Disney’s John Carter: The VFX of Cinesite
Cinesite has completed 831 VFX shots and converted 87 minutes of film into stereoscopic 3D for Disney’s John Carter, which hit cinemas last week
The 3D work in John Carter – Andrew Stanton’s first live-action feature film, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs ‘Mars’ series of novels – was split between three leading London FX houses: Cinesite, Double Negative and The Moving Picture Company.
Cinesite, renowned for its photoreal environment work, was responsible for creating and populating the majority of environments for John Carter. The team of 310-strong completed 831 visual effects shots, which included creating and populating the majority of environments for the film. They also converted 87 minutes of the film into stereo 3D.
Cinesite’s VFX supervisor Sue Rowe spent several months on set in the UK and Utah. Due to the scale of the project, Rowe divided the work between four other VFX supervisors.
Helium is shown from different angles throughout the film, and is used as the backdrop for the final battle sequence
Christian Irles supervised work on Princess Dejah’s city, Helium. The city presented a challenge as it had to match the art department concept stills. While this was easy enough to do in matte painting, it was very time-consuming and render heavy to get actual full 3D renders. Projections were created for the terrain and these were worked up in matte painting to achieve the level of detail required.
Cinesite created a matte painting of the outside of the city of Helium and, using projections, built up the terrain using high-res stills taken on location in Utah
The shots presented the city as a whole with both Helium Major and Helium Minor visible, resulting in a huge amount of texture maps and shaders. Render time was very high for these shots and all layers, such as crowds, terrain, etc were rendered separately.
- 346 models in the city structure
- 74 individual props created
The mobile city of Zodanga crawls like a myriapod across the surface of Mars: giving the city a sense of scale and animating the digital legs was challenging
Jonathan Neill supervised Cinesite’s work on the mobile city of Zodanga, a mile-long rusty metal tanker that crawls like a myriapod across the surface of Mars. The city was heavily textured using a combination of Photoshop, Mari and Mudbox in tandem with bespoke shaders and lighting development, to give an industrial look and feel.
A handful of sets were built which were locations within the city, but these needed considerable extension work to make the depth and scale of the city believable. Cinesite modelled thousands of pieces of geometry for the city buildings, and created hundreds of CG props to dress the sets.
Cinesite filled the city with warships and troops, before dressing it with hundreds of CG props
With 674 legs, the mobile city was technically challenging to animate: Timed animation caches were used to ensure the digital legs moved in a random fashion. “Variations in movement and secondary animation such as cogs and cabling were used to create interest in the leg movement,” says Cinesite.
Zodanga City Model stats:
- 291 structural element models
- Up to 20,000 objects in a single shot
- 1-2 billion polygons, dependent on camera position and detail required
- 242 CG props created to populate the city
Zodanga City Legs stats:
The texturing and detailing of the giant airships had to be spot on since they feature in many close up shots
Ben Shepherd oversaw the huge aerial battle between Zodanga and Helium. His team created each side’s airships which use solar wings to travel on light, as well as explosions, fire, people and set extensions.
The giant airships needed to be finely detailed for close-up shots. A challenge for look development was that they were required to be more like a 19th-Century sailing ship, than the type of spaceship which a modern-day audience might expect.
For Sab’s flagship corsair, a partial set was created for the bridge/cockpit and one deck of a single ship. This was scanned and photographed for reference and recreated. The remaining areas were created as full CG models.
Dejah’s ship and the flagship Helium ship, the Xavarian, were created in 3D also. Each ship had a full set of wings which were sized and laid out specifically for each ship. These were controlled by pulleys and ratchet-type controls to give a sailing look. Each of the wings was covered in hundreds of individual solar tiles which needed to be able to be controlled in animation.
The entire Thern effect system was designed and built from scratch using a combination of Maya, Houdini and custom software developed in house
Simon Stanley-Clamp directed work on the Thern sanctuary, a huge underground cave that forms around Carter and Dejah as self-illuminating blue branches as the characters walk through it.
The entire Thern effect system was designed and built from scratch using a combination of Maya, Houdini and custom software developed in house. Based on the principles of nanotechnology, the system provided a semi-automated way to ‘grow’ Thern into any environment and geometry. It took a full year of development time to evolve and bring to the big screen.
These ‘growing Thern’ shots were some of the most complex VFX shots Cinesite undertook, and can be seen to great effect in 3D
In the sequence, as the tunnel itself ends, the main Thern Sanctuary room is seen to build itself, opening out within the Thern matrix of the pyramid interior. This shot required extensive Thern simulation and growing effects, blending multiple elements together in Nuke to build the shot up.
John Carter is in cinemas now. We’ve not seen the film yet, and reviews so far seem to be fairly mixed, so if you do go, let us know what you think of it via the comments box below, or on Facebook or Twitter
The making of John Carter
This article focuses on Cinesite’s contribution to the film, but the 3D work was split between three leading London FX houses: Cinesite, Double Negative and The Moving Picture Company.
Read the making-of John Carter article in issue 155 of 3D World magazine, where Renee Dunlop takes us behind the scenes of all three VFX facilities.
Issue 155 of 3D World goes on sale on 27th March
on Friday, March 16th, 2012 at 12:45 pm under Features, Making of.
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Tags: Cinesite, Disney, John Carter, John Carter movie, John Carter VFX, VFX