Giving Secretariat Some Pixel Magic
"When we were in Kingland, the decision was made that that represented Belmont, the final race of the Triple Crown. Then, when I went back to recreate Belmont, I went to Kingland, where production could shoot with extras inside.
"The first race is Saratoga and that was shot at the training track Evangeline Downs in Louisiana. Every time you see the grandstands, it's a composite and we also populated the grandstands. In that case, it's seen at a distance, so there are CG people all the time. But there CG horses in some scenes, too."
The work involved a tremendous amount of roto, not only for the environment but also for every single horse "because we were putting grandstands and people beyond them. We have big panning shots at the start of Saratoga. And two-year-old horses race from the backstretch around the front stretch and only race half the track. There is also CG dirt kicked up."
"The difference with Churchill Downs is not only do they fill the grandstands with that race every year but they also fill the infield. There will be 150,000 people. For that track I had to populate a lot more people. The actual horserace footage, again, was shot in Louisiana, so we did have some extras there. But I had to replace the infield with the one from Churchill Downs. I had to rotoscope the horses and the people and add around 70,000 people in the infield. I shot additional greenscreen extras with same camera angles and populated the near ground with real people and the rest are all CG, depending on the shot.
"But the advantage of shooting there was real lighting reference, scale and size, placement reference and motion blur reference. Since I was doing so much rotoscope anyway -- the horses and the their manes, all the dirt being kicked up -- I figured a little more roto for the people at the railing didn't add that much work; it gave me some reality.
"The biggest thing in this movie was the amount of rotoscope to replace everything because we were shooting in a single environment with only 50 people."
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.