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ILM Shows Off VFX Magic for Van Helsing DVD

Industrial Light & Magic recently opened its MoCap studio in San Rafael, California, to give journalists a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse into the making of VAN HELSING, which arrives on DVD Oct. 19, 2004.

Doug Griffin, MoCap supervisor, discussed the making of the vampire brides using a new hybrid technique on 45 shots just for this movie: They were somewhat unique in that they transformed from a human form to a creature form that is still recognizable. Because of this we wanted to film the performance at least in the face. They had to sprout wings, their body had to look a little creepier and they had to fly through these really elaborate camera moves that were shot in Prague, where the background plates were set up. They had to cover so much territory and we had to control their flight patterns.

In a conventional bluescreen environment, we shot film footage from the neck up and simultaneously motion captured the body from the neck down. This is the first time weve used this kind of technique, where you have a three-dimensional body and two-dimensional head. We built custom suits that infrared markers couldnt see on film. It was a better tracking device. Animators would rough out characters. We lined up 3D body and 2D head elements. There was a lot of 3D work and compositing and connectivity through the entire pipeline.

We customized designed circuit boards, so instead of reflecting light off of them, we ran juice into each performer and pumped out quite a bit of light through the custom suits. Because theyre infrared, you cant see the markers with the naked eye and you cant see them on film. Wed take the plates that they made in Prague and match them from the same perspective in the MoCap studio.

Meanwhile, vfx supervisor Ben Snow said the challenge was to create nine different creatures, including Van Helsings black wolf and Draculas Hellbeast for the final confrontation. At their peak, ILM utilized a staff of 325. Because the brides and wolves needed many different hairstyles, ILM was equipped with new hair tools and a new hair pipeline.

Were talking about creatures that might be flying at 70 miles per hour and suddenly turn a corner, and if a real person did that, their hair would [be all over the place]. You also had to be able to art direct what the hair was doing. And then the transformations were new. Youre transforming a human into a wolf or a bat creature, and one of the fun things about doing this is how do you do it different. And you get into the science of it their cells are regenerating at an enormous rate.

So we had the fur and we ripped off the skin [during the transformations]. In the past, fur has been really short like STUART LITTLE or its been like Gollum or Yoda where its thin and wispy.

When asked by VFXWORLD about the particular challenges of physical believability and having to create a whole new playbook for defeating Dracula, Snow responded:

I think that [director] Stephen Sommers felt that Dracula is such an icon and all you have to is find his coffin, put a stake through his heart and end of story. So he wanted to up the ante. And to do that, he looked into creating this Hellbeast, that transforms to fight Van Helsing. And your hero has to transform into a wolf to beat him. We put a lot of thought into how to set this up. Van Helsings werewolf has to be a worthy adversary, so he has to be the biggest and baddest werewolf youve ever seen, but he also has to retain a certain appeal and women would want to run their fingers through his hair sort of like a rock star.

We did animation tests early on with the wolves and the speed of their movement. The Hellbeast has a 14-foot wingspan and I got on set and hes got six feet that he can fly through, so we had to rethink this. Really, you have to come up with the science of it with these weird rationalizations. But its a good because it gives you a leg to stand on when you have to figure out why this is happening.

Universal Home Ent. offers two different sets: the horror flick plus a bonus disc for $29.98 and an Ultimate Collectors Edition that also features the classic DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN and WOLF MAN movies along with an extra bonus disc.

The first bonus disc includes:* Explore Draculas Castle a 360-degree self-guided tour of the stunning castle not viewed in theaters.* Bringing the Monsters to Life from pencil sketches through complete digital composition, ILM staffers build more menacing monsters.* The Legend of Van Helsing offers the evolution of the vampire hunter* The VAN HELSING Xbox Game pop the DVD into your console and play the first level of the game.

The Ultimate Collectors bonus disc includes:* Explore Frankensteins Lab a 360-degree self-guided tour of the revamped lab not viewed in theaters.* Van Helsing: The Story, the Life, The Legend offers mini-docs on each character in the film with excerpts, original set design, ILM vfx work and conceptual weapons sketches.* Track the Adventure: Van Helsings Map the secrets behind each creative set are revealed via an ancient monster map.* Darkness Falls time-lapse photography captures the transformation of Draculas Coffin Room to his lab through this revealing sequence.