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Yu + co Boards The Terminal

yU + co provided motion graphics design, computer animation and visual effects services for both the marketing campaign and the main title sequence of Steven Spielberg's THE TERMINAL. The studio's design team collaborated with its recently formed visual effects department to create a CG replica of an enormous "split flap" airport flight information board that spells out the film's title and other messages.

The giant board, which uses rotating modules to display flight information, figures prominently in the trailer for The Terminal that was conceived by yU + co and Mojo LLC. While cycling through familiar information about arrivals and departures, the board's plastic flaps periodically serve up details about the film's plot. Through it, audiences learn that Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) is caught in a legal limbo that forces him to live in an airport terminal.

The main title sequence employs a similar device. In it, the camera zooms in on a static flight information board, which suddenly springs to life. Its display flaps spin wildly before forming the words, "The Terminal."

"Steven Spielberg came up with the idea for using the flight information board to reveal the film title," explained yU + co creative director Garson Yu. "I wanted the title to integrate seamlessly into the board so that the audience must discover it. It appears as a surprise."

Initially, the effects with the flight information board were intended to be done practically, but that proved impossible as the board mechanism could not work fast enough. yU + co then came up with the approach of creating a digital replica of the sign so that its flipping panels could be controlled with complete freedom and precision.

"Our effects department, yU + co [EFX], created a 3D model that was programmable," explained yU + co producer Buzz Hays. "We could enter the text we wanted and determine how many flips to cycle through before landing on the appropriate letter or word."

Animators detailed the model to precisely match the functionality and the look of the practical board used on the set in the film. "The board is a relatively old piece of technology and the CG model had to reflect that character," Hays observed. "The artists studied the real sign closely so that they could mimic the way it moved, the way light hit it, and the way the letters look when they are painted on the flap."

Yu selected the shot used in the main title sequence, in which the camera pushes in on the flight information board, using elements shot during the production of the film. As in the trailer, the sign's display was replaced with a CG element. However, because the live-action element was not shot with this purpose in mind, camera data was not kept and, as a result, yU + co artists had to track the CG element to the background by hand.

The demands of complex projects such as THE TERMINAL were part of the reason yU + co added a high-end animation and effects department in-house. "The primary mission of yU + co [EFX] is to create visual effects for movies and television, as it has done for THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW," explained Yu. "But it also provides invaluable support to our design team. Our effects team provides the expertise and resources that enable our designers to realize their most imaginative concepts. It's a great synergy."

Coming up next for yU + co is the opening sequence for CATWOMAN.

Credits for yU + co go to Garson Yu, creative director; Jennifer Fong, exec producer; Buzz Hays, producer; Chris Vincola, Nate Homan and Mike Fisher, 3D artists; Danny Mudgett, inferno artist.

yU + co is located at 941 N. Mansfield Ave., Hollywood, CA 90038. For more information, call (323) 606-5050.