Engine Room Brings Photoreal Effects to Soul Surfer
Press Release from Engine Room
Hollywood, CA - (April 8, 2011) -- SOUL SURFER is the inspiring true story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack and courageously overcame all odds to become a champion. The film, directed by Sean McNamara, features an all-star cast including AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Carrie Underwood and Dennis Quaid. Amazing surfing, moving performances and photoreal effects all contribute to this inspirational film experience. SOUL SURFER will go out as a wide release via TriStar Pictures today, April 8th, with a broad-based and integrated marketing campaign managed by FilmDistrict.
Bethany Hamilton's transformation from shark attack victim to top surfing pro makes her nothing short of a real life superhero. But for the story to translate to a film's retelling, audiences have to accept her physical loss as real. To accomplish this challenge, Director Sean McNamara turned to longtime collaborator VFX Supervisor Dan Schmit and his team at Engine Room to lead what would ultimately become 750 intensive effects shots.
"Dan and I have collaborated for many years and have a shorthand that was key to this complex undertaking," says Director McNamara. "His team was integral to making this inspirational story of a true champion. They solved all of the visual puzzles beautifully."
Early on, the Engine Room team determined that the appropriate approach would be a combination of digital and prosthetic solutions. Accordingly, Dan Schmit enlisted the collaboration of prosthetics artist Mark Garbarino to recreate Bethany Hamilton's arm stump. Using video and photographic references from the Hamilton family, Garbarino and Schmit collaborated on sculptures and the positions necessary for the impending action and the storytelling. Four designs were made: the attacked arm, surfing position, post surgery, and the healed neutral position. Garbarino cast AnnaSophia in several positions, which would mirror the actual arm placement needed during filming. The attack shot was filmed with the actresses' real arm dropped through an opened groove in a surfboard, so that only the stump was visible to camera. Blue and Green acrylic paints were adjusted to make waterproof paint for AnnaSophia Robb's real arm beneath the prosthetic. Throughout the shoot, the production team would film the principal action for each scene with AnnaSophia Robb wearing a green sleeve or a painted arm. A second pass of the actress' torso and shots of clean backgrounds would provide digital assets needed to reconstruct elements hidden by her green arm.
Engine Room's Dan Schmit and Michael Caplan provided on set VFX supervision in Hawaii, returning to the Hollywood studio to oversee their core creative team and offsite artist group of highly vetted remote individuals from the company proprietary artist database. For the last three years, Engine Room has developed its "RADAR" virtual workflow as an alternative production model that allows clients to collaborate in Los Angeles with Hollywood-based supervisors, while taking advantage of the national and international marketplace. The philosophy is to reduce the project management cost by minimizing the separation between filmmaker and the digital artists, while at the same time reliably managing a large enough VFX pipeline to be capable of delivering a major motion picture.