CafeFX Scares Up Fiery Gothika
Warner Bros.' GOTHIKA, the contemporary ghost story starring Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr. and Penelope Cruz, marks the debut of new digital fire effects created by CafeFX. With fire a central motif in the movie, CafeFX was challenged to develop custom software for fire shading and motion in key sequences, and with creating effects that heighten the impact of other frightening scenes.
CafeFX was the primary house for GOTHIKA, completing almost 60 vfx shots for the thriller whose provocative tag-line is "Because someone is dead doesn't mean they're gone."
"We haven't seen extensive use of digital fire before," noted Jeff Goldman, CafeFX's digital effects supervisor. "It's usually 2D fire composited onto a moving stunt man. But with that method you can't adjust what you get; the performance is fixed. GOTHIKA director Mathieu Kassovitz wanted the fire to have a specific look and to use it in close-ups. Our approach provided an underlying structure we could control and enhance with live-action elements in strategic places for a more realistic feel. We were able to offer all the benefits of reality with all of the control of CG."
"Digital fire has never been done at this level before," echoed David Ebner, CafeFX senior digital effects supervisor. "These aren't quick shots of a running man on fire but close-ups of bare skin, with the fire moving in slow motion and the skin blistering and charring. We were confident we could develop the software," notes CafeFX's vfx producer Vicki Galloway Weimer. "Our artists really hung in there during an extremely intense R&D process and pulled it off."
The most extensive and dramatic use of digital fire came in the climax where the killer is revealed. While shooting at his pursuer, the murderer hits a computer monitor that explodes in a shower of CG glass and sparks, which were created with LightWave 3D. Another shot ruptures a gas line, spraying liquid propane into the room in a practical mist effect to which CafeFX added animated noise patterns and real smoke to drive distortion tools in eyeon's Digital Fusion compositing program. Finally, the killer shoots out a TV screen, which sparks and ignites the room in a fireball, setting him ablaze in the process.
"Our digital fire had to track to the actor as he moved and the flames envelop him," Ebner added. "Although burn make-up was applied to the actor, it couldn't grow with the progression of the burn. Eyetronics scanned the actor and provided a model and textures, which we modified and created maps of skin burning and changing color as it charred." The maps were applied to the CG model and match-moved to the actor's performance so audiences could see the burn's horrifying progress.
"One of the hardest things to do was match-move the fire to the actor," recalled Ebner. "We had to track rigid parts of the body as well as soft tissue. We had to be really accurate because the fine details of the flesh burning and blistering couldn't slide around on his skin."
"This was the first time I had the pleasure of working with CafeFX," says Richard Mirisch, who co-produced GOTHIKA with Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis. "One of the hardest tasks we could have put in front of a visual effects company was to make a man burn believably. CafeFX came through…"
CafeFX demonstrated its versatility by creating a number of other stunning effects shots. In one sequence Berry joins inmates in a communal shower where the ghost manifests itself in the faces of the other women. CafeFX employed Digital Fusion to create facial distortions from Berry's panicked point of view. Rachel's spirit is indeed in the shower, but only Berry can see her. The ghost moves toward her and begins to slash her upraised arm. CafeFX used LightWave and Photoshop to craft the blood and scars, which were tracked in Digital Fusion. A pool of blood was later added under Berry's body where she collapses onto the shower floor.