I.E. Effects Delivers VFX for Michael Jackson’s This Is It
Press Release from I.E. Effects
Culver City, CA: Oct. 27, 2009… I.E. Effects completed key visual effects sequences for the highly-anticipated Michael Jackson concert film “This Is It.” While the theatrical release will be a standard 2D presentation, the Culver City-based postproduction facility delivered all of its VFX work in full stereoscopic 3D, opening the door for a stereoscopic version of the film in the future. Originally, the facility was contracted to produce 15 stereo 3D shots for Jackson’s widely-publicized concert tour, but following the untimely death of the King of Pop, the project was put on hold. The upcoming feature film, and the special edition Blu-ray that will follow it, allowed I.E. Effects to complete the project and fulfill their role in Michael Jackson’s final show.
"I thought we were perfectionists, but Michael’s attention to detail just blew us away,” said David Kenneth, visual effects producer and founder of I.E. Effects. “He had invested himself completely in this and when he died, we lost him, and we thought we had lost the opportunity to finish the project.”
Aaron Kaminar, I.E. Effects’ visual effects supervisor and lead artist on the project explained that the original stage design included a giant 90-by-30-foot multi-panel LED screen behind the performer where stereoscopic content would have been displayed during the live performance. Through careful choreography and advanced special effects, Jackson would have interacted with the backdrop in a never-before-seen combination of live performance and stereo 3D.
“When the whole thing started it wasn’t anyone’s intention to create a feature film,” explained Kaminar. “But that changed after Michael Jackson’s death. We felt it was our mission to honor his vision and finish the work, according to the instructions in his notes to us. Those notes, from the days before he passed away, were our final directions.”
The shots completed by I.E. Effects include key sequences for the Thriller video, a new Thriller logo, a full CG animation of Vincent Price’s head, and a stunning CG Boeing 707 for the grand finale – all delivered in stereoscopic 3D.
“The bulk of the Thriller section was a rather complicated effect from the technical standpoint,” said Kaminar. “There is a chandelier swinging around inside a creepy old haunted house with ghosts swinging on it, whooping and hollering.”
Practical footage for the Thriller sequences was shot at Culver Studios under the direction of Bruce Jones, using Pace HD’s Fusion 3D stereoscopic camera rigs. The shots were then matched to CG effects created at I.E. Effects.
“The ghosts were shot separately on a greenscreen stage using a large stand-in for the chandelier. We then tracked the CG chandelier to the set prop and added dynamics, so that all the crystals on the chandelier would behave properly,” said Kaminar. “Ordinarily that’s challenging enough, but when you add the fact that it’s stereoscopic, it becomes exponentially more complicated.”
Adding to the complexity of the shot, the two-camera rig was positioned on the end of a moving crane, panning, tilting and zooming. “The chandelier stand-in was rocking and moving around so the tracking was pretty complex. To deal with this, we worked out a pipeline for efficient manual tracking and matchmoving that worked very well,” said Kaminar.
“The biggest challenge that we had on this project was staying consistent between left and right eye in the compositing stage,” said Kaminar.
To deal with the convergence issues that inevitably crop up with a moving camera, the artists at I.E. Effects relied on metadata fed directly from the Pace HD camera rig. “The camera metadata gave us frame-by-frame information on the convergence distance, the separation between the two cameras, as well as the focal length and the f-stop settings.”
The Thriller sequence also includes a visualization of Vincent Price’s famous narration, with the actor’s head floating inside a crystal ball. In the middle of his monologue, a CG crow flies in and sits on his shoulder.
“There was an audio voiceover recording of Vincent Price doing the monologue, but there was no video associated with it,” explained Kaminar. “So we did a performance capture with an actor and mapped the movement of his face onto a CG Vincent Price.”