Computer Graphics World

March/April 2013

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VFX•Stereo 3D Braff's face that fed images to the monitor on the puppet cam pole. Thus, Franco could see Braff's face on the small monitor on the pole. And, Braff could see Franco's face. In addition, both actors had ear buds so they could hear each other. "The puppet cam operator would put the monitor and lipstick camera where the monkey's head was supposed to be, so James always had a live actor's face and eyeline," Saliba says. "If the monkey was on the ground, the operator had a three-foot rope, so he knew where the monkey's head would be. He could move the stick up and down with a lever, and he had a joystick to swivel the monitor on the end of the stick, like a little head. I don't know if anyone expected this, but it gave the thing a little personality as well." Certainly more personality than a tennis ball on a stick and a laser pointer. "It ended up working very well," Saliba says. "It's a big stretch for an actor to visualize a character when we have a personal assistant reading lines off camera and a tennis ball on set. Zach and James could play off each other, and we got a much more tactile performance from James on stage. Even when they brought back Zach post-shoot to change a line, it was worth it because James Franco's performance was so vibrant." Animators had reference from the rehearsal to see how Braff gestured, footage from Braff in the booth for facial expressions and lip sync, and footage of monkeys. "If the monkey was doing something physical, we leaned toward reference of the animal behavior," Saliba says. "If he was acting, we tended to rely more on the videotape of Zach." There was no reference, however, that showed how a three-foot-tall monkey would fly. "He couldn't fly like a bird," Saliba says. "He was a monkey with wings. We didn't have a benchmark. We had to figure out how the physics would work." Once the animators had created a flight cycle that felt right for Finley given his weight and shape, they realized the same physics wouldn't produce a good image when he hovered. "He could propel himself with the perfect amount of agility, but when he hovered, his head bobbed up and down, which didn't work for conversation or with the eyeline," Saliba says. "We had to figure out a way to make his physics believable without having him bob. It took trial and error." Finley is small and cute, and has bird-like wings with feathers. The baboons in the movie, which fly in hoards, have one purpose: kill. "The baboons have big, boney bat wings," Saliba says. "We had to experiment. We used all the reference we could find from nature, but nothing that big flies." Digital Actors In addition to the two main characters, the animators created swarms of butterflies, digital doubles for the main characters, and put thousands of people in the Emerald City. of motion capture or, in the case of butterflies, bits of animation." As the animators worked, the director and Editor Bob Murawski took notes. "They would ask why we didn't have a particular person working on a character," Saliba says. "They were very conscientious. They'd see things they liked and note who did it. I've never experienced that before. Sam had done Spider-Man, of course. But, this was the first movie for them in which the two main characters who emote and carry chunks of the film are completely digital. They worried about whether they could carry the performance." In the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, the main character Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) had three buddies, three actors wearing suits, any of which would have been eligible for Oscar nominations. Filmmaking magic has adventured a long way since then: In this movie, the main character travels with two digital buddies. We can trace the first digital companions back to the dragon created 17 years ago at At left, animators cut between dramatic changes in facial expression to give China Girl expressions without turning her face rubbery. At right, a monitor on a stick allowed Oz (actor James Franco) to interact on set with actor Zach Braff, who provided Finley the flying monkey's voice. "When James Franco ran into a big vista, once he got to a certain distance, our digidoubles took over," Saliba says. "We had volunteers run up ramps on a motion-capture stage calculated to match the environments. So, with a bit of adapting in the computer, we could continue having the actor run into a vast land." The crew also used motion capture for the crowds of characters in the Emerald city. "We scanned all the hero extras on set and photographed the rest of the extras for weeks," Saliba says. "Then, once we got back to Imageworks, we captured artists and volunteers from our team doing actions needed for the citizens, like cheering and loading carts for battle. When the crowds got really big, we had help from the guys in our Massive department who used bits ILM for the 1996 DragonHeart, and Imageworks' own Stuart Little in the 1999 film of the same name – both of which received Oscar nominations for Best Visual Effects. Indeed, early this year, two of the five films nominated for visual effects had main digital characters with dialog – The Avengers and The Hobbit – and all five nominees had realistic, believable digital characters. Perhaps someday we'll see an Oscar award for best digital actor in a supporting role. It's time to pull back the curtain and fully honor the great and powerful wizards in the wonderful world of visual effects. n Barbara Robertson is an award-winning writer and a contributing editor for Computer Graphics World. She can be reached at March/April 2013 CGW0313-Ozpfin.indd 15 n n n n 15 3/14/13 12:12 PM

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