I wanted at least one street alteration that incorporated CGI/VFX as part of the set extension. I chose Shadwell as it provided some interesting urban views that could be added to or manipulated. The main action is focused on the bridge end of the street and some shop fronts, one of which is used in the action.
I gathered some visual inspiration from my Pinterest page of urban dystopian/post apocalyptic streets and some of my own photos.
A short excerpt from Chapter 3, The Huntsman in which one of the characters Switch walks the streets of London.
A couple of streets away he found a dirty fast food joint and bought a burger which he ate back out on the street. In a bin he found an old newspaper from two days ago which had little of interest, but he wasn’t much of a reader anyway. Most of the news he did glance at concerned crime within the city, murder, robbery, arson. The only mention of the world was from opinion columns that criticised the European Confederation’s trade blockades, and there was no mention of America at all. (The Tube Riders by Chris Ward)
Description here is mainly about the world around him and the character himself so it was fairly open in terms of design. Reading through other parts of the book though gave me visual ideas to work from. It had to say city, London, future, dirty, uncared for etc. Because the story revolves around a gang I wanted to make the streets have a gang-like feel with graffiti and posters. I also wanted to incorporate elements of resistance in the wall art, such as doves wings. The eye was used as a resistance poster, “they are watching you…join us…”. It adds to the sense of dystopia and being watched.
Above show the visuals for one of the walls. I used some of my artwork and adapted it, combining it with some tag street art.
I worked on some visuals that could be part of a boarded up shop front. This was inspired by some of the abandoned buildings around Nottingham that were boarded up with wood panels and joined together. This would also be part graffiti’d and would fit over the front of one of the existing shops.
The finished boarded up shop front using my building photo, artwork and graffiti wall. The image was produced in photoshop with layers and digital painting.
As part of my project I need to look at set extensions, both for the reception space to extend the height and also for the external scenes to change the sky lines. Matte paintings are used behind a built set, filmed action or scale model to extend the set or create a world that would be impossible or too costly to build. In the early days, matte painting was done on sheets of glass. Today it’s a digital composite.
Craig Barron, once matte cameraman at Industrial Light and Magic discusses matte painting.
“Good matte paintings are as much about design and planning as anything else,” states Barron. ” Long before anything is filmed, a matte shot will be carefully planned by us and the film’s production designer. This usually entails producing a number of small test paintings in which we figure out composition, colour schemes, lighting effects and how live action will integrate with painting.” (RICKETT, R., 2000)
An image like this would take many hours to produce, so a production designers job is to produce images or collaborate with artists to design scenes that portray the overall look of the film and act as a guideline for VFX artists.
The videos that I’ve found so far about Matte painting either use photographs or images to start with or draft up drawings then paint over, adding photo elements on top. This video is an example of how the image is built up using stages or layers to produce a realistic view.
From this I have thought about how I go about designing with matte painting in mind. I’m not trained in the art of digital FX like the VFX artists of companies such as Framestore but I can design concepts that convey the colour palette of the film or a certain look to some of the architecture.
I had a go at using photos and digital painting in Photoshop to try to produce concepts/matte painted backgrounds as a guideline image for colour schemes and lighting.
This image is a progression from the first drawing with background and foreground pieces inserted. To finish this digital Matte/concept I would need to add some detail and some more buildings in the foreground. When designing my locations where a CGI is needed or a space that needs green screen I will create a matte concept that will give a good idea of how I want the scene to look as part of the set design.
RICKETT, R., Special Effects: The History and Technique. London: Virgin Books, 2000.
Below is one of the mood boards that I produced for the walkway design.
Both of the main spaces that I’m designing use walkways of different kinds. The main reception uses a basic straight design that acts like a bridge. As it needs to allow some light through I went for a mesh floor. This is will provide an authentic design because many walkways are made from metal, they are also made from a material that is ridged in some way to act as an anti slip surface. I also decided on semi opaque side glass panels to allow light to pass through while continuing the blue glass theme that I’d already used in the rest of the set/model.
The arena space is no different apart from it is a circular balcony design. Again I’m using the mesh floor but have designed it so it is made from interlocking pieces, partly for building purpose and partly because it creates and interesting pattern. This will have a rusted metal finish like the doors and railings that I designed a few weeks ago. The image below shows a quarter section that will be repeated all the way around the perimeter of the space.
