Getting Trippy VFX for Looper
"To make those individual shots into parts of the same shockwave we had to develop some concepts that would be carried over from shot to shot," Klaus adds. "The main body of the shockwave would consist of an atmospheric dust fluid simulation driven by controllable geometric helper objects. On the inside and surrounding the shockwave large numbers of debris would be carried along by the shockwave; debris that would be able to both shoot forward with the shockwave and upward to explain why the actors also got lifted into the air by the passing shockwave.
"When the shockwave finally hits the van, the action is experienced from inside a storm of debris raining sideways against the van. We had to find exactly the right amount and speed of flying elements to keep it from turning into one big mush hitting the van and also to keep enough elements so that the amount hitting the van could actually believably push it over. Effectively the amount of particles used was so high that we needed to split it into several particle simulations to prevent excessive simulation and caching times."
The integration of the flying debris elements into the plates took them a while to figure out. Usually CG effects need to connect with what is visible in the plate at one point. "In this case, we had many shots where our effects did not interact directly with the plate, which made it more difficult to get the feeling of full integration," Klaus explains. "The solution was to actually try and push the effects more into the plate and not making them stand out."
Meanwhile, Atomic Fiction, which completed nearly 100 shots of cities (including Shanghai) and vehicles, offers a lower-cost business model utilizing cloud computing and other measures. Atomic has been working with a company called ZYNC to utilize Amazon's EC2 cloud services. By moving rendering to the cloud instead of owning the computers, they treat rendering like a utility and only pay for what they use. This means that rendering can literally be scaled from as many cores as you need for a particular job, back down to the Macs on the artists' desks between gigs.
"We established some new ground rules for the look of things," offers Atomic co-owner and VFX supervisor Ryan Tudhope. "This included finding common elements such as graffiti, shelters/tents, antennas, and camp fires to tie our shots together and, more importantly, give Looper's cityscapes their own signature feel.”
"Rian chose to shoot the film on anamorphic 35mm, which was (mostly) a blessing. The plates are beautiful and grungy, with blue anamorphic lens stripes, lens distortion, and heavy chromatic aberration around the edges of the frame. The downside, of course, is that all these lens artifacts made the work more complicated. For example, the lenses produce an extreme warping and 'scaling' at the edge of frame during focus pulls, while the center of the image remains unaffected. In the end, we tackled each challenge by building custom scripts (in Nuke) that would re-create these artifacts on our CG elements or matte paintings and could be rolled out to the entire team."
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and VFXWorld, the owner of Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), a columnist for Thompson on Hollywood at Indiewire and author of James Bond Unmasked (www.jamesbondunmasked.com), which chronicles the 50-year evolution of 007 on screen, featuring interviews with all six actors.