Prometheus: Bringing Alien into the 21st Century
Prometheus contains a very CSI-like opening in which we zoom into one of the veins in the Engineer's arm, which also required Weta getting very close to the digital model. "So we needed to get our skin detail to [an appropriate] level. The veins pulsate beneath the skin, but it was an opportunity for a lot of scope when transitioning into different material qualities."
Indeed, there's a merging of alien and human DNA in a very organic sequence. After carving pieces of silicon, Weta pumped oil and water and ink and all sorts of materials through all the veins in this silicon structure and backlit and filmed it. "This gave us a really good library of very natural motion for blood coursing through the veins," Hill adds. "Ridley very much wanted this motion that was like a flock of starlings when the character disintegrates. We have particle effects coming off the Engineer as he's decaying."
Weta used mostly Maya for deformation and sculpting and Mari for textures. Weta additionally used Nuke to process most of the filmed elements that were then transferred to these animated maps for the textures, shaders and deformers. They also applied their proprietary muscle system called Tissue along with the other subsurface, rendering and lighting tools, which is an extension of the spherical harmonics developed for Avatar.
The medpod sequence with the trilobite was tricky as well, involving 2.5D techniques to enhance Noomi Rapace's belly motion and having bits of alien elbow poking at her. "Then we had to digitally recreate all of the medpod tools, such as a laser that cuts across her stomach and spreaders that come in and open her up," Hill says. "Then we had to create an alien that matched an onset alien that was articulated within a placenta all covered in goo and blood that gets pulled out of her belly. We had to matchmove everything and stereo makes that hard to get something so organic accurate."
The ultra alien had to match a puppet as well. "We also had to add a lot of extra design features so we could articulate the mouth the way he wanted," Hill offers. "Ridley was referencing a goblin shark's inner mouth works, which is quite different from the original alien. It was fantastic to get in there with eager reference and to do some extra design work."
Meanwhile, Rising Sun was called on for some extra comp work in the Storm Rescue sequence. The Australia-based company used Nuke, Ocula, 3D Equalizer and Final Cut Pro.
"We were primarily adding stereo particles into a stereo plate with particles already in it with people hanging off wires," explains Rising Sun's visual effects supervisor, Tim Crosbie. "Having existing particles already in the plate was the right way to go. I think they were doubling or tripling the amount of particles in each shot. When we first saw the storm sequence, it was one of those mental challenges to figure out how best to tackle it. You have to obviously take those wires out without taking the particles out. The pipeline we had set up previously for stereo shows was one of those form follows function things. But stereo is now mature enough that there are no big surprises anymore."
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and VFXWorld. He's the owner of the Immersed in Movies blog (www.billdesowitz.com), a regular contributor to Thompson on Hollywood at Indiewire and author of James Bond Unmasked (www.jamesbondunmasked.com), which chronicles the 50-year evolution of 007 on screen and features interviews with all six actors.