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December 2011

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cover story Losing yourself in Hugo By CHRISTINE BUNISH L Making sure Martin Scorsese's latest features immerses the viewer in 3D. OS ANGELES — To bring Brian Sel- znick's unique illustrated novel "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" to the screen, director Martin Scorsese teamed with top names in VFX to ensure that stereo 3D was used to maximum effect to create the world of Hugo, an orphan who lives behind the walls of a Paris train station in the 1930s. The child seeks to uncover the mystery of his legacy — a damaged automaton crafted by his clockmaker father — while eluding a drunken uncle, an authoritarian station master and learning the secrets of the station's embit- tered old toy store owner who turns out to be pioneering filmmaker George Melies. Many see Hugo as a game changer in the deployment of stereo 3D as a storytelling device. "I think Hugo will alter the way people view 3D in gen- eral," says Oscar- and Emmy Award- winning VFX supervisor Rob Legato, who served as the movie's VFX supervisor, 2nd unit director/DP. He also con- formed the film. James Cameron called Hugo a masterpiece" at a DGA screening prior to its release. "3D was not a gag added on top of the movie," says Legato. "It was never meant to be a gimmick for extra sales value. It was part of the dramatic storytelling and gave a greater emotional impact than 2D. We designed and shot everything as a three-dimensional movie, so it was never distracting. Marty is known for eliciting great, truthful performances, and 3D in the hands of a master — and all the other Academy Award winners who collaborated on this movie — is really fulfilling." Hugo marked Legato's first "direct experi- On set (L-R): Marty Scorsese, DP Bob Richardson and Rob Legato. ence" with stereo 3D. Although he had worked on a portion of Avatar, creating the virtual camera system for Cameron, Legato shot some 60 days worth of material for this new Scorsese film. He, and cinematographer Bob Richardson, used several Vince Pace-designed prototype Fusion rigs and a Steadicam rig built especially to house the smaller, lighter Arri Alexa cameras in a stacked configuration. Pixomondo, with offices worldwide, was the lead VFX house for Hugo. Santa Monica's Lola VFX, a sibling of Hydraulx, handled beauty work for Ben Kingsley's George Melies character, performing "probably the best de- aging I've ever seen; it's so subtle and well done," says Legato. Novato, CA's Matte World Digital provided matte paintings for 18 Post • December 2011 about a dozen shots and helped to art direct other paintings; LA's Uncharted Territory built and phototextured in 3D a River Seine scene based on photos taken during a location scout in Paris. London-based Nvizage crafted the previz package. Hugo is filled with homages to classic motion pictures and to various film tech- niques, especially those invented by Melies. "It's a love letter to watching movies," says Legato. "Marty [Scorsese] says that as an asth- matic child he spent more time in movie have a hefty accomplishment." He echoes Legato's observation that it was Scorsese's goal to "push the value of stereo 3D," and notes that 3D worked especially well "in long shots where the camera travels," including the movie's opening and closing shots, which were reminiscent of the direc- tor's famous Steadicam shot in Goodfellas. Legato says that when Cameron shot Avatar he remarked that no one in recent memory had watched three hours of sustained 3D, so they only went to about 75 percent 3D not Pixomondo's Ben Grossmann: "It could have been courage or just dumb luck, but we had the ambition to go big and feel immersive." theaters than on the playground, and that permeates Hugo: You get a real sense of what movies have meant to him. Not a movie his- tory lesson but the appreciation and escapist joy that audiences get watching movies." THE VFX Hugo was the biggest VFX job to date for Pixomondo ( and for Ben Grossmann, who acted as the company's VFX supervisor and spent the production on set with Legato. Pixomondo's offices around the world devoted 441 days to the film creat- ing close to 1,000 VFX shots, over 800 of which made it into the final cut. Any one of a number of VFX sequences — from Hugo's nightmare filled with fantasti- cal animation to a persistence of vision effect featuring Hugo and his friend Isabelle to flash- backs of Melies in his heyday as a magician and cinema magician — was "a pretty big task," says Grossmann. "Add them up and you knowing if audiences could take more. "Now it's been proven that if 3D is done well people are comfortable with it," he says. "So we pushed Hugo's 3D further than Avatar on purpose." Much of that pushing is so integral to the storytelling that audiences may take it for granted. "Subtly converging on a person so they move from the back of the screen to the front of the screen over a couple hundred frames is almost like a dolly shot without the dolly," Legato explains. "A lot of 3D gives the effect of moving within the same composition. It also blends shots like an invisible cut. It's not jarring; you massage the convergence so the eye doesn't leap as the edit changes." Grossmann, who had worked on the 3D Alice in Wonderland, was one of the few peo- ple on set with extensive stereo 3D experi- ence. "When people were backing off [how far to push 3D] I told them with Alice we fig- ured out we could have gone bigger. I kept telling stereographer Demetri Portelli, 'It looks

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