Reimagining Total Recall
How to recall Total Recall? Why, more photoreal, of course. So in keeping with director Len Wiseman's new Earth-bound vision of Philip K. Dick's mind-bending, dystopian future, Double Negative was charged with building the two distinct London environments designed by Patrick Tatopoulos: The United Federation of Britain (UFB) and The Colony.
The UFB is a neo-classical rendering of upper crust London. It's a very grand but sterile world, with lots of holograms and glass, big concrete plazas, fountains, open walkways and freeways threaded throughout with magnetic cars. Fortunately, they had plenty of photographic reference in London to utilize. By contrast, The Colony is a grittier low rent district: it has a very underground, funky vibe, with lots of neon lights; it's polluted, constantly overcast with noxious gasses and it's always raining.
VFX was overseen by DNeg's Peter Chiang along with the London VFX house's Adrian de Wet and Graham Jack. For the first time, DNeg used CityEngine software to help them build the entire UFB. CityEngine was made to fit in with the pipeline that consists of Maya (modeling, animation, VFX), Mari (texturing), Houdini (VFX) and Nuke. They could create any layout of buildings and draw from their assets and mix them up to design UFB. So instead of mapping out every single buildings in a view, they could get a gross structure by pulling various 3D points around, and then assign a randomizer to it that would take the assets from the buildings selected by Wiseman, which would wallpaper it together to create individual buildings. They drew upon 20 different assets that are close-up, 40 that are mid-distant and then relied on matte paintings to give the appearance of going off into infinity. They then added the fine details of stanchions, elevators, streetlamps, road signs and tiny barriers.
"The UFB is built upwards into the sky and beyond the skyscrapers there were massive platforms with clusters of buildings and also trees that branch off into further clusters of buildings," explains CG supervisor Vanessa Boyce. The idea was that when you look close up, it should look like London."
Fortunately, DNeg learned a lot from the Oscar-winning Inception about rendering such full detail. "It's a perpetual nighttime in The Colony, so the challenge with that was making it a shiny city with all the water everywhere and everything's reflective," she adds. "Rendering wise, it was a challenge to get these shots through. And with UFB, when Len saw The Colony shots coming through with all this nice water, he really loved seeing sheen on buildings, so he asked us to go back to UFB and wet it all down."
As for The Colony, the set accounted for one level, and they extended it up or down in CG, using green screen to varying degrees. The bottom level was usually water.
Meanwhile, The Senate of London was called on to work on 250+ shots encompassing 3D environments, 2D digital matte paintings, 3D hologram effects and graphics inserts.