I.E. Effects Delivers VFX for Michael Jackson’s This Is It
Facial motion capture is one of the most difficult challenges in animation, especially when it’s lip-synched to a locked audio track.
“Rather than using a traditional motion capture rig, where you lose some of the fidelity based on the capture resolution, we used a technique that required a little more grunt work. We painted a grid of lines and dots on our actor’s face and shot his performance with three HD cameras at increments of 45 degrees. The extra effort paid off,” explained Kaminar.
“The rig for Price’s face used curves instead of bones. Those curves followed the musculature of the face so the deformation looked natural and behaved the way that muscle and skin do,” explained Kaminar. “Obviously, our model’s face has different proportions, so we had to write custom scripts for converting the animation of the actor’s face to the relative positions on Vincent Price’s face. We tried to find an actor with similar features, but it’s impossible to find someone that has the exact same proportions. So we had to take all the animations of the actor’s face, relative to a pose of his face in a relaxed state, and translate them onto the rig of Vincent’s face in a relaxed state.”
This process provided a reasonable approximation of the final animation. I.E. Effects then used traditional facial animation controls to fine-tune the performance.
The team at I.E. Effects also animated the CG in the scene, as well as the Thriller logo, which, according to Kaminar, was designed to reference artwork from the original ’80s music video.
Jackson’s concerts in London were intended to end with a full-scale, stereoscopic Boeing 707 taxiing out on to the stage in profile, with its wing appearing to hang out over the audience. Then a real gangway would lift from the stage up to the door of the CG aircraft. A real door was built into the screen. Jackson would then exit the stage through the door into the CG plane. As the music played, the aircraft would then taxi into the distance, turn around, and take off over the audiences’ heads – a thrilling finale to “the concert event of the century.”
“The technical challenge in that shot was that it had to line up perfectly, and interact with the stage and the performance,” said Kaminar. “During the rehearsals, first at the Forum, and then at the Staples Center, they set up the screen on the stage, so we were able to do tests with the actual door in the screen and see the stereoscopic footage of the plane behind the stage.”
“We’re constantly refining our stereoscopic pipeline, and this project, with all its unexpected twists and turns really tested us,” said Kaminar.
“Michael Jackson was a pop icon who redefined music,” said Kenneth, “It was an honor to be working with him, not knowing it would be his last performance. Our entire crew felt a significant emotional loss when we heard the news of Michael’s passing, but getting to finish meant we could do our part to realize his vision for his final project.”
A Sony Pictures release, “This Is It” opens in theaters Oct. 28 for a limited two-week run. A special edition Blu-ray will be released thereafter. Release plans for a stereo 3D version are, as yet, unknown. I.E. Effects is a full-service post house based in Culver City, California. The facility’s stereoscopic 3D pipeline supports clients with all aspects of stereoscopic production from on-set supervision through distribution. For more information visit: www.ieeffects.com.
About I.E. Effects
Based in Culver City, California, I.E. Effects offers filmmakers the resources of a large postproduction facility in a boutique studio environment. I.E. Effects provides comprehensive post and finishing services for commercial, television, feature film, theme park and new media clients, as well as a full stereo 3D pipeline from on-set supervision through distribution. Services include editorial, visual effects, graphics design, digital intermediate, as well as web and mobile development. The company’s team has contributed to the success of projects such as Spiderman II, which won an Oscar for best visual effects, Triangle, an Emmy award-winner for best visual effects, and most recently Drag Me To Hell, the latest from Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures. www.ieeffects.com.