Recreating Antarctica in Whiteout
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Toronto-based Mr. X was the lead visual effects house tasked with creating the look of the menacingly beautiful Antarctic setting for Whiteout, the mystery/thriller directed by Dominic Sena shot in Quebec and Vancouver and starring Kate Beckinsale as a U.S. Marshall who must solve the first murder in the region before the start of the dreaded six-month winter.
According to Mr. X Founder and Visual Effects Supervisor Dennis Berardi, "that meant a lot of environment work on things like the ASB base that they're living in, which was essentially digital (including the outlining buildings). This is something I'm very proud of because I think the effects are very seamless." Overall, Mr. X provided 414 shots. Other vfx vendors that contributed were Hybride and CafeFX. Richard Yuricich was the overall visual effects supervisor.
"The very first thing that Dominic Sena said was that he wanted to make the storm feel like a creature," Berardi adds. "And that was our big task. Anytime you saw the storm, whether it was inside of the storm or from a wide angle mountain view, that was obviously digital. And it was an interesting challenge because how do you make a weather system feel very scary. Inherently they can be with tornados and hurricanes and blizzards, but he wanted it to feel like was a ticking time bomb that was going to come and devastate them.
Mr. X created a complex particle system in Houdini to design the look of the storm. Not surprisingly, there was a scale issue because the mountain ranges have a short field of view. "And you're dealing with white on white, which makes it difficult to introduce the storm layers and the storm front and not just have it look nondescript. It needed dimension and scope and it needed to travel. Again, it needed to feel like a creature that was going to envelope everything in its wake."
Mr. X had a few false starts during the early testing. The scale was off, and it appeared more like a miniature. "But when we slowed things down and got the scale worked out in the simulation, then it felt more like a natural phenomenon weather system."