This is pretty neat. Imagine doing photoshop like this.....or mixing music live on stage.
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Monday, March 9, 2009
he Making of Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan
Hollywood once said that a film based on the graphic novel Watchmen could never be made—in large part because the technology to create Dr. Manhattan, the blue, glowing, matter-manipulating superhero, simply didn't exist. The hotly anticipated film, directed by Zach Snyder, hit theaters yesterday, glowing blue man and all. Here's how filmmakers used Frankenstein and DIY sensibilities to create a photo-real, all CG superhero.
By Erin McCarthy
Published on: March 7, 2009
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When Pete Travers, the visual-effects supervisor at Sony Imageworks, got the call in early summer 2007 to work on the film adaptation of Watchmen, he had never heard of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's groundbreaking graphic novel. "Honestly, I think by the time Watchmen came out, I was done with comic books and had moved on to girls," Travers admits. Travers had to read the graphic novel in a day. "I was blown away—and I realized, as soon as I read it, that we had to do Dr. Manhattan."
In the comic, nuclear physicist Jon Osterman transforms into the all-powerful Dr. Manhattan after he's accidentally "atomized." It happens in a single frame on the page. But on film, creating a blue, glowing muscleman wasn't quite so easy. It was clear to both director Zack Snyder and overall VFX supervisor John "DJ" DesJardin that Manhattan would have to be an entirely computer-generated character. "It wasn't just for the sake of doing it, or because nobody's done this before," DesJardin says. "[Having an all CG Manhattan] solved a lot of problems." Like, for example, the fact that Manhattan shrinks and grows from 6 feet 2 up to 200 feet. Or that he becomes four versions of himself. Or that he is quite possibly the buffest superhero to ever grace print and screen. "When Osterman puts himself back together after being atomized, he's trying to create this perfect human form," DesJardin explains. "It's going to be really hard to cast a good actor who can look like that and perform; it's almost an impossibility."
DesJardin had worked with Travers on The Matrix, so he approached Travers to assist in the creation of Watchmen's only superhero with true super powers. Actor Billy Crudup had already been cast as Osterman; DesJardin urged Snyder to cast a body on which animators could base Manhattan's ultra-ripped physique. Snyder chose fitness model and actor Greg Plitt; the VFX crew took digitized Plitt in 3D and took high-definition video of the model against a grid with muscles relaxed, flexed and tensed. The crew then 3D-digitized Crudup's head and "frankensteined Billy's head onto Greg's body," Travers says. The animators next built muscular and skeletal layers, using Plitt's hi-def video as a reference for how those layers would interact with each other on a real human. "It's much easier to do a physique on a character that's very, very lean and doesn't have a lot of muscle mass," Travers says. "The minute you get into how a pec moves when a shoulder lifts up or the muscles on the back or the abs or the neck, it gets pretty challenging."
As animators were creating Manhattan's CG character, filming was occurring on Watchmen. Typically, motion capture is the basis for the movement of CG characters, but both DesJardin and Travers knew that wouldn't work in this case. Motion capture requires its own large, empty stage surrounded by a camera array; actors must be in heavy suits affixed with balls that a computer uses to track movement. "Watchmen is a live-action movie," Travers says. "Doc has to interplay with everybody else. You could shoot that performance separately on a motion-capture stage [and put it in later], but it would look disjointed."
Filmmakers instead chose to shoot Crudup on set with his co-stars. They tasked Chris Gilman at Global Effects with building a lightweight, flexible motion-capture suit covered in pattern markers—"they looked like little Atari symbols all over his body," Travers says—that would allow animators to track the actor's movements via video rather than traditional infrared motion capture. "The markers gave us the ability to use that data from a video-tracking standpoint, almost like image analysis, that we would look at and determine where he was positioned in the frame," Travers says. Two to four HD "witness" cameras—in addition to the film, or master, camera— captured Crudup's performance. All the cameras were synced so animators could triangulate Crudup's performance in-frame.
Crudup's suit was also equipped with 2500 LEDs to create Manhattan's diffuse blue glow. (Initial tests to ensure the suit's effectiveness occurred in June 2007 with a naked Beowulf, also created by Sony Imageworks, standing in for Manhattan.) The lights stretched from Crudup's head, fitted with a light cap, down to specially built high-tops with blue LEDs in the soles, and even special gloves, leaving only his face and neck uncovered. "He looked," Travers says, "like a character from Tron."
The result was a unique interaction between the light—Manhattan's glow—and the rest of the set. "It gave you all these little things you would have a really hard time thinking of putting into the scene in post," DesJardin says. "Like the way it would reflect in glass or metal. It also cast into areas we never thought it would. It became an interesting aspect that we never anticipated."
But even though going the CGI route solved a lot of problems, Manhattan's contemplative nature—and Snyder's long, close-up shots—meant that the character had to be able to emote believably. It's also an important plot point: Despite Manhattan's supposed detachment from humanity, one character can read the superhuman's weaknesses from the subtle movements of his face—and uses that knowledge against him. To capture Crudup's performance, animators painted his face with hundreds of black markers that allowed them to track his expressions through video, then used that data as a jumping-off point to hand-animate Manhattan's face. "It was all done via split screen," Travers says. "They would have CG Doc on the left and they would painstakingly match, frame by frame, the subtlety of how Billy's lips were moving, his blinking, eye direction, ear movement." Animators even mimicked the pores, wrinkles and flaws in Crudup's skin and added a layer of peach fuzz all over the character's body. "Granted, it's blue and it's glowing, but the more real we make his skin look, the better chance we have of fitting him into the scene," Travers says.
Once Dr. Manhattan was created, filmmakers placed him over Crudup in each scene, only digitally removing the actor when his movements didn't quite match those of his CGI counterpart. "We positioned Doc as close as we could to Billy's performance, but Doc is a differently shaped human being—he's 6 inches taller, his silhouette is different, and so on," Travers says. "Anything like a close-up shot where you don't see his feet, those were relatively easy to position our character. We put his head wherever Billy's head was in the frame. His feet would have been 6 inches into the floor, but it didn't matter because the framing worked." DesJardin and Travers allotted 12 weeks of animation finessing time for each shot; Manhattan appears in approximately 38 minutes of the film.
Of course, Dr. Manhattan wouldn't exist without his atomizing trip to the Intrinsic Field Center where he is initially blown apart. It's an effect he repeats on bad guys throughout the film, and one that DesJardin and Travers put a lot of thought into. Image Works built a computer simulation to create the effect; layers were created for skin, hair, clothing, organs and bones, ensuring that the audience would be able to see each part as it dissolved away. "Doc blows up people similar to a microwave, from the inside out," Travers says. "We had to build each character from the outside all the way to their core, all CG, and then run that simulation of exploding them from the inside out. Lungs pushing up against a rib cage or a heart exploding or skin tearing, that all had to be simulated and react with each other." The whole simulation was subject to real-world physics, though Travers admits they did clean up the explosions for better readability.
All the attention to detail worked; on screen, from atomization to exile, Manhattan seems as real as Silk Spectre and Rorschach—almost like you could reach out and touch him. It's an accomplishment Travers is immeasurably proud of. "Five or 10 years ago, Dr. Manhattan was not possible," he says. "The reviews are starting to come in, and I haven't seen a negative review of Billy's, and therefore Doc's, performance yet. Billy's performance is the source material, but Doc is an all-digital character." Pin It Now!
Posted by 3daddict at 2:49 PM