The production designer has to design or oversee the design of all features of the space including any fixtures and fittings. These are designed during the pre-production phase.
The white card model for the reception is now complete. The photos show some of the construction process and completed images with a selection of views. I will add some further details and information concerning the green screen area next and complete some visuals to show what this will look like in relation to the model. I will also look at various ways that this set could be produced using CGI.
I thought it was important to understand the green screen process, particularly within the sound stage environment as I am designing a set that incorporates green screen elements. I looked at various videos and books and came up with a few pointers in terms of what is needed.
The position of the green screen:– This needs to be at least 8 ft from the actor being filmed (though video suggests 10-15 ft)
Lighting:- Both the screen and the actor have to be lit. The best results can be achieved by using a three-point lighting set up to lit the screen as evenly as possible.
Green Screen:- Needs to be hung in such a way that there are no or few creases or shadows that will make the post-production process more difficult. Fabric needs to be non reflective.
Footage:- Two sets of film footage is needed, one of the actor in front of the green screen and one that is replacement footage such as a matte painting or scene.
I also found a video that explains some of the processes.
My problem is that the area that needs to be green screened is the ceiling. I found some studio images showing part of the ceiling screened but there needs to be lighting rigs and the image shows this.
The question is, is there a way to green screen a ceiling and allow lighting or does the scene need to be pieced together filming several scenes with more than one green screen shot? Or, does the screen even need to extend that far?
This studio image below shows a green screen ceiling with lighting rigs in front of the screen. I need to research this further in terms of the practicalities and find out how easy it is to film this and whether the lighting rigs would just be digitally painted out like the scaffolding support was in Inception.
There have been many groundbreaking film productions over the last few years but Inception is described as one of the few that has been designed entirely in-house. This means from the early stages of concept right through to post production. I looked at the company of Double Negative who took on the massive job of creating dream states in which streets fold in on themselves, huge cities crumble into the sea and scenes where the physical fabric of the universe appears warped and illusionary.
My main task with looking at Inception was to pin down what the production designer does when such a vast amount of visual effects are used. The answer was surprisingly quite a lot in terms of previz.
I looked at the company itself, the articles written and many videos that flesh out different aspects of the production process.
The research is broken down into:-
The design overview
The Production Designer and some of the processes
Double Negative, CGI departments and software (pre-viz to post production)
Director:- Christopher Nolan
Designer:- Guy Hendrix Dyas
Budget:- $160,000,000 (estimated) (sourced from http://www.imdb.com on 28/06/2014)
Production Designer Guy Dyas and his art department team gathered an extensive library of architectural reference, which the vfx team then built upon through post production to develop a strong language of structure and style that drew heavily upon the history of modern architecture throughout the 20th century, especially for the climactic scenes in Limbo. (DESOWITZ, B. 2010)
In terms of building blocks, the Production Designer was involved from the start. It was important to have coherence throughout. Dyas’s team had provided concepts of what various cities were to look like such as the dream state Paris, how it would look when it was folded but no images of how it would go from normal to folded. This was worked out through collaboration. What was groundbreaking at the time was the daylight photo realism of the buildings as a lot of the scenes were filmed during the day. It had to look real, and the visual research that the art department contributed to that. Dneg team raised the bar in terms of realistic architectural lighting in CG. Many of the dream states were designed from locations and through the art departments concepts. Limbo city itself ended up being designed in CG because of the complexity of how it would be achieved, using CG 3D software such as Maya and Houdini and was inspired by collapsing glaciers.
VFX were used to design certain elements of the film due to the surreal nature of some of the scenes.
What was surprising were the number of traditional techniques used alongside CG.
