Friday, December 21, 2012

Visual Effects Oscar: The Illusions Behind 'Avengers' and more

With the Academy's shortlist of finalists due Jan. 3, a look at the effects we take for granted -- from a Bengal tiger on a lifeboat to a 3D Gollum.

The Avengers
You'll see traces of Mark Ruffalo, who portrays Bruce Banner, in the creation of his computer-generated alter ego, the Hulk. "He was incredibly gracious in terms of letting us do scans, light casts and taking thousands of pictures of him," says Jeff White, effects supervisor for Industrial Light & Magic.

The Dark Knight Rises
The Batman trilogy's finale is a tour de force of effects, including the incremental collapse of a football field as a player runs toward the camera. "This huge abyss reveals all of these layers of structures beneath Gotham City," says Paul Franklin of effects house Double Negative.

John Carter
The Tharks -- a tribe of CG Martians in this live-action film -- "needed to be just as believable and deliver performances as good as Taylor Kitsch," who plays the title role, says effects supervisor Peter Chiang. Director Andrew Stanton had the actors who portrayed Tharks perform with Kitsch; key-frame animation was used to create their alien bodies and facial capture was used for their expressions.

Life of Pi
The film's now-famous Bengal tiger was CG, with about 14 percent of the shots using a real animal. "Having the real tigers gave us hundreds of hours of [performance] reference," says Pi's effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer. An experienced trainer advised on tiger behavior, which was incorporated into the animal's movements.

Snow White and the Huntsman
The effects team had less than four months to complete 1,300 shots, according to supervisors Phil Brennan and Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. The dwarfs were particularly challenging because they had to interact with regular-size live actors. A combination of digital reproportioning, face replacement and live-action doubles created the convincing result.

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