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May 2012

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visual effects Sony Imageworks takes on Men in Black 3 By CHRISTINE BUNISH C ULVER CITY — The popular Men in Black franchise returns to theaters this month with Men in Black 3, the first of the series to release in stereo 3D (via conversion). Sony Pictures Imageworks (www. was the lead VFX house for the motion picture, completing more than half of the 1,200 visual effects shots. Every shot in the film was supervised by Imageworks' VFX supervisors Ken Ralston and Jay Redd. Ralston is a five-time Academy Award-winner for his VFX work on Star Wars: Episode VI — The Return of the Jedi, Forrest Gump, Death Becomes Her, Who Framed Roger shot mono; 2D to stereo 3D conversion was primarily performed by Prime Focus World (see Post's conversion story on page 30) and was overseen by Imageworks' 3D visual effects supervisor Corey Turner. MULTIPLE CHALLENGES Ken Ralston says the movie posed a num- ber of challenges due to its extremely diverse effects. "The film is no one-trick pony. There were lots of problems to solve and things to get creative about — from the creatures to the time travel to the action scenes." Redd agrees. "There are very few repeats here," he from shot to shot, depending on the length of the shot, and the speed of the fall. Image- works artists took care in creating photoreal lighting for the city, but also worked to create a sense of surrealism and whimsy. Details — from glints on metal work to the entire city reflected in the windshields of digital cars — were created. Different versions of the city had to be created for the story, too: 1969 and 2012 versions. The rocket launch sequence began with a two-story partial gantry set on a giant blue- screen stage at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens. But Imageworks also built "a super- No detail was too small. Rabbit? and Cocoon. At Imageworks he teamed with director Robert Zemeckis on Beowulf (3D), The Polar Express (3D) and Cast Away. Redd is credited with helping create the title character for the first Stuart Little film, was digital effects supervisor on Stuart Little 2 and VFX supervisor on the Academy Award- nominated Monster House and The Haunted Mansion. He recently completed VFX supervi- sion on three Looney Tunes shorts, Rabid Rider, Fur of Flying and Coyote Falls. Ralston and Redd previously worked together on the film Contact with Robert Zemeckis. Men in Black 3 reprises the franchise's Ken Ralston: "We took all the tools to new heights, pushing them as far as possible, which is pretty far." trademark humor and style with a time-trav- eling scenario that takes Agent J (Will Smith) back to 1969 to enjoy the historic Apollo 11 rocket launch and the amazing New York Mets, who went on to win the World Series that year. Key sequences for Imageworks included the time jump; digital recreations of the Kennedy Space Center, the rocket launch and Shea Stadium; and a monocycle chase through Brooklyn and Queens. Director Barry Sonnenfeld opted to shoot film for most of the feature, going digital with Arri Alexa for the monocycle chase and other night action scenes. The motion picture was 18 Post • May 2012 Imageworks built an entirely digital Shea Stadium from the ground up. says. "The movie takes you on a pretty big roller-coaster ride — you're never bored. We had to react to different demands and chang- es in plans all the time." "Barry (Sonnenfeld) has a distinct style and panache that's kind of a stylized version of reality that's fun to do," Ralston adds. The first things the Imageworks team shot were bluescreen plates of Agent J's vertigi- nous jump from the top of the Chrysler Building, which triggers his time travel. "The Chrysler Building's gargoyle head and a small portion of wall were built on the stage, but once Will jumps, the surreal digital back- grounds were all ours," says Ralston. He and Redd were atop the landmark building for early scouts to capture reference footage for the panoramas and the dizzying vertigo effect. "The digital landscape we created is a styl- ized version of New York City," Ralston reports. "We had the license to do what we needed to make it work. The first thing we eliminated from the landscape was the Trump Tower," he quips. The actual height of the completely digital Chrysler Building varies detailed digital model" of the gantry, which replaced the practical set much of the time in order to exercise control over the lighting and action, including quick cuts to digital doubles. "We also had to add huge amounts of steam and smoke, which almost acted as characters throughout the entire sequence," says Redd. "The unruly plumes couldn't have been shot on set with the level of control we needed, and it added a lot of complexity to the sequence, so they were simulated and inte- grated digitally." LET'S GO METS! A similar situation arose with Shea Stadi- um's night sequence. The original Shea Stadi- um was demolished about three years ago. "A small chunk of the seats, hall and banisters was shot on bluescreen, but we wanted to control the look of the stadium for every single seat," Redd recalls. "So, using lots of period reference material, we rebuilt the entire stadium, even the portion of small bluescreen set, to gain control over all the specifics." The team lensed nighttime background

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