The Oscars: Kaufman, Muyzers and Habros Talk District 9
District 9, the dark horse in the VFX Oscar race, has the added distinction of also being nominated for Best Picture, which it shares with Avatar. We talked about working with director Neill Blomkamp and the significance of the vfx with Dan Kaufman, the overall visual effects supervisor, Peter Muyzers, Image Engine's on-set visual effects plate supervisor & digital production manager, and Robert Habros, visual effects supervisor for The Embassy.
Bill Desowitz: What were the challenges of supervising the work on District 9?
Dan Kaufman: There were a lot of challenges artistically and technically. The artistic ones being that Neill wanted them to be extremely alien-looking to humans and some of the main ones are aliens that had to emote and move the audience on an emotional level. And so that was the real trick artistically. And then technically the main trick was being able to get a system and pipeline in place that would allow us to take the three basic ways the aliens were animated. These were keyframe, rotomation, where we matched the moves of an actor on set, and motion capture. And so we had to be able to get all that stuff together and get the tools in place because basically Image Engine was a very small company before this movie started, so we brought in the overwhelming majority of people to Vancouver to work on it. And these are people from all around the world, so we had to have a system in place for them to easily and quickly get up to speed for animating as well as rendering and compositing daily.
Our intention was to create easily used tools to help with the animation, and that meant a clean user interface that was geared specifically for District 9 and the aliens. That way the animators could pull what part of the alien they wanted to do, but also store animation that had been done or expressions so that any of that stuff could be treated and used back and forth between different animators.
BD: What do people ask about the work?
DK: Which part is animatronics and which part is CG, which is one of the reasons why during the bakeoff presentation I specifically said it was all CG so there would be no misunderstanding.
BD: But the aliens went through some interesting design changes.
DK: Yes, originally it had more skin texture to it and we all felt it needed to be more alien looking and that it showed too much skin. And so we were asked very quickly to come up with an alternate solution that used these overlapping plates to give a more alien look but still have that ability to have that alien move in a way that would convey emotion. The animation tools stayed the same but they drove additional rigging.
BD: And the mothership?