ComputerCafé Digitally Demolishes Golden Gate Bridge
When the earth stops rotating in Paramount's sci-fi drama THE CORE, it sets off a chain of disastrous events that kept visual effects houses like ComputerCafé busy creating digital mayhem. The Santa Maria, California-based VFX house (www.computercafe.com), had to burn up the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge loaded with commuters locked in gridlock, complete with melting automobile tires, exploding gasoline tanks, cracking the roadbed, snapping suspension cables and ultimately bring down the bridge itself.
Starting with the premise that the planet's magnetic field and atmosphere rapidly deteriorates to admit unfiltered cosmic rays that begin to boil San Francisco Bay,
several CC artists designed dozens of concept images to depict the look of the light beam in the air as it interacts with the water. The microwave energy penetrating the atmosphere appears as an arcing, electric beam, which tints puffy white clouds with color and fills the air with heat distortion blur. "The movie's visual effects supervisor, Greg McMurry, actually put a CD into a microwave oven for a few seconds to see how the surface crackled with blue-green energy," recalled CC digital effects supervisor Jeff Goldman. "That inspired the sparking effects we created for the beam."
"We initially thought thick, volcanic type steam would rise from the water but ultimately the beam effect was so hot and concentrated that it was like a laser beam burning through a piece of paper," Goldman explains. "That's very effective in a precise area but
not so effective outside the immediate vicinity, which is why the steam boils off so fast, yet the surrounding area remains somewhat normal."
Bluescreen photography captured close-ups of vehicles subjected to the searing heat. Plates of real bridge traffic were shot during a light traffic period so CC had to create gridlock by tracking the plates, rebuilding the bridge surface, cloning cars and stopping the traffic manually, according to Goldman. Using reference stills taken during the traffic shoot, and pictures and information from the bridge's visitors' center and the Web, ComputerCafé animators modeled the structure from scratch in LightWave, only to destroy it. "A lot of the process involved photogrametry techniques; mapping and texturing 3D plates with real images," Goldman said.
Close-ups of the underside of the bridge, as it begins to crack apart, shots of cars plunging over the sides and practical explosions were created by Hunter-Gratzner Industries, Culver City, California, with miniature photography. "They built about 100 feet on either side of the break in the roadway," said Goldman. The long shot of the Golden Gate Bridge breaking up was modeled by ComputerCafé's Steve Arguello from helicopter aerial footage. "It was our most difficult shot," Goldman notes. "The left tower is real but everything to the right is completely CGI, including some of the water. Almost everything was taken from the live plate, rebuilt, moved around and cleaned up before the bridge collapsed."
Akira Orikasa, Ron Moreland and Bruce Gionet handled most of the water effects in LightWave 3D and Maya. Brandon Davis modeled the particle water and crafted the volumetric steam effects with 3ds max. Other digital tools in CC's erector set included Photoshop and boujou. The compositing team, led by Mike Bozulich, used a beta version of DigitalFusion 4 software for compositing the live-action footage, miniatures and CGI elements. Other VFX artists included Steve Arguello, Bozulich, David Ebner, Victor
Grant, Minoru (Minory) Sasaki, Gabriel Vargas, Brad Hayes, David Lockwood and Patrick Perez. Scott Gordon was VFX supervisor, Vicki Galloway Weimer served as digital effects producer and Denise Davis was VFX producer for Paramount on THE CORE.
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