Double Negative Creates ‘Real’ Gotham for Batman Begins

In its largest project, London-based Double Negative has created nearly 300 vfx shots for Warner Bros. BATMAN BEGINS, opening June 15. Production vfx supervisors Janek Sirrs and Dan Glass challenged Double Negative to tackle work that would require the team to completely revamp its design facility, creating a new working pipeline and installing new infrastructure to accommodate the huge workload.

Paul Franklin, Double Negatives in-house vfx supervisor for the project, said, Since the inception of Double Negative we have worked on some amazing sequences and this film definitely captures some of the most spectacular shots weve ever completed. It was a huge logistical jigsaw, requiring meticulous planning at every stage to maintain maximum creativity throughout the process.

Double Negative was tasked with establishing Gotham as a living, breathing, modern city. Fear as a weapon is a strong theme in the film, and to heighten this, director Christopher Nolan wanted the action to take place in a dark, gritty, but most of all a believably real environment. Franklin commented, If for one second the vfx were visible the audience would be jolted out of the story and Gotham would become a fantasy. When we reached a point where Chris Nolan felt that our work was seamless with the live action then we knew we had achieved our goal.

To establish the Monastery in its early mountainous setting, Double Negative shot a physical miniature and then virtually grafted the building into the landscape of Iceland where the background action was filmed. Double Negative vfx artists used in-house software to track the camera move and extract the terrain from the image, resculpting it digitally to fit the structure of the Monastery. The final layout and camera moves were then supplied to the camera unit for miniature photography.

Nolan was keen that Gotham should be rooted in an observed reality. We initially thought of using a miniature and then switched to the idea of sourcing a real location that we could shoot from the air and then extend digitally, but neither approach would capture the enormity of Chriss vision of a city gone mad, added Franklin. So we opted for a fully digital method, creating the huge cityscape from a library of CGI buildings sourced from Chicago originals. The lighting of the scene was key to selling the reality of the shot, so we went up onto the roof of the Sears Tower at nearly 1,500 feet one of the tallest buildings in the world and photographed the dawn breaking over Chicago as reference. The final city contains over half a million structures and is bigger than all of the major cities in the U.S. put together!

Chicago served as the principal location for main unit photography. Double Negative developed a process referred to as Gothamization, adding extra buildings and traffic to extend the live-action plates and create Bruce Waynes home city. In addition, Double Negative created the monorail train system and the central structure of Wayne Tower, which are first revealed during a flashback sequence that shows Bruce as a child traveling into Gotham on the monorail with his family. The foreground interiors were shot on a purpose built carriage interior against a large greenscreen at Shepperton Studios in England. Specific backgrounds of Chicago were shot from a helicopter on large format film and then inserted into the train windows using Double Negatives proprietary virtual environment too called Plane-it. Extensive Gothamization was required to turn Chicago into the endless cityscape of Gotham and the sequence culminates in the final approach to the Empire-State-like Wayne Tower, which was realized entirely through digital means.

Double Negative had to be able to create detailed versions of the Chicago locations used during principal photography so that shots created entirely with vfx would sit in with the live action. The Double Negative R&D team worked closely with Sirrs and Glass to create a unique photographic toolset. A specialized Tessalator unit comprising a custom motion control system mounted on a 100- foot mobile crane shot detailed stills plates at quarter block intervals along three key streets in downtown Chicago, creating a library of more than 200 super-high-res panoramas. All images were shot with a high dynamic exposure range, which allowed the vfx artists to relight the scenes to match the theatrically lit main unit photography. Over the period of the production, the team shot around 1.5 million digital stills exposures.

Double Negative also played a key role during the frenetic car chase sequence creating all the digital environments for the miniature shots where the Batmobile leaps across the rooftops of Gotham. Double Negative added a digital helicopter, seamlessly matched to the live action original, as well as passing cop cars, digital freeways, traffic and numerous debris effects enhancements.

Double Negative vfx programmers developed DNB, a completely new volumetric renderer to create digital steam plumes that exactly matched the practical effects created on set. DNB generated digital fog was added to the miniature of the Narrows to depict the unfolding disaster. During the monorail fight sequence DNB geysers were added to the CG streets as the train charges through the city.

Since its formation in 1998, Double Negative (www.dneg.com) has firmly established itself as a leading player in visual effects production worldwide. Located in the heart of London's Soho, the company is a pre-eminent visual effects studio with more than 30 features to its credit.

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