Click visual effects supervisor Pete Travers discusses bringing the time shifting Adam Sandler comedy to life in this exclusive production diary.
Michael Newman (Adam Sandler) is married to the beautiful Donna (Kate Beckinsale) and they have two terrific kids, Ben (Joseph Castanon) and Samantha (Tatum McCann). But he doesnt get to see them much because hes putting in long, hard hours at his architectural firm in the elusive hope that his ungrateful boss (David Hasselhoff) will one day recognize his invaluable contribution and make him a partner.
Once hes on easy street, hell be able to lavish attention on the wife and kiddies. At least, thats what he tells himself.
After staying up all night to work, a tired Michael becomes frustrated because he cant even figure out which of his remotes will turn on the TV set. Michael sets out to find the perfect device to operate all his electronic equipment and stumbles into the back room of a Bed, Bath & Beyond, where an eccentric employee, Morty (Christopher Walken) gives him an experimental one-of-a kind souped-up gadget guaranteed to change his life.
Morty wasnt kidding either. Soon Michael is master of his domain, turning on every appliance with the click of a button.
But the device has other, more startling functions. It can somehow muffle the barking of Sundance, the family dog and even more astoundingly, fast forward through an annoying quarrel with his wife.
Michael is fascinated by his new toy and a little freaked out as well. He decides to pay another visit to Morty, the guy who sold him the mysterious device. Morty tells Michael he gave him exactly what he asked for a universal remote that lets him control his universe. Right before Michaels astonished eyes, Morty demonstrates the devices mind-boggling advanced features, including a function that lets Michael travel back and forth through his life at different speeds.
Michael quickly becomes addicted to this new rush of power, which literally allows him to have his cake and eat it too.
But before he knows it, the remote is programming him, rather than the other way around. And try as he might, a panicked Michael cant stop the device from deciding which events of his life hell experience and which ones hell miss. Only then does he begin to truly appreciate and embrace his life the good, the bad and the ugly.
This was somewhat of an unusual situation in that I got involved at the very end of the principal photography shoot. Its a tough thing to join a project at the end of principal, because during a photography shoot, there is always a lot of embedded information, but we did the best we could to make sure that all the information got passed on to me. Academy Award winner Jim Rygiel handled the visual effects shooting, so I knew we were in good hands. In early February 2006, especially with the first temp screening work out of the way, the handoff was complete. Director Frank Coraci is a really cool guy, so it made it so much easier because the environment was very positive. That helped a lot. Weve had a small team here at Imageworks. We got started in January and the film comes out in June, so its a pretty tight schedule for 400 shots, but because there was virtually no R&D, we were able to hit the ground running. On day one, we were already working on shots, which was refreshing in a way.
Collaborating with Coraci
Franks possibly the best director Ive worked with in relation to visual effects. I think it starts with his appreciation for it, especially since he knows that the effects are a big part of the movie and that the effects shots have to work for the overall film to work. Hes very accommodating, collaborative and very open to new ideas. I think maybe its the comedic director in him. He understands whats important in the effects shots and that has made it so much easier for us to focus on the work at hand. You show him something that looks cool, and his first reaction is, Hey, that looks cool!
Most of the effects-based work is essential to the comedy in this film. Ninety percent of the gags in the film are effects-related. This show is mostly compositing, and there is a little bit of 3D work. A lot of it is more design-based, and that has made this show really interesting.
After working on a number of these shots and talking to the director about it, we found that when the shot is completely frozen, your eye gets bothered by that. The general rule that developed for freezing shots was that if were in a frozen world, the characters that are frozen stay frozen, but everything else keeps moving. Anything subtle thats out there, like the trees blowing in the wind, we kept that moving. It helped the believability of it and it actually ended up being very important in the film.
Another aspect to shots of frozen characters was the issue of motion blur. In some of the shots, we couldnt help it, because its this really active moment and somebody gets frozen in a pose and the photography is motion blurred, but we know the viewer wants to see the expression on their face, so we tried to keep it as sharp as possible. Its a seemingly simple thing, but actually when we got into it, it was complicated and required a lot of paint work. For shots where characters were digitally made still or frozen, the more the actors could hold their positions on set, it was incredibly helpful for us, because if we only have one frame to freeze them on, then theres a lot more film grain. If theyre frozen for ten frames, we can image-average those frames, remove the grain and then introduce it so they can stay a lot sharper.
Fast Forwarding/Rewinding Effects
For a lot of the fast forwarding effects, they wanted it to have a DVD or video look, so the effect that were using is almost like scan lines interlacing or slicing through. For instance, when Michael hits fast forward and hes moving through different points in his life, he comes to the point where theyre toasting him as hes being promoted at his office, and hes seeing all these little things in life that hes missing as hes focusing on his work.
