Pixel Liberation Front AMPs Up Avatar
Press Release from Pixel Liberation Front
For AVATAR, PLF (Pixel Liberation Front) was charged with designing and animating the monitors and HUDs for the fleet of military aircraft, a handful of shots in the shack set and some set-extension composites. In all, they delivered more than 220 shots.
"For the military aircraft, Jim [Cameron] wanted an authentic approach to the visuals, so we used the most recent military aircraft -- the F22, F35 Joint strike fighters and Apache Attack helicopters -- as a starting point and embellished to fit the needs and dimensions of the aircraft in the film," explains Stephen Lawes, creative director, PLF.
"Each aircraft had a specific design approach that uniquely identified that specific vehicle with the Valkyrie and Dragon being the most complicated and dense due to the curvature, size and quantity of the screens. The AMP suit HUD especially required a lot of attention as it drove a serious of story points that depicted the distance and size of the Direhorse, and Hammerhead charges as an active IR (infrared) visual. For all of these aircraft, we designed the initial screens in Adobe Illustrator and animated in Adobe After Effects."
For rough comps, both Weta and ILM sent PLF tracking data that they used in AE to get approval from Cameron, and then delivered the final elements as .EXR files to both vendors. Most of the graphics didn't require their own stereo space, so we delivered mono elements, however there were a couple of close ups that we did stereo graphics for. In these instances we spatially arranged the graphics in AE's 3-D space with two virtual cameras that were derived from the 3-D track of the plates.
"3-D stereo tracks have to be extremely accurate, so we made sure we were passing highly accurate depth data from PFTrack to both AE and Nuke," Lawes continues. "For the stereo workflow we wrote some propriety tools for AE that made the comping of stereo more efficient so that the artist could concentrate on comping or animating for one eye (in most instances it was the left) and then stereo offsets would be automatically generated for the other eye with the correct depth. This was important for our set extension and shack monitor shots. A good example of this were the military base hallway extension shots that appeared early on in the film.
"The hallway extension was constructed through a mass of on-set still photography that was patched together using Adobe Photoshops Vanishing Point tool. Once built, it was exported as a .vpe file straight into AE which gave us the benefit of having a fully 3-D hallway extension. Once the plates were tracked in PFTrack and exported to AE, it was a matter of placing the cg hallway in the correct stereo depth, and performing keying and color correction to finish the shot. This initially sounds pretty straight forward, but we found that even the simplest of shots in the 2-D realm ended up being extremely complicated in the 3-D stereo realm."
The PLF team included Dan Blank, Venti Hristova and Sarah Blank, who dealt with the bulk of the design, animation and comp work. Luke Weyandt, Jan Pfenninger and Tony Lupoi animated hundreds of AMP suit shots, Andy Jones solved some of the more gnarly technical details, with Laura Zentil producing and Sean Cushing executive producing.