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R!OT Creates Virtual Treasure Trove of Terminator 3 Environments

R!OT Santa Monica produced more than a dozen complex VFX shots for Warner Bros. TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (produced by C2/Intermedia), including several highly detailed 3D digital matte paintings. Specializing in creating realistic virtual environments, artists from the studio's feature film unit created a remote desert military facility, a cavernous elevator shaft, a warehouse filled with robotic weapons, aerial scenes and other hard to replicate locations.

"We have a team of 2D and 3D artists who have fine-tuned the technique of the digital matte painting-their efforts are true works of art," explained Andrea D'Amico, R!OT exec producer of visual effects.

Among the more ambitious shots, an elevator shaft scene depicts a unit inside a subterranean military facility and offers a view looking down the shaft at a rapidly descending car. The shot includes no practical elements, as it is a wholly digital creation. "It is the only time this environment is seen, so we had a lot of creative license to fine-tune the look and create a mood," said Kenneth Nakada, R!OT's visual effects supervisor. "The shot includes a mixture of 3D and 2D interactive lighting that derives from light fixtures and bounces off the rock walls."

Artists first prepared a 3D animatic, roughly modeled, textured and lit, to get the timing of the scene right. Digital artist Laurent Ben-Mimoun then prepared a 2D painting describing the walls of the shaft, which appears to be cut through solid rock. 3D artists completed the effect by animating the car and adding interactive lighting, highlights and other details.

"In essence, we produced two paintings, one with the lights on and one with the lights off," Ben-Mimoun said. "When the elevator passes the light fixtures on the walls, it reveals from the dark painting to the light painting. In compositing, we added camera shake, atmosphere and motion blur."

R! OT's shot list also included a military building nestled into a desert hillside. In that shot, the only real elements are a single-engine plane that has landed outside the facility and the characters Kate Brewster and John Connor (Claire Danes and Nick Stahl) who run from the plane toward the building's door. The building and the surrounding desert environment are a matte painting.

The desert is pictured as having a clear sky, however the two actors were shot on a cloudy day and did not produce any shadows. As a result, highlights and shadows mirroring their movement had to be added and tracked with them as they crossed the shot.

R!OT got involved in a kind of cloning operation with another T3 matte painting. The scene shows T-X (Kristanna Loken) entering a warehouse filled with large robotic weapons called T-1's. The production shot included just two practical T-1 models, the rest, numbering several dozen, are digital replications. "One of the tricks we use in integrating the matte paintings is to apply real reflective elements," Nakada said. "The vehicle behind the T-X is not real, but the reflection that appears in the plastic covering it is real."

R!OT's work also included compositing the cockpit of a small plane, and the view outside its window, as it wings across the desert, and a close-up of the original Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) augmented to enhance the sense that he has been "turned off." Another digital matte painting shows a hilltop fortress as an RV approaches along a long ribbon of highway. Artists also added an image to a billboard pictured in a nighttime scene. The billboard advertises Victoria's Secret with the headline, "What is sexy?"

Other R!OT creatives included producer Carole Cowley and digital artist Marc-Andre Samson, Kelly Bumbarger, Rocco Gioffre, Nabil Schiantarelli, Sean Wilson, Shuichi Suzuki, Stefano Trivelli and Hans Payer.

R!OT Santa Monica is located at 702/730 Arizona Ave., Santa Monica, California, 90401. For more information, call (310) 434-6000.