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Image Engine Creates Epic Environments for Immortals

Academy Award nominated visual effects company Image Engine announced that the company created their largest digital environments to date for Tarsem Singh’s Immortals (Relativity Media, 2011).

Press Release from Image Engine

Vancouver, BC. November 18, 2011. Academy Award nominated visual effects company Image Engine announced that the company created their largest digital environments to date for Tarsem Singh’s Immortals (Relativity Media, 2011).

Image Engine provided over 130 visual effects shots for ‘Immortals’ (2011), the epic mythological tale from the producers of ‘300’, directed by Tarsem Singh (The Fall, The Cell). The film tells the story of Theseus (Henry Cavill), whose destiny is to save his people from the evil King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) and his bloodthirsty army.

Working with overall production Visual Effects Supervisor Raymond Gieringer, Simon Hughes led the Image Engine crew as Visual Effects Supervisor for Image Engine, with Shawn Walsh in the role of Visual Effects Executive Producer and Nick Brooks as Visual Effects Consultant.

Work began in 2010, when Hughes provided on set supervision in Montréal, and entailed well over a year of dedication from the Image Engine crew. The project represents the largest digital environment build to have taken place at Image Engine to date.

Under the direction of Tarsem Singh the film had a unique visual style. Image Engine’s crew drew on their artistic abilities to handle the immense task of achieving that vision within a photo-real digital environment.

“There were several challenges due to the cinematic style of the film,” said Hughes. “The camera-moves throughout the film were really a worst case scenario – they were very minimal with extremely long cut lengths or moving through a vast volume of space. Often our work might take up to 90% of the screen! In addition to this, we were tasked with developing a rich and painterly approach for the visual effects, which had to be integrated as seamless a way as possible. We knew from the start that this was a very artistic endeavour that needed to be of a very high standard to hold up to such scrutiny.” Image Engine provided the full gamut of visual effects work on Immortals, from computer generated characters, character transitions and a fountain of digital blood and gore, but the core challenge for the company was the vast digital environment work.

Image Engine handled several key environments for the film, including the cliff face into which the Village, Checkpoint and Tree Bluff sets are carved.

The cliff encompassed a high level of detail within the vast rock face, which towered several hundred metres above sea level and stretched for many kilometers. The oceans required the development of a proprietary system for generating rippling water; and the entire environment was re-created for different times of the day, involving numerous atmospheric variations, which carried important queues for the emotional register of various scenes.

“We had to be smart about how we handled the build of the cliff, to plan for what could be dealt with in the final composites.” said Hughes. “In the early stages we went for a thorough build as our shots were not all planned out at that point; later on down the line we integrated projected matte painting, to handle detail in the rock surface for the mid and wide-angle shots.”

Lead CG artist, Gus Yamin, created the initial build using Maya as a basic structure. The rock definition was then meticulously sculpted with ZBrush, especially up to a high level of definition around the sets.

The Village carved within the cliff was extended from 3 stories in the practical set, to 25 stories. Jacob Miller, who was responsible for the Village, built a direct CG extension up from the practical Village, all the detailing was based on textures within the actual sets, and a matte painting was projected for the areas furthest from camera.

One of the film’s key shots showcases the full extent of this environment as it pulls out from the Village, up through the sky and into Athena's eye on Mount Olympus. For this, it was also necessary to extend the environment much father into the distance; so a vista of mountainous terrain was built beyond the cliff, along with cloud cover, and finally through a generated pupil that transforms into the actual eye of Athena.

In another of Image Engine’s hero shots, the camera follows the arrows fired by Theseus along the cliff from the Tree Bluff set towards the Village.

Image Engine was also tasked with creating the effects that brought the Epirus Bow to life and showed its magical power. This included the way in which the arrow of the bow materialized and fired, which was largely handled by treatments in nuke that were applied to a CG arrow. To create additional force, power trails were also added, which disturbed the environment as they flew. The dust simulations were created in Houdini and rendered in 3delight.

“In particular, these shots represent the efforts of the entire Image Engine crew and showcase the full scope of work completed on the project,” Simon Hughes concluded.

Overall, this was challenging and rewarding show. I’d like to thank the crew, who handled all the creative hurdles and came through in a big way for Immortals.”

“We are really proud of how our crew was able to tackle Tarsem’s extremely challenging visual style within the context of a photo-real digital environment,” Shawn Walsh said.  “We look forward to new and exciting environment work in the future.”

About Image Engine:Image Engine provides world-class visual effects for feature films.

With over 15 years in the industry and several award wins, the company has accrued feature film credits including District 9, 2012, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse & Breaking Dawn, The Thing and Immortals. Currently in production at the studio is: Safe House, R.I.P.D. and Neill Blomkamp’s upcoming feature, Elysium.

Image Engine is a privately owned and run company, based in Vancouver, BC.

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