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CaféFX Escapes with Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie get vfx help from CaféFX in two exciting escape sequences for Twentieth Century Foxs MR. AND MRS. SMITH, which opens June 10.

They play a married couple who appear bored with their quiet life but, unknown to each other, are actually international assassins whose career paths are about to fatally collide.

In their first scene, a balcony sequence, CaféFX employed a variety of techniques to craft Jolie's escape from a high-rise building. In one effect, she pulls off a handle from her mesh purse, attaches it to an exterior wall sconce, and then jumps from the building. The purse unravels, acting like a descender rig, and lands Jolie safely on the ground.

To accomplish this feat, the actress was filmed on-stage against blue screen, jumping off a partial building set onto an air bag. CFX provided New York City backgrounds for some of the shots, created set extensions to merge the balcony with footage of an actual high-rise down to ground level, extended Jolie's jump to make her fall more dramatic, and crafted her life-saving CG mesh bag.

Steve Arguello used NewTek's LightWave to create the trusty mesh bag, which is fabricated of woven steel cables held together with little clips that pop off as it unravels. "The challenge was to make the purse itself look like it was unraveling rather than appear that a coil of wire was inside the bag," noted vfx supervisor Scott Gordon. " Seeing the purse disappear as she's descending is the main visual cue as to what's happening."

Steve and Gabriel Vargas devised the CG building extensions, in SOFTIMAGE| XSI and LightWave, marrying two different architectural looks: a Gilded Age balcony and a clean-lined white granite building- and lighting set-ups. He tapped Boujou tracking software to follow the camera as it floats in front of the balcony as Jolie jumps, then tilts down to reveal the entire building facade. The building streams by her as she falls, and the camera peers down at her again as she overtakes it and continues to plummet.

The sequence also featured extensive rig removal from the falling Jolie. "We used every technique in the book, including XSI, Maya and LightWave, according to the artist's preference and the application," added Gordon. "A lot of work dealt with creating 3D replacements and matting them selectively to cover the rigs. And, there was a huge amount of hand painting work with (eyeon) Digital Fusion, especially for Angelina's hair."

In the slide-for-life sequence, Jolie escapes from Pitt at her organization headquarters by shooting a harpoon-propelled line out a broken window to the building opposite so she can slide to freedom. Again, Jolie was filmed against a greenscreen on an interior set, and then CaféFX took care of the rest. The studio created the buildings across the street, fabricated the wire shot from the harpoon, crafted a CG Jolie for the high-speed slide, and devised several shots looking back at the headquarters she's fleeing.

Paul Griffin and Domenic DiGiorgio used Maya for Jolie's character animation stunt work; the CG actress was rendered in XSI by Vargas. Votch Levi employed Digital Fusion for compositing in both escape sequences.

Gordon noted that the speed and flexibility of CG software today, coupled with the expertise of CaféFX 's artists enables moviemakers to make changes throughout the post process. "A lot of critical decision making is not locked down early on," he observed. "Things remain fluid until the end, and we're able to go in and make significant creative changes late in the process."

CaféFX (www.cafefx.com), a division of the ComputerCafe Group, is headquartered in Santa Maria, California, and has a studio in Santa Monica, California.

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