Magazine article American Cinematographer

Visualizing a Vintage Vegas

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Visualizing a Vintage Vegas

Article excerpt

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA'S MATTE World once specialized in creating latent-image miniature/ matte painting hybrid shots for such stylized productions as Batman Returns and Bram Stoker's Dracula. Now firmly entrenched in digital technology, Matte World Digital is blending old concepts with new techniques to stunningly recreate the Las Vegas strip of the 1970s for Martin Scorsese's Casino.

"Working with Scorsese was a real privilege," says Craig Barron, who supervised the visual effects that Matte World Digital created for the film. "I attribute the success of our half-dozen matte shots to the fact that Scorsese has such good people working with him, people who really invited us to be part of the creative process. Casino's director of photography, Bob Richardson, was extremely helpful in making sure the VistaVision plates we shot were lit properly, so we had a good foundation to build upon. Production designer Dante Ferretti gave us line drawings establishing the elements and the compositions he wanted to see, and then we made production paintings and worked with him and Scorsese to develop a look. It was just a matter of us executing a good design and adding it to a well-photographed plate."

Las Vegas has changed significantly since the 1970s, so Scorsese asked Barron to recreate many of the classic landmarks that have sadly been torn down over the years. "We photographed some of the signs that were still in existence, like those for Caesar's Palace and the Flamingo, as plate elements," Barron recalls. "The rest we recreated either as 3-D CG elements or digital matte paintings."

Digital artist Morgan Trotter rebuilt the onion-topped Dunes Hotel sign as a 3-D computer object, replete with sparkling animated letters and that distinctive neon thermometer blazing through its center. By blending the 3-D sign with a 2-D digital painting of the Dunes hotel, Matte World Digital translated their technique of mixing miniatures and mattes, à la Coppola's Dracula and Batman Returns, into the computer realm.

Matte World Digital even created the Tangiers, the fictional casino of the film's title, by augmenting Howard Hughes' stillstanding Landmark Casino. "The production rented the Landmark, refurbished the front entrance and built the base that the Tangiers marquis would stand on. We built the marquis and sign as 3-D CG objects, as well as a big Sultan's turban over The Landmark's existing half-domed porte de coachier. …

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