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Crowd Shot The Challenge With Vantage Point

CIS Vancouver and CIS London (both formerly Rainmaker Visual Effects) completed 397 shots for the new Columbia Pictures' action thriller VANTAGE POINT, which opened No. 1 at the box office on Feb. 22.

The film revolves around eight strangers with eight different points of view who try to unlock the one truth behind an assassination attempt on the President of the United States.

The CIS teams, lead by visual effects supervisor Paddy Eason and digital visual effects supervisor Geoffrey Hancock, created a challenging crowd scene with thousands of people in an outdoor plaza during an assassination attempt on the President.

The scene, which was shot with between 300 and 900 extras, required a simulation of 6,000 to 12,000 random and photoreal people, depending if it was a ground or aerial shot.

The CG crowd had to react to the chaos of gunshots, bombings, and panicked people, all confined within a square plaza surrounded by buildings.

Eason, based in the London facility, explains, "The people in this crowd needed to be highly customized and each very distinct-looking, and to add to the degree of difficulty, it all takes place in full sunlight. Normally, computer-generated crowds don't need such a high level of detail, but this scene emphasizes the plot point: the event is told from different points-of-view of the people within the crowd. It needed to be very authentic and precise."

Along with the need for a large number of physically dissimilar looks, varied reactions were also required.

Each simulated person needed to react realistically in their own way to the events, to the landscape, and to all the various people around them.

In some cases it was vital that individuals in the digital crowd be quite large in frame because they were standing right next to real people.

Hancock, who oversaw the Vancouver crew said, "The toughest thing was that the people were cramped together with very restrained movements. This required a tremendous amount of time to create the sequence, as we needed the CG people to bunch up and collide with each other instead of running quickly past each other."

He added, "We used Massive to simulate the thousands of random people, creating 180 different models wearing 260 different variations of clothing. This was challenging as crowd replication normally deals with blocks of people, not as individualized as was required by this project."

In addition to the crowd enhancements, CIS worked on a major car chase sequence -- a mixture of real driving and practical stunts interspersed with numerous greenscreen car shots -- and CG enhanced explosions, matte paintings, monitor inserts and a CG presidential helicopter.

The CIS crews also created a CG aerial top shot of the city that dives down toward a CG ambulance as it drives under a CG road overpass.

The camera then enters the back of the ambulance, transitions to a greenscreen ambulance interior and travels out through the windshield.

The shot continues down the road and revolves around the location where all the main characters combine in a frozen moment of time.

Eason said, "I'm very proud of what the team achieved on this film, particularly on the crowd sequences. We got a good balance between the various techniques that were available to the show -- shooting with limited numbers of real extras, 2D crowd replication, and then the full CG crowds. The audience really won't know that there's any vfx at all, and that's the real trick."

Th1ng's title director, Richard Morrison and 'position', Alon Ziv, created VANTAGE POINT's 50-second opener. It delivers a series of shots starting with wide aerial views of a Spanish city, gradually focusing on the presidential cavalcade moving through the streets, before finally reaching a close up of the President and his entourage.

Each amber-drenched view is cut into a stark black background, clearly depicting the different 'vantage points' of the witnesses. Further tension is added to the sequence by a swift transition of V-shaped stills, from one to another in the buildup of the terrifying truth behind the assassination attempt.

Perspective and a set of different viewpoints create an atmosphere of something waiting to happen. This becomes key to the sequence's building momentum. As the sequence further unveils viewers get an insight into a chaos that ensues followed by a collision of disparate lives in the hunt for the assassin.

The opening sequence was entirely directed, edited and composited in house at th1ng, including all post production.

Morrison, th1ng's titles director, said, "VANTAGE POINT is a clever action movie and so its sequence had to be based around the idea of perspectives. We tried to create a web of intrigue to give viewers an accurate insight into what they can expect in the movie."

Ziv, th1ng's motion graphics director, said, "We have been recently witnessing a revival of title sequences in the film industry and this sequence echoes the mood and style of some of the more classic sequences we are familiar with."