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Engine Room Brings Photoreal Effects to Soul Surfer

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.

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.

Soul Surfer

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.

Working closely with artists from all over the US and as far away as Macedonia, Engine Room tapped expert effects practitioners best suited for each shot including the hundreds of arm removals, torso and background replacements, surfboard color changes, and more. Engine Room's in house artist team tackled the most challenging shots, supervised all work by RADAR artists and engineered solutions for the technical challenges inherent in shooting water scenes with no locked off cameras, multiple surfers and an a prosthetic-wearing lead.

The RADAR model enabled Engine Room to compete with the aggressive international marketplace and incentives while keeping the core effects work based in Los Angeles. In doing so, Engine Room was able to maintain a close working relationship with Director McNamara to realize his vision in telling Bethany's compelling story.

"To gloriously overcome her disability required amazing reserves of discipline, strength and courage; the fact that they were summoned by a thirteen year-old is truly inspirational," says Dan Schmit. "We are proud help Sean and his team portray such an incredible example of triumph."

Directed by Sean McNamara, the screenplay was by McNamara, Deborah Schwartz. Douglas Schwartz and Michael Berk. SOUL SURFER is based on the book by Bethany Hamilton, Sheryl Berk and Rick Bundschuh.  The screen story by Sean McNamara, Deborah Schwartz, Douglas Schwartz, Michael Berk, Matt R. Allen, Caleb Wilson and Brad Gann.

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