Creating a Virtual Washington for White House Down
The highlight for Method (under the supervision of Ollie Rankin) was blowing up and collapsing the Capitol dome as well as blowing up and crashing three Black Hawks into the grounds of the White House and even into the White House itself. The challenges involved multiple interacting dynamic simulations, along with keyframe-animated helicopters and digi-doubles. But the most underrated aspect was the trees in terms of complexity, given the substantial portion of screen space they occupy and the large number of shots.
For the Capitol exterior explosion, Method ended up replacing the entire dome in CG to allow for better interaction and integration between the shattering windows, the fire and smoke of the explosion and the light cast by the explosion onto the building. All of these were simulated in Houdini and rendered with Mantra. The flag that reacts to the explosion was simulated in Maya and rendered in V-Ray, while the plate cleanup was projected and rendered through the camera in Nuke.
For the interior Capitol explosion, Method modeled and textured the rotunda interior based on reference photos of the real thing and also on a set that was used to film the live action shots in the sequence. The explosion was simulated using proprietary extensions to the Houdini pyro toolset.
Meanwhile, Method did some R&D for the Black Hawk One crash: they experimented with using nCloth in Maya to represent the ground being torn up by the helicopter body and rotor blades, with the torn-up sections of cloth being transferred into Houdini to be procedurally extruded and displaced to give the soil thickness and dressed with grass. Method settled on instanced nurbs surfaces for the grass.