Greg Liegey of Method describes a very retro approach to the new Taylor Lautner action/adventure.
Abduction stars Taylor Lautner (Twilight's Jacob) as a guy hurled into the world of espionage when he tries to unravel the mystery of his life after discovering an image of himself as a child on a missing person's website.
Method Studios (formerly CIS Hollywood) took over from Asylum after it closed in assuming some of the most explosive action for the John Singleton-directed actioner. Interestingly, the VFX was more old-school in its approach, which was just fine with Method's supervisor Greg Liegey.
"The more interesting stuff was the house explosion," Liegey admits. "A bomb has been planted in [Lautner's] house and so it explodes and he and his girlfriend just barely escape from it. And the production shot a miniature up at Kerner Optical with Visa plates that they exploded, and they had live-action plates shot at a location for overlapping action. So we had to pull together the miniature into the live action and vice versa. And they leap into the pool at the end of the sequence.
"We had to take that foreground live action at a location and put the miniature behind them as this explosion is going on. This had usual problems of lighting. They tried to do lighting on set for the stunt people to give them a sense of fire light. But it couldn't be as big as needed because the house is blown completely apart. They did have some fire flares behind the actors, but it took some work on our part to integrate [all of this], and then in the aftermath, the explosion continues for as long as possible to amp up the excitement of the moment. You see it from different angles and from different points of view with the two of them in the pool, looking up. So we had elements also shot at Kerner of debris falling, burning embers and smoke. We paired it together to make the experience a lot more menacing."
Method additionally enhanced the fire elements to augment the effect and dirtied up the pool to make it murkier. There are also a few shots underwater where they added debris streams. At the end the two characters emerge from the pool and take in the disaster before figuring out their next move.
Some of the main challenges were lining up the miniature camera moves to the actual plate camera moves and finding those inevitable areas where the model and the real life house didn't line up perfectly. "For a seamless match we relied heavily on the Nuke 3D camera to sync up the camera moves with the plates for the correct depth and parallax. We added a card for some of the background aftermath behind the miniature to provide a sense of the neighborhood and the sense of smoke and further debris in the distance. This would give some layers of depth to the miniatures. We had to recreate the deep background because there was nothing there and fill it in.
"The same thing applied next to the actors in the foreground. We wanted to have the sense that they were enveloped in this cataclysm. We didn't want to just put stuff behind them. They would seem separate and aloof from the disaster. So we put embers falling in front of the camera, in between camera and the actors and have smoke wafting in front of them."
Method additionally made some 3D models, including a wall piece. This CG piece propels from the geometry of the miniature through space at the actors to further enhance the danger. Those were rendered through Maya or RenderMan. They also used Houdini to create water impact simulations to enhance another shot where debris was hitting the water above the actors. "There was a mattress that hit the water but it didn't look like it was going to plunge in there and hurt them, so we added a sense that this debris was coming through the water, so it required bubble simulation and jets of water. We added that to one shot to further convey that mood and sense of danger."
In fact, Liegey says the experience reminded him of Waterworld, which he also worked on and was very old school. The use of miniatures is becoming a lost art, so it was good to have artists at Method who are expert at combining miniatures with digital enhancement in a seamless and believable way."Solving the problems we've discussed are retro in a way these days, but the artistic skills of sweetening up a shot are also very valuable.
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and editor of VFXWorld. He has a new blog, Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), and is currently writing a book about the evolution of James Bond from Connery to Craig, scheduled for publication next year, which is the 50th anniversary of the franchise.