The Three Musketeers Goes Steampunk
Mr. X employs a Houdini/Maya pipeline, and so their VFX department created debris, destruction, clouds, storms, water, mist and fog. This meant that their artists relied heavily on the Houdini-based programmers to build custom tools for specific shot requirements. To allow fire simulations to be worked on in real time, for instance, they built their own GPU-based fire tool and also implemented a custom bullet physics solver that provides near real time destruction simulations. Numerous Houdini simulations for debris and destruction were baked out in VRAY proxy format so that they could be rendered out at the same time as the hero assets such as Notre Dame and the destruction of airships. This process allowed for lighting, shadow and reflection interaction within the same scene that would be substantially more difficult in a traditional separate pass pipeline.
Mr. X was also responsible for creating massive digital armies, populating ship decks and creating hero digital doubles. This represents a milestone for the company. To accomplish this required upping the VRAY shading pipline to a new level by re-writing the base shaders and providing the look-dev artists with a comprehensive library of such base materials as leather, silk, linen as well as new skin and scatter materials. All of the template shaders were written to be in balance in a digital recreation of the on-set light stage, character acquisition and lighting environments. Mari was introduced for the first time to handle the sheer volume of textures and extremely intricate details.
"It was mostly daylight exteriors for these airships so it was not very forgiving," Berardi adds. "So we tried to use an image-based lighting model where possible, which helped us. In the end, I think we achieved photorealism; however, the film does have a slightly stylized look. That played in our favor and helped overall in creating the illusion that we were in the 17th century."
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and editor of VFXWorld. He has a new blog, Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), and is currently writing a book about the evolution of James Bond from Connery to Craig, scheduled for publication next year, which is the 50th anniversary of the franchise.