ILM’s Ben Snow Talks Pirates, Mermaids and 3D Pipeline
It is still is a scary sequence, and even though they [the mermaids] are not as creaturely as we had intended originally, obviously people have reacted well to it and like it.
D.S.: What have been the studio’s greatest achievements in lighting the last few years?
B.S.: We have tried to develop and improve our lighting over the years. ILM has always had a really rich history with creatures, you know. Davy Jones is obviously a really beautiful example of what ILM has been able to do with creatures in the past. What’s happening of course is, studios are all faced with the situation where we have ever shortening schedules, and we want to try and maintain the quality of the work. But in the shorter time frame, we want artists to get down to the creative nitty-gritty faster rather than having to do with a lot of technical issues. So one of the things we started talking about a few years ago was creating an energy conserving shader set that behaved more physically correct, more like in the real world. We started playing with this a little bit, talking about it a little bit towards the end of Ironman, and then implemented a system on Terminator Salvation. I was able to use that extensively on Ironman 2.
During Ironman 2, the system really became mature and it essentially became the standard that we use across all films at ILM right now. But, we hadn’t really used it much in creature work. We used it for things like robots and metallic surfaces, and it really gave us a big boost there. It works really well with things like environments, where you are outdoors, it’s sunny, there’s a lot of interesting stuff reflected in the environment. On Terminator, we had been able to exploit the fact that in an artificial environment like the factory, it gave you a lot of control to mirror what’s going on in the real world. That was more like the situation we were faced with Pirates.
What was interesting was we were faced with a magical creature, the mermaid that did not necessarily want to respond completely. Physically, you wanted a certain sense of magic to it. Rob Marshall decided to really make them more and more realistic, keep the human aspects more and not have them transform so much. He actually reined back a little bit on how flashy they were. The physical basis of the materials was really useful there but, I have to say that I felt that on Pirates, we didn’t quite get the optimizations of lighting that we had experienced on Ironman 2. The creatures were different.
We did find we had to tweak things more in the different environments but I think we realized that part of the reason for that was the way that we had to engineer the materials so that we got all those beautiful scaly and isotropic reflections that made them so pretty. That was sort of a cheat in a way [laughs]. You put that into your physically-based lighting system and it doesn’t necessarily work as easily out of the box as would something that’s a really physically correct material. So it’s a bit of a lesson.
D.S.: What were some of the special preparations you had to make for the most recent Pirates film, in terms of workflow, pipeline and new production tools?