Going Old and New School for Star Trek Into Darkness
However, there were some low-tech choices, such as shooting the opening Bond-style chase on the red planet Nibiru on a small Marina del Rey set with CG enhancement rather than doing it all virtually. It's another testament to Abrams' embrace of the old and the new in his staging of the jungle action (which looks like a cross between War of the Worlds with the red foliage and Apocalypse Now with the white faced tribesmen). Even so, ILM was able to use simulation for the jungle with built in calculations to add motion to the trees to help them look real.
But the tense moment inside the erupting volcano, with Zachary Quinto's Spock willing to sacrifice himself to save the planet, featured ILM's latest advancement in fluid simulation. "To make the shots possible, we constructed a small patch of rock for Quinto to stand on while the surrounding areas were layered and mapped with pools of magma," Guyett explains. "The surface is a large area, a mile or so across, so in order to get the foreground and the detail, Dan Pearson built a system that was a tialed version of simulations. The tial that was around the camera was at the highest resolution so you can see droplets of lava. But it was sophisticated in the way it dealt with viscosity changes based on temperature. And when the lava cools down it forms a crust. He built all of this information and then we rendered hundreds of elements that included smoke and debris and embers that went into such a visceral texture.
"But while we used a digital double of Spock, as second unit director, I shot pieces of Spock descending into the volcano. We built a single rock with Zach and then it became a big compositing sequence. Plume was used for generating smoke and fire. We still need some practical elements in there, especially when they're interacting with the character."
When a ship attacks the Starfleet building in San Francisco, one of the primary light sources for the scene were the lights on the ship itself. Pixomondo (under the supervision of Ben Grossmann), took the lead on this sequence. "We figured out a system with the grips where we flew a computer-controlled basket with lights on it built in the same configuration as our final ship and we controlled that through hundreds of feet of area," Guyett recalls. "So we pre-animated the ship and plugged that data into a Nav Cam system, where you can puppeteer this light rig based on the wire systems. The interactive lighting system was so successful it was used elsewhere."
If there's a greater level of realism, it's a result of ILM using a different pipeline for rendering. In the last movie ILM used a straight up RenderMan pipeline but here they started to use the Arnold ray tracing system more. "Lighting with a single-point source is much more accurate and you don't have to cheat the bouncing with simulation," Guyett adds. "RenderMan is great, but using Arnold we got a lot of the global illumination and the way surfaces interact for free. It was probably more scientifically correct and we were certainly more efficient in some of the techniques we adopted.
Guyett enjoyed working with Abrams again in making Into Darkness a more visually exciting and emotional experience. "It's a job that requires looking at absolutely every detail on the most microscopic scale, and only making that more of a challenge is the fact that J.J. has shot the film both in 3-D and using IMAX cameras.
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.