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CaféFX Works The Dust Factory

Independent-minded effects studio CaféFX helped design the mysterious fantasy world of Eric Small's directorial debut, THE DUST FACTORY, the indie film currently being distributed by MGM.

THE DUST FACTORY is an adventure about the love and friendship between two teenagers who help each other through a difficult time in their lives.

THE DUST FACTORY gave us an opportunity to get back to our roots a bit, to the passion behind the work," offered CaféFX ceo/exec producer Jeff Barnes, who undertook the project for its creative scope. "An independent film makes one's passion more raw because you're closer to the source. It's a homegrown thing."

"I chose CaféFX for its artistry," added Small. "I've seen much of their work, including the title sequence for PANIC ROOM. Because we also had a big title sequence and a lot of CG material, I immediately thought of CaféFX."

CaféFX's Erik Henry was used as the on-set visual effects supervisor, while David Ebner supervised digital effects for some 50 shots, in addition to the main title sequence.

A number of key effects were involved the THE DUST FACTORY vortex, a whirlpool filled with a tar-like material. In one shot, as the boy reaches for a girl the floor cracks open, tentacles wrap around her and pull her down into the vortex, while another tentacle grabs the boy and drags him along. The scene was shot on a practical floor, with a circular hole lined with greenscreen material. CaféFX rotoscoped the actors and replaced the floor with CG flooring that breaks into jagged-edged cracks.

The tarry substance was created with LightWave 3D geometry; mesh model with displacement tools made the gooey looking material ripple like water. It was textured with reflection maps and image maps. LightWave Hyper Voxels rendered parts of the model to give the tar a viscous appearance.

After the boy is pulled into the vortex, CaféFX tracked the original camera motion looking up from the inky "sea" to capture the couple submerged in the tarry liquid. The camera spins around and the boy and girl fly out the other side of the vortex to surface in The Dust Factory's ice-rink. There, in another CG sequence, the black goop slips off their bodies to be absorbed into the ice.

Hyper Voxels rendering, which excels at smoke-like shading, were applied to shots in which the boy and girl were transported from place to place. A misty fog bank overtakes them and erases them from one location only to make them magically reappear somewhere else.

In one notable shot, the boy enters The Dust Factory via an underwater route as bubbles swirl around him. A particle system and special shaders were used to create the CG bubble mass that integrates perfectly into the shot and a match-moved head was employed to receive the cast shadows.

The shots were composited at CaféFX, with eyeon Digital Fusion, which works well with film-resolution material.

CaféFX animator Minoru Sasaki created THE DUST FACTORY main title sequence, which was designed by Ron Honn, in which the camera pans a CG moon as moondust trails off in its wake to form he title in a starry sky. The stars align and move into frame as the credits form out of the stuff of stars. "It's all very elegant," said CaféFX partner, David Ebner.

Other CaféFX credits include:

* Digital effects producer: Vicki Galloway Weimer* Assistant digital effects producer: Jonathan Stone* Animators: Steve Arguello, Timur Baysal, Mike Bozulich, Danny Braet, Domenic DiGiorgio, Jeff Goldman, Victor Grant, Glenn Hiramatsu, David Lombardi, Akira Orikasa, Chris Reid, Gabriel Vargas, Dave Willadsen* Title design: Ron Honn* Title animation: Minoru Sasaki

CaféFX (www.cafefx.com), a division of the ComputerCafe Group, is headquartered in Santa Maria, California, and has a studio in Santa Monica, CA. Both the Santa Maria, and the Santa Monica studio are outfitted with the latest effects, design, compositing and rendering technologies.

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