln's influence on the country, it was very moving to think we were going to bring all of that to life.”

He continues: "Aside from the sheer size of the film, another thing that's new is that there's more of a fantasy element. Not only do you have the exhibits coming to life as before, but then you also have the Gates of the Underworld opening, which opens up possibilities for all kinds of super-cool stuff like warriors with heads of falcons. I think the thing that really sets this movie apart is the sheer diversity of the effects that were required. On the large scale you have the Lincoln Memorial, which we recreated entirely inside the computer, and on the smaller scale you have this little bobble-head Einstein who's just the cutest, wisest little character ever. Each challenge was as exciting and interesting as the next.”

One of the effects nearest and dearest to director Shawn Levy's heart was that of digitally bringing to life the world inside famous artworks – from the cartoon universe of Roy Lichtenstein to the Americana of Edward Hopper. "Shawn is a huge art lover and there was a lot of thought put into which of the many amazing works we would use,” notes Deleeuw. "Then, we got into developing different CG techniques for different kinds of artistic media. For a watercolor we came up with one technique, for an oil painting -- another. We were actually working with the brushstrokes and turning those into motion, trying to keep the artists' intent alive on the screen. And that was pretty exciting, especially when you realize you are exposing people to these great works of art.”

The challenge was even greater when it came to the sculptures "The Thinker,” "Venus” and the 19-foot high statue of President Abraham Lincoln inside the Lincoln Memorial. All had to leap off their pedestals into the real world. "The hard part was that we wanted the statues to truly look like they are marble and bronze but at the same time to have realistic movement as they're walking around,” explains Deleeuw. "Since stone doesn't really stretch like skin, the problem was finding a way for it to move that would appear natural. Ironically, we've spent the last 10 years in CG animation finding ways to make skin appear less like stone and now we were doing a 180 degree turn, making stone work like skin!”

A different kind of fun was inside the Air & Space Museum. "One of the things that Shawn wanted was to have all the awakened rockets and planes ready to take off for real, so we actually used liquid nitrogen shooting out of the rockets and flame-throwers to create the flames,” says Deleeuw. "Then, when it came to Larry and Amelia jumping onto the Wright Flyer, we loved the idea of doing something very adventurous and having them actually pull off wild acroba

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