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PLF Maps Panic Room

Pixel Liberation Front (PLF) has provided a unique previsualization service for PANIC ROOM. PLF created animatics representing nearly two-thirds of the film, allowing director David Fincher to design much of the film's action and determine how it would be shot before the production began. PANIC ROOM is a thriller set in a New York City townhouse. In order to escape a trio of thieves searching for a hidden fortune, a mother and daughter take refuge in the townhouse's "panic room," a fortified shelter built to guard against home invaders. Because the entirety of the action takes place in the confined space of the townhouse, previsualizing a large portion of the film was practical as it meant the animators needed to model only one location. Although the technique was originally developed to aid in planning complex visual effects, for PANIC ROOM, Fincher used it to determine how the film would look and how it would be produced. This helped him communicate his vision to the entire crew, saving time and money during both production and post-production. "On PANIC ROOM, previsualization served as a baseline methodology for the production," explained PLF previsualization supervisor Ron Frankel. "We set out to do everything, even simple shots, with the goal of producing a coherent, edited cut of the film before shooting began." Using Softimage|XSI, PLF artists created characters for each member of the cast, placed them into the set and animated them according to the demands of the script. The characters were roughly articulated, with simple facial features and body characteristics. Similarly, the animation was fairly rudimentarycharacters appear to "skate" across the floor rather than walk and the animation was prepared without dialogue as it was meant only to describe action. The team also needed to be able to make quick alterations in response to the director's requests. One of the surprising benefits of the previsualization, according to Frankel, was that it allowed Fincher to stage parts of the film like a play. Actions meant to occur simultaneously in different parts of the house could be animated then played together to see how the interactions fit. "We were able to animate the scenes with XSI to indicate both character blocking and camera movement, giving a sense of how individual shots would look before they were filmed and how they would be edited together into a sequence," Frankel explained. In all, PLF produced nearly two hours of animation, from which Fincher and editor Angus Wall edited some 30 minutes of previsualized film.