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Discreet's Systems Help Create Deep Freeze for Day After Tomorrow

Discreet announced that its 3ds max professional animation, modeling and rendering application and flame visual effects system were used to create seamless CGI for Fox's THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, which opens May 28.

Faced with a flurry of difficult shots and a tight three-month deadline, artists at Dreamscape Imagery Inc., the visual effects arm of Los Angeles production company Uncharted Territory LLC, took advantage of the robust modeling and animation features in 3ds max to create convincing elements such as frost, snow and ice, and seamless digital extras and set extensions.

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW sees human kind weathering the disastrous effects of continued global warming, with the simultaneous onset of killer tornadoes, tidal waves, floods and a new Ice Age. Artists at Dreamscape frequently tapped into the vast toolset in 3ds max, including its procedural texture mapping, modifiers and particle flow systems, to create necessary vfx for the project. These tools, along with the software's powerful array of scripting, plug-in and rendering options, enabled scenes to be completed across the team, and enhanced back and forth with the five other visual effects houses on the production.

"3ds max was crucial to us on this show," said Dreamscape lead CG Artist Brandon Davis. "No other package would have enabled us to stand up to the technical challenges this job presented in the amount of time we had."

Those challenges included encroaching frost, which, once mapped photorealistically to surfaces using the 3ds max software UV Unwrap tool, was animated and tweaked procedurally via OpenGL to meet director Roland Emmerich's specifications on the fly. Dreamscape was able to assert total control over the frost's look even through to final rendering by using SplutterFish's Brazil Rendering System.

Another impressive scene, a highly realistic 15-second shot featured prominently in the film's teaser-trailer, reveals the metropolis of Manhattan in the clutches of a deep freeze. To complete this eerily detailed sequence, Dreamscape imported base geometry of the city (more than five million polygons and 9,000 objects) and remodeled it to include heavy snowdrifts (two million polygons of finer detail) - in 3ds max. To send snow wafting off rooftops and building surfaces, the artists relied on a combination of the 3ds max software particle flow system, animated textures and Sitni Sati's AfterBurn volumetric particle effects plug-in for 3ds max.

"Our job was to make it look like New York had just been pummeled by the largest snowstorm ever to hit Earth," Dreamscape technical lead Adam Watkins explained. "Using the Push, Noise and Melt modifiers, as well as numerous Selection modifiers in the 3ds max Modifier Stack, we devised a technique to shrink-wrap ice to the sides of the buildings. In this way, any changes we made to experiment with the look were automatically affected downstream without extra adjustment work."

3ds max software was also put to task in populating crowd scenes with thousands of digital extras. Creating variations by mapping unique clothing and accessories to 50 CG humans, Dreamscape animated each according to their physiology using a combination of motion capture data and the character studio Mixer tool.

The city crowd scene was further populated with cars, helicopters, tents, and other structures, using the particle flow tool in 3ds max and extending it via a 3D matte painting. Tricky lighting and rendering of the twilight-set shot was accomplished, again maximizing Brazil's built-in global illumination tools.

"We definitely plan to continue doing enormous and amazing things in 3ds max," commented Marc Weigert, who co-owns Uncharted Territory/Dreamscape with Academy Award winner Volker Engel. Like the first film Uncharted Territory produced, CORONADO, the next movie we are producing will have about 600 effects shots; many more of them will be in 3D this time around."

Discreet clients that also worked on the many challenging visual effects shots in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW include: ILM, Hydraulx (4,000 frame entirely computer generated opening with fly-over of an Antarctic ice shelf), Ring of Fire Studios (completed 36 breath shots using combustion), The Orphanage, Zoic Studios (digital breath scenes for a frozen New York) and Digital Domain.

Digital Domain used Discreets flagship flame visual effects system and combustion visual effects software on THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. Said Sonja Burchard, a compositing lead for the film at Digital Domain: "Discreet's flame system was great for look development on THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. Using the flame system, we were able to achieve quick turnaround and get buy-off on a look before committing time and resources to a final 3D solution. The sparks were perfect for visual effects, which required compound manipulation of multiple elements. When used in conjunction with flame's paint module we were able to achieve timely 2D solutions to complex problems."

Montreal-based Discreet (, a division of Autodesk Inc., offers award-winning solutions designed for digital media creation, management and delivery-across all disciplines from film and television visual effects, color grading and editing to animation, game development, Web/interactive and design visualization.