One fast forwarding shot that was really challenging was a scene where hes rewinding back in his life to see what song was playing when he and his future wife first kissed. The shot is pretty tough, because hes in his living room, and when he rewinds, the shot moves back through time with a lighting transition until hes watching himself and his wife in the bar for the kissing scene, so he appears twice in the shot. Adam was shot in the A side plate in the living room, and then he shows up in B side plate, so the challenge was, where do you shoot him originally? One of the general rules that developed as we started working on fast forwarding and rewinding shots was that Screen Right is the future; Screen Left is the past. Theres also a moving camera, so he was shot in the bar with the lighting in the bar. The lighting changes on him on the B side, for the A side, so he looks like hes lit in the living room for the first half of the bar composite and then during the transition they turn on the red lighting so he looks like he belongs in the bar and its all shot motion control.
In the end, we removed Adam from the A side, except for his hand, and then put the B side Adam into the A side so that when it transitions through the rewind effect, you see that its not affecting him, its just affecting everything else. And when the transition fades out, hes in the bar.
It looks very simple when you see the final shot, but what it took to actually get the shot done, including the planning and the motion control part onstage, was very complicated from a logistical standpoint.
One of the main 3D effects is the display disk on the remote, which was shot practical with a blank screen with a white ring around the face. We added the display digitally because what it needed to say hadnt been quite hashed out during the shoot. We did a 3D matchmove, achieved in Maya, to add the reflections and the actual look of the display disk. That alone had added a lot of 3D shots that werent originally in our scope of work.
Visual Color Effects
Theres a scene where Michael starts playing with the color control on the remote, because he wants to make himself look tan, but then he plays with it to make his face all different bright colors, similar to the Tint and Color controls on a TV set. He turns himself into the hulk and then into Barney the dinosaur. It was relatively easy effect, but we had to make sure that the roto was real tight because of how much we were altering the color.
There were a few environmental effects in the film. One was creating an endless warehouse in which Morty first gives Michael the remote. The second was a 3D city for when Michael arrives at work. The last environment was enhancing a winter scene where Michael comes home. All of the scenes used digital 2D/3D matte painting using Cinema 4D and Maya to achieve the result.
There was quite a bit of greenscreen for the shots where Adam goes back into the past and sees a version of himself. There were a lot of shots that were done with mulitple passes and in scenes where there are two versions of Adam, either greenscreen, motion control or effects had to enter the fray.
Film Grain Consistency
The whole film was shot on the Genesis HD camera, which actually looks just like film. It looks great and its very easy to deal with scanning, and since youre just staying digital, a lot of the pipeline that involves film is eliminated, which is very helpful. The only thing with the camera is that that theyve introduced in digital noise that looks just like film grain, except that the grain size was smaller and not as prominent. This made it easier to achieve our freeze frame effects, where we had to average frames to produce a grainless look and then add animated grain back on top when the frozen frame was repeated.
The invisible effects we did included wire or handler removals for a running gag with dogs that hump a large stuffed duck throughout the movie. In one shot, the dogs paws were tied together so he would be gripping the duck, and there were wires pulling the duck up and down. It gets funnier and funnier throughout the movie because as Adams character goes through his life, there are these new dogs that are always humping the same duck. Its the one constant in his life!
The Value of Past Imageworks Experience
One of the big advantages in working at Imageworks, and Ive been here a little more than five years now, is that theres no shortage of work here. Its somewhat challenging at times, but overall, its been a great experience. After going through all of the other projects that Ive done here at Imageworks, Ive learned what you can and cannot do, what you can and cant repair. Weve built up a repertoire, a bag of tricks, so to speak. Being here and going through this many movies and shots in this amount of time, you gain a lot of experience from the supervision standpoint.
Pete Travers is a visual effects supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks. Since joining Sony Pictures Imageworks, Travers has supervised the visual effects for Zathura, and worked as digital effects supervisor on The Aviator, The Haunted Mansion and The Matrix Reloaded. He was CG supervisor on the Academy Award nominated The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Stuart Little 2 and Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone. Travers joined Imageworks in 1999 to supervise effects animation on Academy Award nominated Hollow Man.
Prior to joining Imageworks, Travers served as CG supervisor on What Dreams May Come, the 1998 Academy Award winner for Achievement in Visual Effects. He also served as CG supervisor on Supernova, Star Trek Voyager: Equinox, How to Survive and Little Vampires.