“As with his previous films, Chris got as much in camera as possible and previs became extremely important in technically demanding moments like the Penrose steps: the impossible, ‘endless staircase’ made famous in the drawings of M.C. Escher,” Franklin relates. “For the high angle shot of the looping staircase and the subsequent reveal of the forced-perspective trick, the camera had to be placed in precisely the right position above a carefully designed set. We carefully mapped the distortion patterns of all of the camera department’s lenses and the Aleks Pejic team used them to work out the exact shape and dimensions of the set and what kind of shot would be achievable within the limitations of the location and the available camera setup. The camera, mounted on a 50-foot telescopic crane, had to swing down through a 45-foot arc. At the apex of the move, it had no more than two inches of clearance with the ceiling, so Dneg’s previs had to be spot on.” (FRANKLIN,P., Cited, 2010)
Many of the explosions were made using locations and traditional special effects techniques The three videos I found via YouTube go into more detail about how this was done for various scenes.
There were many cases of actual sets being built and only a small amount of CGI work done. One example was the Penrose Steps scene in which stairs were built in such a way to create an illusion. This needed to be precise to work and is another example of how the Production Designer works with the Director at pre-viz stage in science fiction. If they can do it as a set instead of digital matte/animation, then they would do it. Sometimes it’s the preference of the Director.
Dyas also pointed out a telling sign of Nolan’s directorial philosophy: if you look at the accompanying image, you will see scaffolding supporting the stairs. Most other directors would use a green screen to create the effect: Nolan wanted the stairs built, and then used visual effects only to remove the scaffolding and complete the illusion. “Only about 5 percent of the scenes in this film actually use green screen,” Dyas says. “You’re talking about a film that has real rotating corridors, elevator shafts that were built sideways in warehouses so that it would appear 300 feet long. We have tilting bars, real trains smashing into cars.” (LOPEZ, J., 2011)
The Penrose Steps:- Inception. Available at:- http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2011/01/inception (photo by Stephen Vaughan)
It’s clear that it takes a collaborative approach to produce a film like Inception. It had to look real, which meant the best available photorealistic software combined with traditional methods that the art department could provide like scale models and actual built sets. It’s about using the best tools for the job. Sometimes VFX works for some design as the artists possess the skills to animate a difficult scene, other times it’s better to use a set designed and built by the Production Designer and art department, using CG to paint in or remove support structures.
LOPEZ, J., Inception Production Designer Guy Dyas: “Only 5 Percent of Our Scenes Used Green Screen” . Available at: http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2011/01/inception [sourced on 28/06/2014] Vanity Fair, 2011.
I am now using my hand drawn elevations to piece together the white card model. The main section is the reception as this is one of the spaces that will use CGI to extend the height of the space beyond the walkway. This section is my priority for the week. The white card photos show one side of the space and some of the views, including a small section of ceiling.
To complete this space I now need to design the walkway, finish the white card floor and design the CGI guideline image for post production. I will also look at rendering a small section of this set for reference. All these jobs are part of the production designers role at the pre-production phase whether CGI is used or not. White card models are useful in determining camera angles or discussing problems.
I revisited an area that was a potential location for a night scene. In this scene one of the characters wanders the streets reading old newspapers and visiting a dirty burger bar. Shadwell provides a lot in terms of a slice of London with its cosmopolitan shops, railway, views of surrounding buildings, brickwork etc. It’s a fairly self-contained area that could be shut off for filming as it’s not a main thoroughfare. There are plenty of side streets for parking and access for electric. I will have to look into the times of the trains that run into the night as this might cause problems in terms of noise, however a few trains might add to the dirty urban feel of the scene. Below are a few photos of potential areas of alteration, including CGI. I also gathered useful measurements and guidelines for heights.
Once I’d designed the floor for the main reception space I did a white card mock-up of part of the room to see what it would look like. These pictures show some of the wall positions in relation to the ceiling and floor designs.
I also finalised the ceiling design for the arena space below, with the position of the metal wheel, tops of columns and various girders. There is going to be a void in the centre which could provide extra light.
Both the arena space and the reception floors/ceilings needed some consideration in terms of design. As the reception uses green screen above the walkway, I needed to design the ceiling and a floor pattern so that various camera angles were possible. This would also be the case if the entire space was to be a scaled model or CGI room. I gathering some inspiration on floor patterns, filled out some ceiling details from the visual references and came up with some final designs for the reception.
Mood board for floors:-
Then I drew out some potential floor designs:-
I decided to go for the one that was most symmetrical as it complimented the space, I then played around with some possible rendering going for a cool metallic tone.
Floor design with colour (above) floor position (below)