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August 2013

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for Feature F The big screen demands big effects, and these studios delivered. By Christine Bunish If any summer called for cooling off in a multiplex with a summer movie, it's this one. VFX studios around the world have enhanced sci-fi and superheroes, the paranormal and the undead, helping pack cinemas with fans eager to see their latest handiwork. ELYSIUM After earning an Academy Award nomination for his work on Neill Blomkamp's 2009 feature District 9, Peter Muyzers, a partner at Image Engine, Vancouver (, has reteamed with the director on the new sci-fi film Elysium. "We started talking about Elysium while we were working on District 9, so it's been about four years for me," says Muyzers, who served as VFX supervisor on the new movie. "With films, you're sometimes chasing a vision that's not very clear, but Neill knows very much what he wants and can easily articulate it. For Elysium it ultimately boiled down to 'is the audience going to believe this, or are they going to think of what they see as visual effects?' Neill didn't want Elysium to be Star Wars. He wanted all the VFX rooted in reality. In all our briefings Neill provided references based on real-world examples. If he didn't believe the VFX could exist in the real world, they didn't work." Image Engine formed an in-house art department to handle a lot of concept work on the Elysium ring, the idyllic space station-like environment inhabited by the elite as Earth becomes overpopulated and disease- and crime-ridden. Elysium is "an extreme version of Malibu," Muyzers chuckles. "In fact, we took helicopter [reference] footage of Malibu to get the feel of flying over Elysium." Image Engine got considerable creative input 14 Post • August 2013 from legendary sci-fi concept artist, Syd Mead (Blade Runner, Tron). "It was an inspiration for all our artists to know that Sid was working on the line drawings," says Muyzers. The complex build of the fully-CG Elysium ring was split between Image Engine, the film's lead VFX vendor, and San Rafael, CA's Whiskytree, which became "almost an extension of our environment team," Muyzers says. Image Engine was tasked with all of the structural components, exterior surfaces, the hub and glass, while Whiskytree handled the terrain, vegetation, trees, mansions and bodies of water. "For the sheer scale of things — the panels, beams, support structure — we looked at today's engineering feats for inspiration," says Muyzers. "We asked questions like, 'if a span was this long, how many cables would it really need to hold it up?' We wanted everything to feel real world-like, not flimsy. Audiences have to believe that Elysium could exist out there." The daunting complexities of the ring tested every piece of hardware and software in the shop, he notes. "We made healthy assumptions how complex it would be, but Neill kept adding more and more to get the level of realism he wanted. That meant more storage, more renderers — [Solid Angle's] Arnold and 3Delight — and working with Whiskytree to gain more bandwidth and people." In addition to a data set heavy with polygons and textures, an added challenge was working at 4K resolution."They shot on Red Epics with anamorphic lenses, so they captured 3.3K resolution that was bumped up to 4K," Muyzers reports. "We built a 4K review theater, the first in Vancouver, so we could assess all the detail viewers would see when the film was released.

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