Framestore’s work on Skyfall’s title sequence
We ask Framestore’s head of 3D, Diarmid Harrison-Murray, about the studio’s work on the spectacular four-minute opening sequence to Skyfall. Read the interview here…
Director Daniel Kleinman and Framestore joined up for the fifth time to deliver the awesome title sequence for Skyfall.
The sequence opens with Bond (Daniel Craig) sinking lifelessly into some murky water, with blood seeping out from a gunshot wound in the chest.
It then takes us on a journey full of complex scenes to illustrate Bond’s state of mind. Some of the greatest CG challenges were the full-3D volumetric environments, such as the heart, made up of hundreds of veins, that transforms into a skull…
When I saw this on the big screen, I was tingling with excitement! I didn’t want the title sequence to end. There are many intricate details in this title sequence: blood seeping out into the water, skulls made out of sand, not to mention negative silhouettes of women and daggers etc. Even if you’re not a Bond fan, this is bound to captivate you.
We caught up with Diarmid Harrison-Murray, head of 3D, commercials, whose outstanding visual eye and unyielding commitment to pushing the boundaries have made him a cornerstone of the Framestore family…
3D World: What was your company responsible for?
“The first thing was the VFX supervision on set. It was a three-day shoot with one day on the underwater stage at Pinewood, and two days on dry land shooting Daniel Craig, the girls and some of the other elements and sets. And then of course, we were responsible for all the post work through to final picture.”
3D World: Could you go into detail describing the production process?
“It started with a collection of concept frames that Kleinman shared with us. They were in no particular order, they were more visual moments that he imagined.
“We started to work on a previs with our partner company The Third Floor. Some of the more complex 2D shots like the mirror scene needed technical prevising to help the design of the blue screen shoot.
“Whilst this was going on we also started experimenting and testing in both 2D and 3D. This was both a technical and creative exploration of some of the challenges that we knew lay ahead. For example, we knew we had a lot of fluid effects to achieve with all the blood-in-water effects.
“These early tests allowed us to show what sort of look or level of realism we might create. Before the shoot this helped Kleinman decide what to shoot and what not to shoot. It also helped creatively to start seeing possibilities of how parts of this vast visual canvas might look.”
“After the shoot we had around three months of post. To start with there was a lot of keying and roto work to get through, as well as extensive post-vis work done in Nuke.
“This involved establishing the overall timing and pace of the piece, linking live-action camera moves to CG-camera moves and blocking layout and basic geometry. From here the team developed the scenes in parallel.
“From a CG perspective, there were some scenes that were a mix of 2D and 3D work but also a large number of fully CG scenes.
“One of the big challenges at this stage was that we were having to work to an edit that was constantly evolving. The track from Adele went through various tweaks and this would have a knock on effect to the visuals.
“In fact in the early stages of the project the music was shrouded in such secrecy that Kleinman was the only one to hear the track!
“Obviously it wasn’t until the edit had settled that we could spend time working on the important transitions between scenes, so we had to leave a lot of this work to the very end of the schedule.”
3D World: What 3D software did you use?
We used Houdini and Maya.
3D World: What was the most useful piece of software and why?
“Well, both Maya and Houdini played and important role on the job.
“It is often the case that any of the software we use could achieve a certain effect and the choice comes down to the artist.
“As a supervisor you might want a particular artist to tackle a certain shot, and it is this that dictates the software used, not the other way round. For example, all the vaulted environments were done from start to finish in Maya, largely because the artist we wanted to handle those scenes would produce his best work that way.
“Equally with the dragon scenes, the heads were modelled in Maya, but the rest of their geometry was modelled procedurally in Houdini. Additionally all the rigging, animation, cloth, lighting and rendering and FX work was done in Houdini. Wherever possible we tried to give a single artist as much ownership over a sequence as possible.
“Overall though I would have to say that Houdini, and its renderer Mantra was our most useful piece of software.
“As a creative tool for exploring ideas it was great solution, allowing quick prototyping of complex or abstract ideas.
“The other thing was that we needed a good volumetric renderer. One way or another, there were a lot of volumes, fluids, atmospheric haze in most of the CG scenes. Mantra offered a robust solution to these challenges.
“In fact we found we ended up relying on its PBR (Physically Based Rendering) mode for most of the scenes. It handled the volumetrics really well, offering great detail and better shading than micro-polygon rendering.
“The stochastic sampling of transparency with mantra’s PBR, offer real benefits in terms of the balance between speed and quality of the rendering of the volumetrics.
3D World: What was the most impressive technical aspect of the project and how was it achieved using 3D software?
“There were a lot of complex scenes to pull together and render, many of which were fully CG. We had software and a workflow that allowed us manages these scenes, manipulate them, and slowly massage them into shape.
“Nothing was too black box, so we could always see what was going wrong and what was going right. This speeds up debugging of problems, and also allows for cross-pollination between scenes, with technical developments being redeployed between scenes with ease.
“Keeping on top of our scene management and data flow was important because it meant we had time to focus on really trying to introduce atmosphere and mood into the images. We really strove to create worlds with a sense of place and atmosphere.”
3D World: Did anything go particularly well or spectacularly wrong?
“Nothing went wrong as such. What is always tough with a big project like this with lots of visual elements, is that some great work gets done that never makes it to the final film.
“It might work brilliantly on its own but as the whole title sequence comes together around it, it becomes clear that it does not fit into the whole. I think it’s unavoidable though, you have to be unsentimental to make the best images. For sure though, a lot of hard work ends up on the editing floor.”
If you liked this story, you may also like to read about Blur Studios’ work on title sequence for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
on Wednesday, December 26th, 2012 at 10:00 am under Commercial, Movies, Showcase.
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Tags: Diarmid Harrison-Murray, Framestore, opening, sequence, Skyfall, titles