Creating A-Team Mayhem
Rhythm & Hues stepped in for the tank drop and Long Beach sequences. In the former, the A-Team tries to escape in a C130 being pursued by predator drones. Finally, one of the missiles hits and the plane explodes. But somehow the Team knew it was doomed and snuck into a tank that was in the cargo hold, so then it becomes a drop as the tank falls through space under parachute control with the predators still chasing them.
"It's the over-the-top A-Team stuff with vehicles," concedes Bill Westenhofer, visual effects supervisor for Rhythm & Hues. "It's all CG. We did digital cloud environments, the plane and the explosions. The cloud was the most technically challenging. We used a combination of Houdini and mantra for the clouds. That was the visibility calculation for bounding the shapes. And then once it determined we were in a cloud, we used our in-house volumetric rendering package, FELT.
"We had modeled in multi-scattering and other facets of clouds. The artists could shape the clouds, could run convection currents to cut different patterns and more complex things into shapes. In very specific cases, where planes are flying through, we changed our tables to have fluid dynamics affect the motion to get little vortices that get punched out through cloud banks and that sort of thing.
For lighting objects, they took advantage of the fact that the planes were small in relation to the environment and that it was a fully CG environment. "If you put a camera in the center of each of the planes and rendered a 360-degree panorama of the digital environment, we would use that to light the plane fairly efficiently," Westenhofer continues.
"So we used a global illuminationesque treatment without having to cast out rays for every part of the object. We used Houdini and our fluid solvers for when the plane explodes. We had some fun with the tracers. The effects artists had to do a little round of trying to lead the planes and aim the guns until they were firing where we wanted them to."
Westenhofer says the animation challenge was "addressing the insanity of it all." After all, the viewer has to buy the notion of a tank moving through space. They achieved this with clever use of camera angles.