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mental ray Helps ILM Render Poseidon

Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) credits mental ray, the Academy Award-winning high-end rendering software, from mental images, for significant advances in virtual cinematography that ILM achieved in creating the vfx for POSEIDON.

Known for its leading edge programmability and artistic control, mental ray was used to create the Poseidon, a vessel that would be 300 meters long and 70 meters wide in real life. Although no actor ever stepped foot on a physical ship, the advanced rendering capabilities of mental ray allowed ILM's visual effects artists and engineers to generate the needed details and sophisticated lighting for the ship to fit seamlessly into the scenes.

"The only way to achieve the level of photorealism that we needed to create Poseidon was through ray traced global illumination, said Kim Libreri, ILM visual effects supervisor on POSEIDON. We have ray traced using mental ray at ILM for many years and the level of complexity on POSEIDON made it the obvious choice. We knew from day one that this would be the most difficult project to render and that mental ray was the best solution. Not only does the software create fantastic images, but the level of support that we got from the mental images staff in Berlin and Los Angeles was amazing. Whenever we needed something they were there to deliver."

mental images' California-based support team worked closely with ILM artists and engineers on-site for weeks at a time to create new rendering techniques never before done. The core obstacle of the project was the enormous complexity. In order to create the realism, a modular system was built with mental ray that enabled the artists to repeatedly use virtual props. This allowed the artists to keep the scenes manageable while focusing on the various elements that came with the 6,500 virtual set pieces made up of more than 180,000 individual pieces of geometry: from wine glasses, to clocks and newspapers and even the life preservers.

A particular challenge was represented by the need to create an authentic opening scene. The shot had to be continuous which required close-up and far-away views of the ship. The scene needed to start underwater, breaking through the surface to show specific aerial views with a dramatic and apparent understanding of how enormous the scale of the ship in this story is.

To achieve realistic and life-like effects ILM used mental ray to have complete control over lighting and design of the entire vessel. ILM worked closely with the mental images' engineers to develop proprietary algorithms specifically designed for the project. One of the most difficult, but important challenges for the team was to create the natural light effects that would integrate the ship with the live actors. By utilizing the global illumination algorithms in mental ray the artists were able to create the lighting that makes the ship appear real to the human eye.

"The entertainment industry is moving from emulation to genuine simulation, and realistic lighting and shading effects are the ultimate benchmark for the degree of realism that can be achieved by such simulation," said Rolf Herken, ceo/cto of mental images. "The decision of ILM to go with a full computer graphics approach for POSEIDON was a great opportunity for us to demonstrate the unique capabilities and outstanding performance of mental ray. By working closely with ILM mental images continues to sharpen the cutting edge of such pursuits and keeps pushing the limits of the artistic use of simulation technology even further."

Industrial Light & Magic ( is a Lucasfilm Ltd. company located in San Francisco, California, serving the digital needs of the entertainment industry for visual effects. Since 1975, ILM has been providing post-production visual effects services to the entertainment industry. Motion pictures, commercials, trailers, music videos and special venue projects have utilized ILM's artistry in techniques such as model making, matte painting, computer-generated imagery, digital animation and a variety of related processes required in the production of visual effects. ILM has been awarded 14 Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects and received 17 Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards.

mental images ( founded in 1986, is an international leader in providing rendering software to the entertainment, computer-aided design, scientific visualization, architecture and other industries that require sophisticated images. mental images GmbH is a privately held company based in Berlin, Germany, with a wholly owned subsidiary, mental images Inc., in San Francisco, California, and an office in Stockholm, Sweden.