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March / April 2019

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Page 43 of 51 42 POST MAR/APR 2019 PREVIS ears before fantastical beasts graced the skies in photoreal effects across popular film and television, Walt Disney's 1941 movie Dumbo brought the story of a small elephant that could fly to the animated silver screen. The original motion picture used key techniques of the day, including cel frames and painted watercolor backdrops. The new live-ac- tion film Dumbo from Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures draws upon the visual storytelling of director Tim Burton and a world of advanced techniques to bring the interaction of live and digital charac- ters to the top of the Big Top. EARLY PRE-PRODUCTION The Third Floor joined early during pre-production to serve as the visual- ization team, with Justin Summers in London heading up previs. Leading into and during the shoot, The Third Floor's UK virtual production supervisor Kaya Jabar worked across departments to help plan and shoot live performers in sync with Dumbo's digital flights. After principal photography, Summers and The Third Floor temped Dumbo and other CG into the live-action plates to produce postvis across the film. "Beginning with previs, we would visualize the key scenes as written in the script, working with visual effects super- visor Richard Stammers with input from Tim or film editor Chris Lebenzon," says Summers. "We created previs assets and animation directly from script pages and used a stylized black-and-white look to focus attention on staging, cameras and creature performances." Previs shots are usually composed and animated on a per-shot basis, with artists placing a single camera or a handful of cameras for the coverage of an action beat or two. On Dumbo, The Third Floor instead created expansive 3D "masterscenes" that visualized a broad range of script action and staging within a single 3D Maya file. Summers says, "The idea was for us to allow exploration of the narrative of the scene. Artists would animate the staging according to the script and we would add cameras at different points throughout the masterscene, both for global coverage and to test out specific framings from different vantage points. It was a sort of lighter virtual production approach that gave Tim flexibility to see and place wit- ness cameras versus looking at an edit of previs and providing notes." Having collaborated on Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and, earlier, Alice in Wonderland, The Third Floor came in with some familiarity to the camera styles and moves favored by the director. This helped as the team visualized a canvas of action for key scenes like the First Show and the initial introduction of Dumbo. TAKING FLIGHT With the titular character to be a CG cre- ation, the previs provided a good way to explore Dumbo's look and performance prior to final shot production. How would he operate within the tent when fly- ing? How would he interact with other characters? How would he fit with circus props and the train? What could the performance look like when he first takes flight in front of the audience? "For the pivotal flying moments, we'd begin with a look-dev of Dumbo in full flying mode in the confines of a restricted space — the circus tent," says Summers. "For any scene we visualized, we tried get a good sense of all the as- pects of his flying." Scenes of Dumbo with seated riders leveraged a virtual production shoot to capture live actors and stunt players on a practical elephant motion buck. Fresh from helping create believable dragon rides on HBO's Game of Thrones, Jabar worked across departments to accurate- ly bring MPC's animation of the flying elephants to the on-set motion base, also solving camera moves for a Spydercam system to create the paths of Dumbo's flight through the frame. "When working with creature inter- action through motion control, the first challenge is always defining the move- ment of the equipment," describes Jabar. "We liaised closely with MPC to analyze their Dumbo flight cycles and the rhythm of the animation and produce feedback about what was possible and what would need to be created through intricate camera counter-movement. Once we had a good flight cycle, the stunt depart- ment would come in and analyze how their bodies reacted to the motions. The biggest challenge is always translating enough movement to the equipment so our eyes believe the actors are reacting to the creature in perfect sync." The team next created a CG simulation of the stage rig that would convert MPC shots into the final physical exports. The CG stage rig was designed to preserve and distribute motion between the six-ax- is gimbal, Dumbo's mechanical head, a stabilized Libra head cradling the Alexa Mini and Spydercam's winch system. Once the Dumbo animatronic was put down to the measured specs, Jabar and the team incorporated a Lidar scan of the shooting stage to render accurate lens passes of each setup. "To ensure nothing was left to chance or had to be simulated 'on the day,'" she says, "we also exported forward kinematic data for each axis of the equipment involved — one positional or rotation value per frame of animation for 14 axes, across three systems and three different file types! We additionally worked with the AD to make sure everyone knew the file they needed to load per shot, tracking the status of each file on a master whiteboard." Shots with dialogue action for Collette (Eva Green) while she sits on Dumbo presented a particular challenge for the motion-base shoot. Dumbo's perfor- mance was closely tied into the actress's rhythm of delivery, so the team worked with Green to time her lines and then adjust the solves, adding pauses and edits to the Dumbo performance where needed. The adjustments were then tracked back to the original MPC anima- tion frame for frame. Frame in and out points were meticulously maintained and everything was tied to timecode, with renders of how the two correlated to the MPC files driving the shoot. Synchronization with the equipment was done through Spydercam's propri- etary Moto system, which triggered ev- eryone on set, from video assist to lights. This was especially important due to the speeds some of the camera moves had to achieve — some upwards of 26 feet per second, where a single frame delay would be the difference between having the subject's body in frame on a fly-by and looking at the ceiling. "The Spydercam system is second to none for repeatability and fine control," says Jabar. "It allowed us to turn the stage into a huge motion control volume and achieve all the stage flying elements on schedule by leveraging detailed pre-planning." FLYING HIGH WITH DUMBO THE THIRD FLOOR'S ADVANCED VISUALIZATION & VIRTUAL PRODUCTION FOR DISNEY'S FAMOUS ELEPHANT Y

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