Post Magazine

July 2013

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But between lighting mismatches, complex camera moves that were never nodal and the plain fact that no matter where we shot the plates, the environment would need to be modified for story reasons, we ended up creating many full virtual environments that included rocky tunnels, fully-forested areas and Monument Valley-style buttes. "The environments help to tell the story of the third act — they need to tell us where we are and where the story is going. There was a very thoughtful planning phase for the third act where we mapped out where we needed to travel and where the trains needed to be in each shot. At every point along the way we used live-action reference for guidance on the look of the environments. But large portions of the third act are digitally modified or full CG to get the speed of the camera travel and the trains in the right spot in the frame for the story." Dan Wheaton headed ILM's digital matte team and pushed the multi-scatter pipeline that had been in development and used on previous shows, Alexander says. "Scenes were extremely dense since we had hundreds of trees all with leaves and full Global Illumination," he explains. The steam trains of the time spewed smoke, which is always a VFX challenge. Added to the task of generating naturalistic smoke that observed the laws of physics was Verbinski's desire to use smoke almost as a character, obscuring and revealing parts of the frame. Smoke was not a simple simulation in The Lone Ranger. "Smoke — it was hard and there was a lot of it," says Alexander. "Similar to the environments, we shot quite a lot of smoke elements, but getting the right angle, speed, generation point and lighting really dictated that the smoke be simulated." Side Effects' Houdini was the primary tool for smoke generation; Willi Gieger headed the smoke team. "At one point during production we had 15 people working on smoke because there were so many shots that required it," Alexander reports. HI-YO DIGITAL SILVER With The Lone Ranger and Tonto and their steeds jumping from train to train and the heroes plucked from imminent danger by a mail hook, stunts and digital doubles played a huge role the movie. "Lots and lots of reference" footage helped ILM animation supervisor Kevin Martel and his animation team craft realistic performances for the horses, says Alexander. "We always pull reference for this type of thing from other movies and the Internet. In this case though, we also had first-hand access to the horses that were performing in the movie.We got to photograph them close up, getting details like the tongue and teeth. We also got a lot of HD video reference of them walking, trotting and running." The Lone Ranger's fabled Silver was played by at least three different horses, he reveals. "They used multiples because some horses are good at one type of stunt and not good at others; it also gave them a backup if one of the horses didn't want to perform." Although the Silvers were all slightly different, ILM based its main model on a horse named Leroy, who played the hero Silver in the film. "We had two tricky digital double horse shots where we had to transition from the live action horse with The Lone Ranger riding to a digital double horse and digital double Lone Ranger," says Alexander. "For those two shots we had to go into the model and make shot-specific shape changes to the horse to get our double to line up with whichever liveaction horse was used that day. One of those shots is the one in the trailer where The Lone Ranger and Silver jump down off the top of the train into the tunnel." The most enjoyable double shot the team created had The Lone Ranger,Tonto and Silver jumping off a burning barn. "There was interesting fire effects work in it, which was a nice break from having to do train smoke all the time," Alexander quips. "There was also a speed change during the shot that goes from a slo-mo, overcranked look to normal speed mid-shot. We had to decide how to implement the speed change as there were also rigid sims in the shot for all of the boxes that break as Silver lands. "Animation, compositing, layout, rigid sims and effects sims all had to modify speed of their various elements in the right way to make the shot work, and each discipline had a slightly different issue with modifying speed mid-shot. Then, on top of it all, it's a pretty cool shot — slow motion Silver with Tonto's hair streaming, fire and embers trailing. It was a great shot to be a part of." In addition to digital horses, ILM crafted digital bunnies and buffalo, the latter for wide shots of a stampede under a big sky. Some of the film's fire and debris elements, and a miniature for the train trestle collapse sequence were shot at 32Ten Studios. People and Pipelines Having worked with Verbinski before, Alexander speaks the director's language when it comes to critiquing shots. "Gore is very specific about what he wants out of a shot, but is very open to letting us get there [the way] we want and encourages us to add to shots to make them even better." Alexander also worked closely with visual consultant Mark "Crash" McCreary, who was the production designer on Rango. "He's always an amazing resource to go to for ideas. When something isn't quite right on a shot he can give very specific notes and drawings about how to make it better, to take it to the next level. For example, when we did the miniature shoot of the bridge explosion inserts, Crash flew to San Francisco and consulted directly with the 32Ten model builders and painters to get the finishes and structure of the bridge just right." ILM teams in San Francisco and Vancouver worked on The Lone Ranger with Brooks overseeing them. "A total of about 200 people, artists and production personnel, worked for about a year on shot production," she says. A robust pipeline was already in place to handle the complex shots and palette of software tools: Autodesk Maya for animation, Houdini for simulations and The Foundry's Nuke and Autodesk Inferno and Flame for compositing. In addition, ILM's Zeno and Plume (for digital pyro) were used, along with IDV's SpeedTree for the extensive tree generation work. Solid Angle's Arnold was the chief rendering software with Chaos Group's V-Ray rendering the environments and 3DS Max additional elements. "Arnold was a great choice for us," says Alexander. "The train rendered quickly and noise wasn't much of an issue. We did the motion blur in the render since almost all shots had rotating parts, like the wheels on the train, and vector blurring wasn't a good solution." Brooks notes that there have been films where ILM did more VFX shots, but The Lone Ranger broke new ground with its extensive digital environments. "We replaced almost everything in the frame with photoreal environments in broad daylight for many, many shots," she says. "The two train sequences have lots of virtual work." Much of the film involves a 50/50 mix of practical and CG train effects. Post • July 2013 13

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