Recreating Antarctica in Whiteout
The particle system had several elements: there was the snow layer that was particle-based that interacted with the ground plane (with a turbulent level picking up snow); there was a middle section that was like a curtain wall of dense snow that had a misty component to it. "We took inspiration from a lot of the sandstorms that we referenced; we had a surrounding cloudy element; and we had a top layer connected to the upper clouds ahead of it.
"And the other thing was trying to come up with a lighting design where you could see it and have self-shadowing and feel the dimension of it. All those things were challenges, but in the end we achieved a look that was effective.
"And we had to redo all the plates to get them darker and brooding and stormy, where we painted out all the highlights and shadows and created the landscape and matchmoved that landscape and created the virtual landscape to exactly match. We have all the standard geometry of the CG snow particles to interact with."
Mr. X spent a lot of time focusing on the behavior of the particles: "How they were doing, what the turbulence was. Because there are two kinds of movement: internal motion, which is turbulent and moving in all directions, and a global forward momentum, and it looked kind of odd if you were seeing too much internal motion or if you weren't seeing enough forward motion. It looked like it was hovering in space. Those were all of the creative and technical challenges we had to overcome."
In terms of tools, Mr. X typically uses Maya for modeling, rigging, UV and animation; Houdini for shader work, lighting and rendering in Mantra or RenderMan; and matchmoving in PFTrack from The Pixel Farm.
Meanwhile, CafeFX was charged with the opening sequence of Whiteout that features a CG cargo plane flying through a stormy CG arctic sky. A gun battle takes place on board as the plane descends through the CG clouds and snow with an aurora borealis formation moving through the sky. The plane crashes into a snowy mountainside, sliding to its demise for hundreds of feet along matte paintings of mountains, snow and icy terrain. Jeff Goldman served as visual effects supervisor and Seth Lippman was the CG supervisor.
For the in-flight sequence, CafeFX created muzzle flashes, glass breaking throughout the plane, snow flying through broken windows and enhanced practical effects. The look of the aurora borealis lighting up the sky outside the plane was designed in collaboration with the CafeFX art department through matte paintings.
CafeFX used rigid body dynamics to break the mountain top off its foundation for the crash. Volumetric snow and debris were used extensively as the plane hits the top of the mountain and the engine comes off in a controlled movement. Big impact snow, clouds, fire and smoke are all elements as well as the reflective plane dripping fire as it plunges through the snow.