Double Negative Decodes Da Vinci Code

Double Negative (UNITED 93, HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE and BATMAN BEGINS) was selected to create a number of sequences to enhance THE DA VINCI CODE, which opened to smash business for the weekend period ended May 21, 2006.

In order to facilitate director Ron Howards vision for the visual effects sequences in the film, Double Negatives vfx supervisor, Paul Riddle, and CG supervisor, Jesper Kjolsrud, were on set during shooting at Shepperton studios, as well as in Scotland and Paris, while their vfx producer, Steve Garrad, managed the project from Double Negatives London office.

Angus Bickerton, the overall vfx supervisor on THE DA VINCI CODE, said: Double Negative are filmmakers. They understand how things change and evolve during the life of a film. Paul, Steve, Jesper and the team accommodated those changes with grace, were great to work with, and delivered in excess of my expectations.

Riddle explained: Our brief was to create stylized sequences that enhance the drama and mystery of the film without straying into the realms of fantasy. We wanted to take our shots just to the edge of impossibility, but without crossing the line and being too showy. With this subtle approach, the audience can enjoy the narrative without being jolted out of the experience by an obvious vfx shot.

In a breathless race through Paris, London and beyond, Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) match wits with a faceless powerbroker who appears to work for Opus Dei: a clandestine, Vatican-sanctioned Catholic organization believed to have long plotted to seize the Priory of Sions secret. Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle in time, the Priory's secret and a stunning historical truth will be lost forever.

During this breathless race, Silas, the monk (Paul Bettany) is seen frantically driving a car through the streets of Paris. Using a combination of live-action plates with stunt drivers and bluescreen motion control passes of Silas driving a partial car, Double Negative created an impossible camera move that pulls out from the speeding cars dashboard, out of the rear window, and then around the car. A full photorealistic CG digital model of the car: a Renault Vel Satis, was placed over the live-action plates, with the surrounding environment of trees, road and other traffic created digitally from live action photography.

Castle Gandolfo, the private residence of the Pope, plays an important role in the film; however, the building is not accessible to the general public. For the scenes that take place at the Popes residence, Double Negative created a CG structure from a variety of reference photographs and Art Department sketches. In Double Negatives most impressive shot in the sequence, the camera starts by slowly zooming into the castle. Multiple elements, such as CG water, CG buildings and a matte painted background of the Italian landscape, were all used to create a swooping vista of the Castle. This was filmed during daylight hours but then digitally altered to give the impression of night. Riddle explained: Filming at night wouldnt give the same results, since light levels are too low to pick up all the small details. Turning day to night is a stylized approach, but means we can preserve the level of detail while conveying the drama of the scene as intended.

In a central scene set in Westminster Abbeys Chapter House, Langdon and Neveu are forced at gunpoint to decode one of the key puzzles of the story. The scene, actually filmed at Lincoln Cathedral in Lincolnshire, U.K., gave Double Negative the creative license to explore Langdons famous puzzle-solving mind on film. Desperately searching for a solution to the cryptex, Langdon uses his eidetic memory to recall the exact details of Newtons tomb in an adjacent room in order to solve the riddle. To visually represent this thought process Double Negative used a combination of multiple motion control passes of the full size Newtons tomb model and a digital replica of specific parts of the tomb, which appears before Langdon. This enabled impossible camera moves through the tomb. As Langdon stands alone in the Louvre, working toward a solution, Double Negative created an otherworldly animation of stars and planets to symbolize the information unfolding in Langdons imagination.

The sequence was enhanced by chromatic aberration to give the final highly polished yet dramatic look that signifies to the audience that this is all occurring in Langdons minds eye. The key here was flexibility, said Riddle. Its a sequence where its difficult to know exactly what is needed - so we were on hand to constantly refine the scene until the filmmakers were happy.

Toward the films climax, Langdon is excitedly following a series of brass plaques in the streets of Paris that lead him to the Louvre. On his realization that the essence of his quest lies in a hidden chamber beneath the famous glass pyramid the camera swoops from Langdon through the glass and down into the chamber below. The immediacy with which this moment of epiphany strikes Langdon requires this swooping shot, yet without actually dismantling the glass pyramid, it would have been impossible. Double Negatives team stepped in to create a full-CG realization of the inverted glass pyramid that was matched into the shot. In fact, the only filmed element was Langdon himself; the rest is entirely digital. After the camera has plunged through the glass pyramid and entered the smaller marble pyramid at the base, the shot combines into an interior environment that was a combination of motion control camera passes.

Langdon and Neveu find themselves traveling just South of Scotlands capital to continue on the path of discovery to Roslyn Chapel. Quite at odds to the picturesque Scottish highland, Roslyn Chapel has actually been enclosed by industrial scaffolding since 2000. As an important location in the film, Double Negatives task was to restore the chapel to its former glory by digitally removing the scaffolding and restoring the building to its state prior to the beginning of the restoration work. Double Negatives team created a full CG model of the chapel and digital matte paintings for exterior shots, which were used in conjunction with a 1/5-scale miniature (which was provided by Mattes & Miniatures).

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 Londons Soho, the company is a pre-eminent visual effects studio with more than 40 feature films to its credit.

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Rick DeMott
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