Post Magazine

July 2013

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 13 of 51

cover story The Lone Ranger gets photoreal By Christine Bunish Trains, horses and environments. ILM's Tim Alexander and Jill Brooks. 12 S AN FRANCISCO — Director Gore Verbinski's latest film for Walt Disney Pictures is not your father's Lone Ranger, Kemosabe. With Johnny Depp playing Tonto as an American Indian spirit warrior and new leading man Armie Hammer as ex-Texas Ranger John Reid, the motion picture reboots the pop culture icons, who first appeared on the radio in 1933, for the 21st Century. As The Lone Ranger and his trusty sidekick face off against villainous railroad tycoons in the Old West, they encounter story point after story point requiring seamless photoreal visual effects by lead vendor Industrial Light & Magic ( From edge-of-the-seat train sequences and vast western vistas to digital doubles of the heroes and their horses, ILM created VFX designed to keep audiences absorbed in every exciting moment. When asked his takeaway from The Lone Ranger, ILM VFX supervisor Tim Alexander deadpans, "Train movies are hard." But with the film's third act almost entirely comprised of train action, that's no understatement. "Trains are hard to deal with because they are so huge and heavy, reset times are slow and none of them seem to go fast enough for an action sequence," he says. Alexander spent about nine months on the set, which included locations at Moab, Utah; Monument Valley; Ship Rock, Arizona; Creede, Colorado; and Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. At Rio Puerco, just outside Albuquerque, the town of Colby was created and that's where most of the train work was done. About five miles of circular train track was constructed on flat ground and two real moving trains were built. Partial trains were also fabricated, such as train roofs perched atop 18-wheeler flatbed trucks. GOING OFF THE RAILS Two train shots proved particularly difficult to shoot, says Alexander. Both are in the endof-the line sequence in which an out-of-control train drives off the tracks. In one shot, the designed camera move starts at the front of the moving train and flies into a medium close up of The Lone Ranger and Tonto. "We came up with the idea of stringing a cable cam onto the moving train," Alexander explains. "During the first few runs we realized we would not be able to get the full move because the movement of the train cars made the cable cam unpredictable and, common with cable cams, made the stop at the end of the move difficult to achieve because the camera wanted to swing around Post • July 2013 when coming to a finish quickly." So ILM opted to do the cable cam shot in pieces. "We shot the main plate of The Lone Ranger and Tonto with the cable cam but on a static train to reduce the train movement and cable cam interaction," he says. "We ended up using four plates, digimatte background extensions, a CG train and CG smoke to achieve the final shot." In the other end-of-the-line shot, a train car, now off the rails, skids toward The Lone Ranger and Tonto, who are pinned against another car. "It was a mash up of many different techniques," Alexander reports. "A large-scale special effects train on its side was used to create says. "He strives to get as much in camera as possible then augment the rest digitally." Moving train shots were tough throughout the film due to the large areas the shots were covering as well as the use of anamorphic lenses. "We mapped each lens used during filming so when we were solving the cameras we would be using the right distortion for that lens," Alexander explains. "The large areas we were covering made standard LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) or surveying not really an option. At every location we shot we put out markers at 100-foot spacing so our layout team could at least determine the scale and speed we were traveling when shooting. That's Gore Verbinski used smoke almost as a character, obscuring and revealing parts of the frame. the shots where the train has already tipped over and is sliding towards The Lone Ranger and Tonto.There was a miniature shot (created by 32Ten Studios, the former ILM studios in San Rafael, CA) for ground interaction with the train as it falls over and slides by the camera. There is a CG train mixed in throughout the sequence, for example when the tension rod breaks and snaps off and when the train comes at the camera and derails." In addition, there were live-action train elements, including "the shot where the train comes at camera and then the camera and train slam/lock together as the wire from the telegraph poles catches on the front of the train," he says. "Really, the main idea with all the train work was to try to keep the audience guessing how it was done and also to get at least 50 percent of the shot in camera to keep us grounded in reality. That wasn't always the case, but that was our goal." ILM executive producer Jill Brooks notes that the "50/50" principle is something that director Verbinski aims for in all his films. "He likes to capture the action for big set pieces for real," she a lot of markers when you consider some of our runs were nine to 11 miles!" He points out that greenscreens often were not an option. "In general, we did not use them while traveling for the obvious reason that the screen would become a giant sail and really wasn't viable. We did have an 8x8-foot bluescreen that we could stick behind someone's head or hair for really tricky situations when we knew for sure we would be replacing environment behind the actor." EXTENDING THE LANDSCAPE The Lone Ranger showcases the most extensive naturalistic digital environment work that ILM has done. Desert, forests, mountains, rivers — entire background landscapes were built out to frame the action. Again, the most challenging environments were found in the third-act train chase sequences. "They needed to match to the live-action shots and had to be convincing," says Alexander. "We shot miles and miles of background plates with the thought that we could project them onto a sphere and apply camera moves.

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Post Magazine - July 2013