Speed Metal Meets Tesla Coils in 'Metallica: Through the Never'
A large part of the project involved augmenting the four immense 15 foot Tesla Coils suspended on rigs above the stage. According to Shermis, “Massive electric bolts are flashing across the top of the stage. For a variety of reasons, namely safety and security, the cameras didn’t get anywhere near the devices. I couldn’t even guess how many volts or amps were running through those things. Literally, lightning bolts are shooting out of these devices. So the cameras couldn’t get near them.”
Since you can’t control when and where the electrical arcs shoot out, Opus removed various electrical bolts and replaced them with simulated arcs. To make them more realistic, they added sparks and smoke elements.
Additionally, the producers decided that for a “poke you in the eye moment,” they wanted some of these big electric bolts to zap the audience right in the eye. They identified a number of shots where they wanted to make the audience feel closer to the electric bolts. Opus created some bolts that shot directly at the audience as well as embellished other bolts that shot around the set, making the audience feel the cameras were much closer to the action.
In creating the electric bolts digitally, the challenge was that on one hand, they had perfect reference. On the other hand, lightning is never the same twice. So, the effect had to look exactly like the real bolt, but not like the real bolt. As Shermis explained, “Make it this. But don’t make it this!” The challenge, he described, in creating bolts that hit the audience in the face was “making them shoot out quickly over a few frames, making it look real, making it look cool, but not so distracting that you’re hating 3-D by ripping your eyeballs out.”
Opus also enhanced the destruction of a statue of Lady Justice. In the movie, a lot of the incredibly elaborate stage starts malfunctioning – sections explode, throwing sparks and bellowing smoke while lighting rigs and other equipment falls from the rafters. Certain shots were embellished to show a greater amount of falling debris along with more smoke, sparks and flames coming from the electronics and sections of the floor that had exploded. This destruction includes the crumbling of a large statue of Lady Justice. According to Shand, “They don’t use real plaster and stone for the onstage prop. They use lightweight Styrofoam or rubber. When it came apart, it wasn’t really feeling like it was made of stone. There was no dust or debris or proper weight you’d see with crumbling stone or plaster.”
Since that work had not been planned previously, nothing was done onstage to prep for the shot. No LiDAR scans, measurements, or other captured onset information was available to help guide Opus’s team in getting the lensing correct, the lighting correct, getting photoreal augmentations done like this. As Shermis acknowledged, “It never occurred to anybody at the time that we would ever go back and do work on that. Opus had nothing that we normally take for granted to help them get the shot right. They had zero onset data. But they did a great job.”
Dan Sarto is editor in chief and publisher of Animation World Network.