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'The Invasion': Body Snatching With VFX

Jennifer Champagne snatches a peek behind-the-scenes of The Invasion, chatting with the vfx wizards that re-imagined this classic tale with modern visual effects.

Nicole Kidman is on the run from aliens posing as humans in The Invasion. All images © Warner Bros. Pictures. 

For the Warner Bros. feature, The Invasion, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, the story isn't about how to make amazing visual effects within a deadline with proper previs and look dev -- but rather, how to make amazing visual effects out of shots that were never intended to be used for vfx. Digitally replace actors who were never in shots. Enhance fire with CG that looks better than the real thing. Digitally replace practical makeup effects. All of which comes after the main shoot is completed, with a new vfx supervisor, no proper previs, look dev, no real tracking system and a team of eight effects houses working globally.

Enter vfx supervisor Boyd Shermis, who garners more than 20 years experience and whose working collaboration with Warner Bros. spans the greater part of a decade. With credits ranging from Gone in 60 Seconds, Pushing Tin, Swordfish and Poseidon, to name a few. A wunderkind of sorts -- who's well known for taking nothing 911 situations and making them into something pretty nifty, to say the least.

Shermis was initially brought in on The Invasion in December 2006 to on-set supervise the visual effects on the film's additional photography re-shoots. During the course of the photography and editorial process, it became apparent that there were greater issues that needed attention on the film, so Warner Bros. execs Annie Kolbe and James McTeigue asked him to stay on and help work through the shots.

For the sequences Shermis actually supervised, Lidar was extensively used for the environments, cars and helicopters. "I am a huge proponent of using Lidar," explains Shermis. Additionally, facial tracking markers were used for one facial replacement shot of Kidman, tracking markers for the blue and greenscreens in conjunction to gathering lens and camera data whenever possible.

With approximately 235 shots in the queue to deliver, Shermis worked collaboratively Hydraulx (which handled the majority of the work), LolaFX, Scanline VFX, PacTitle, Look Effects, Zoic Studios, MarVista Ventures and Avery Effects.

The tools used to create the effects ranged Maya and mental ray for facial work and shuttle shots. Scanline's in-house proprietary software Flowline was used for fire enhancements and Maya/RenderMan for cell work. Much of the 2D compositing for the film was done on Inferno or Flame as well as Shake. "I personally use Iridas' Frame Cycler and eyeon's Fusion software for all of my testing, temp'ing and down-to-the-pixel image reviews," adds Shermis.

Shermis explains that in terms of tracking several facilities worked on the film, but no centralized asset tracking or management software was employed on the production side. "However, the in-house software that Hydraulx uses, called Mavis, is really very well designed and implemented through out their entire facility," states Shermis, "My only wish is that they'd license that software to other facilities -- or even myself."