Mary Ann Skweres discusses CGI vampires on BloodRayne with director Uwe Boll and vfx supervisor Doug Oddy.
German director Uwe Boll has directed movie versions of videogames before. His production company has actively tracked down game properties that are available for licensing, but he admits his previous forays translating the genre for the big screen have received less than stellar reviews. One valuable lesson that he has learned from past films is the importance of not only a great character, but also a good story a combination that is rare in the gaming industry. With his current endeavor, he hopes to have found that winning combination.
Boll takes a stab at the popular vampire-themed videogame BloodRayne, with the half-human, half vampire, leather-corseted, flaming haired heroine (Kristanna Loken) consumed by blood rages and a desire for revenge. Evil rules 1700s Eastern Europe in the person of Lord Kagan (Ben Kingsley), a powerful presence who seeks the three secret treasures that will make him invincible by endowing him with immortal powers. His only opposition, the Brimstone society a small group of men and women banded together to fight the evil and avenge the weak search for a legendary young woman, feared by Kagan and rumored to possess the secret to defeat the malicious ruler.
The director was looking for a stark reality in the execution of the film. The vampire mood was harsh and brutal. Blood splatter and gore, like that in , were de rigueur. To bring the dark, fantasy-based story to photorealistic life, Boll enlisted the help of visual effects supervisor Doug Oddy of Technicolor, his collaborator on Alone in the Dark. Boll says, Doug is my main partner. He is the guy I plan everything with. We do previsualization and storyboards together. He is on set also. He did a great job.
For BloodRayne, Oddy created more than 300 CGI shots, with a mandate from Boll that they not look computer- generated to seamlessly fit into the realism of the story. Many of the effects were a combination of computer graphics, in camera processes, practical effects and editing techniques. As well as giving the classic vampire film an authentic look, locations in Romania freed the production from having to create computer environments and worked to the productions budgetary advantage.
Boll explains, We have 330 CGI shots, but the movie doesnt look like a big CGI show. We shot in original locations in Romania, but there are a lot of CGI trimmings like speed ramps, CGI blades flying through the air and all that kind of stuff. Its CGI driven, but we also did a lot with prosthetics and blood effects. To make a videogame-based movie does not automatically mean that you need to have a lot of CGI, but all my movies since House of the Dead are a mix of real and CGI effects.
In order to keep costs down, a great deal of planning was done up front during pre-production that began in the winter of 2004 and lasted a full five months. Much of this time was spent scouting the extraordinary locations and ironing out logistics.
After the locations were locked, storyboards and motion control previs were created based on those real locations. During the three-month shoot, Oddy worked on set to assure that the elements shot during production were usable for the post-production effects work that he brought back to his Technicolor team.
The biggest visual effects challenge was in the eye room sequence the guarded quarters housing a Talisman, the powerful eye of an Old Vampire. Various sinister traps swinging blades, stabbing spears and treacherous waters flooding in protect the treasured amulet, but for the obvious safety reasons, most of these effects could not be done practically. And, because the film was budget driven, the execution of the scene could not be too complicated either, so as not to increase the cost of the post visual effects.
This was a massive CGI sequence because the blades and spears were not real. A lot of the water was real, but we also added computer-generated water I must say that the Technicolor team did a great job. It is absolutely photorealistic and perfect. This, for me, is one of the biggest goals in any movie. The CGI looks real; there is no fantasy aspect in it, says Boll.
Much of the surreal gauntlet effect was achieved simply through a combination of camera, lighting and editing. Oddy suggested to Boll that the cool thing to do would be to shoot the same action twice, with a change of lighting for the different takes and then simply intercut between the two. Thats just what they did. In the same sequence, Rayne also throws her knives into the wall and ceiling, allowing her to climb up in the room to avoid the flooding waters that can burn her because she is part vampire.
After avoiding the traps, Rayne retrieves the Old Vampire eye from its box and puts it into her own eye. It morphs, becoming one with her eye. As always, scenes with large amounts of post-generated effects call for a lot of imagination on the part of the actors. Boll shares, This was tough to shoot because Kristanna Loken didnt really know what I was doing there.
Bolls favorite effect vampire vision was not replicated from the game, but was a totally new concept that Oddy developed for the film. This creepy effect was used to convey Raynes extraordinary ability to pick out a vampire in a crowd when the average human could not. From her point of view the vampire would be seen through a special moving effect that changed the vampire from looking like an average person and morphed the creature into the hideous, ancient, undead monster that was its true character.
The lead vfx company was Technicolor, with its offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Los Angeles. Electrofilm, TVT and Upstart were additional vendors that contributed to the look of the film. Other effects created for the film included greenscreen composites, wire removals and other 3D real shots. Forty different cuts of the film were tested for audiences. According to Boll, every angle was tried to make the film dark, strong, fast and entertaining.
With Bolls BloodRayne, maybe adapting videogames into features has finally risen from the dead.
Mary Ann Skweres is a filmmaker and freelance writer. She has worked extensively in feature film and documentary post-production with credits as a picture editor and visual effects assistant. She is a member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild.
Bob Bayless contributed to this report.