Magazine article American Cinematographer

"Mega City" Architects

Magazine article American Cinematographer

"Mega City" Architects

Article excerpt

Joel Hynek, Mass.Illusions and Kleiser-Walczak Construction Company combine to create an epic cityscape for Judge Dredd.

THE FUTURISTIC MEGALOPOLIS OF Judge Dread, created at Cinergi's Massachusetts-based visual effects house, Mass.Illusions, was among the most impressive cinematic environments this year, greatly expanding the films live-action world, which was shot by cinematographer Adrian Biddle, ASC. The film's visual effects supervisor, Joel Hynek (Predator), used a variety of techniques ranging from largescale miniatures to computer graphics to sell the reality of the future New York (aptly dubbed "Mega City") envisioned by visual effects production designer Robert Taylor. In the year 2139, much has changed in the Big Apple: for starters, the Statue of Liberty has been relocated to Times Square for security reasons!

Hynek took the unique approach of creating a database for every effects shot, beginning with storyboards and previsualizations. "Colin Green, who heads our previsualization department, was responsible for translating those shot designs into the database," Hynek says. "Everything was storyboarded on paper, then cut on an Avid. After that, we'd gradually take the static storyboards out and put in our moving wireframes as we did our pre-visualizations of what each shot would look like. Once the camera moves had been planned in pre-vis, that motion data was sent to our stage motioncontrol camera to shoot our miniatures. We used those shots as starters to give us something to look at onstage, then refined them from there."

Mass.Illusions created the establishing shots of Mega City seen at the beginning and end of the film by layering some sixty 1/8-and ¼-scale miniature buildings in the foreground, then filling any holes behind the miniature vista with more layers of computer-generated buildings. "We went whole-hog on models, figuring that was the most efficient way to create a vast city, altheugh we did use CG to create the larger vistas," Hynek admits. "In the initial fly-over of Mega City, we created three foreground layers of model buildings, and then everything behind that was CG. We also layered CG buildings behind the foreground gradings of model buildings for the last vista shot of the movie. We could have used CG buildings in the foreground as well, but they would have required a lot more massaging. Since we used the same miniatures again and again in various shots, it was more efficient to do it physically."

But computers came to the rescue when the miniatures were being designed and built. By using Computer Assisted Design (CAD) to create blueprints, Mass.Illusions assembled a database from which either practical miniatures or a CG cityscape could be built. "Our designs were digitized in Softimage and in CAD," Hynek says. "Then the data could be fed to our computer-driven laser device, which cut all the pieces for each model. That way, our CG models would match exactly to our stage miniatures."

The power of CAD was fully demonstrated by the seamless marriage of sets depicting the lower 40' of Mega City, built on a London backlot, with miniature and CG buildings filling in the upper echelons. To convey the awe felt by Fergie (Rob Schneider) the first time he gazes upwards at Mega City's awesome towers, Hynek put a camera on a 60' motion-controlled ascender rig on the London backlot, then started the shot at street level and elevated the camera to the rig's full height. Mass.Illusion based their miniature buildings on a database of the lower stories of the set, and built their models to match exactly. "We then used the models to extend the buildings by translating the motion on the set to the motion-control camera move on our miniatures," Hynek explains. "My second, John Gaeta, supervised the shooting of the foregound models here at Mass.Illusions for the ascender shot."

After the models were shot, Hynek surveyed their positions using a high-tech laser transit, which created an instant 3-D layout of the miniature set. …

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