A New Post-Apocalyptic Look for Oblivion
Get ready for a summer full of post-apocalyptic sci-fi, from the father/son After Earth (May 31) to the zombie action of World War Z (June 21) to the social conscious Elysium (Aug. 9). But first up is Oblivion, the Tom Cruise-starrer about a blue collar drone repairman haunted by dreams of a woman he's never met. However, the philosophical Oblivion has elements of thriller, mystery, action and romance that distinguish it from the rest of the dystopian movies.
Oblivion also has its own bright design aesthetic created by director Joe Kosinski -- who studied engineering -- inspired by sci-fi illustrators Chris Foss and Peter Elson. Unlike his debut feature, Tron: Legacy, though, Kosinski wanted to step out into the real world for this passion project and shoot a sci-fi Lawrence of Arabia as much in camera as possible. At the same time, Kosinski went up in the clouds in a beautiful glass Sky Tower structure where Cruise lives.
Kosinski additionally relied less on CG (800) and did something rather unique in shooting the Sky Tower sequence totally in camera in real-time (which posed a reflective light problem with all the glass). In collaboration with Oscar-winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi), they developed an ultra high-resolution front projection system (500-foot wide and 42-foot tall) with 21 projectors (handled by PRG).
"Joe asked us to generate the clouds in CG and he needed 10 different settings, but I found it unfeasible," admits Bjorn Mayer, the visual effects supervisor from Pixomondo, which split VFX duties with Digital Domain, (Tron: Legacy). "We went to Hawaii for four days with a crew and shot clouds around the Haleakala volcano with three Epic cameras. Then we took all that footage and stitched it together and created this 15K image that would play live on the set on the projectors. With the software, we could move those clips around on set. Later in the movie we made some CG clouds. We also shot 12 hours of mood shots and two storm sequences with sheet lightning in CG. And we made a glacier canyon for the aerial battle with three drones. We used our own cloud tools but the interactive lighting was too demanding so we used Terragen.
There was also an elaborate gimbal system constructed for the bubble ship. Tom wanted to ride it all the time but it can shake the shit out of you. Joe wanted to translate all the animation from the Third Floor previs into gimbal moves, but it was too dangerous, so we designed a new library of moves with turbulence and curves for going into the canyon during the chase sequence."
Meanwhile, DD's Eric Barba (who's collaborated with Kosinski since his commercial days) worked as an integral part of the production team from the earliest concept to principal photography, to the creation of CG imagery and final integration. DD's work covered planning the shooting approach to creating full CG sequences, digital doubles and vehicles to set extensions, explosions and natural phenomena to simple wire removal. DD created the CG drones, the Tet space station (an inverted pyramid), and created as well as destroyed the resource gathers known as hydro rigs.
"The cool thing about this one as opposed to Tron was that we shot as much in camera as possible, which is great, but creating post-apocalyptic world is difficult," suggests Barba. "But we were fortunate to shoot three weeks in Iceland in some areas we haven't seen on the big screen before. It allowed a really fantastic backdrop for making New York City look like it's been flooded with mud and dirt over 50 years, and dropping in the George Washington Bridge in a spot you never thought it could exist, just the juxtaposition of things that show how the world has changed so drastically like the Empire State Building."