In orbita con Jupiter Ascending

Duncan Evans si è rivolto a David Sheldon-Hicks di Territory Studio per lavorare sul set dell'epico e fantascientifico Wachowskis.

By Duncan Evans

Quando questi leggendariregisti, i Wachowski, hanno avuto bisogno di screen-graphics e visualizzazioni per le loro astronavi in Jupiter Ascending, il primo approccio è stato lo Studio londinese Territory. Questa scelta è stata la più facile di tutte, perché David Sheldon-Hicks, direttore creativo di Territory, aveva già creato gli stessi effetti per Prometheus di Ridley Scott. Territory è stato fortemente voluto  per creare interfacce utente per gli schermi che caratterizzano parte dei sistemi di navigazione in una serie di scene spaziali. Dal momento che anche alcune forze invisibili come la gravità, i tunnel spaziali e i dispositivi di occultamento dovevano essere illustrati, Hugh Bateup, Production Designer di Jupiter Ascending, ha suggerito che le weather-maps 3D sarebbero potute essere un buon punto di partenza. Inoltre bisognava occuparsi dell'art-concept. Un'intera stanza con ascensori, tute spaziali, ambienti e astronavi. Questa era già stata creata e doveva servire da ispirazione per il look visivo e per l'atmosfera del film, e anche per il carattere tipografico che Territory ha creato per il film.

David insieme al suo team di cinque artisti ha provato ad indagare sul metodo per utilizzare al meglio le linee isometriche, normalmente utilizzate per descrivere fronti atmosferici o per rappresentare campi di energia 3D come forme organiche animate. La maggior parte degli effetti sono stati generati in Cinema 4D con il plugin Thinking Particles dove XPresso viene utilizzato per controllarli. L'idea di base era quella di creare qualcosa in un range di 100-1000 particelle e quindi di utilizzare degli effettuatori per spostarle. In questo modo è stato possibile creare dei campi di forza come le weather-maps, con il morphing, allo scopo di descrivere determinati passaggi della storia. Di solito, questo tipo di animazione crea elementi caotici, ma in questo caso il team ha cercato di amalgamare tali effetti. I veri problemi sono iniziati quando si è tentato di ottenere alcune animazioni a loop. David ha spiegato come è stato risolto il problema, "Il tracciatore MoGraph di Cinema 4D e lo shader di hair hanno rappresentato la chiave per capire le problematiche di looping della grafica turbinante dei tunnel spaziali."

L'altro problema era compensare le irregolarità degli schermi fisici nelle scene delle rampe dei veicoli spaziali. Diversamente dalla maggior parte dei progetti VFX, la maggior parte di questi elementi non sono stati aggiunti in post-produzione, ma sono state proiettate in tempo reale sugli schermi in vetro. Questo processo è stato realizzato in partnership con il partner Compuhire, il team di ingegneri incaricato di realizzare la grafica sul set.

The projectors were either in the floor or from above. This is where Territory's experience with creating the same kind of effects for Prometheus paid off. On the bridge of the spaceship there were five main consoles with glass sheets hung at slight angles. The graphics themselves had to be dense enough to convey information yet have enough dark areas so that the actors could be seen through them. David explained how it all worked out, "When you project onto glass it is specialised acetate with imperfections and it creates tiny refractive beams and bounces light back so you get light spill. Ridley Scott liked the light spill and used it in Prometheus."
On Jupiter Ascending, they wanted the animated graphics to be placed perfectly, running along angled edges, but the screens were tilted so that they weren't 90 degrees to the lens of each projector, essentially warping the projected image on the screen. Through trial and error they figured out a distortion within After Effects to compensate. David clarified the process, "We were inverting the distortion that was physically happening on set and it worked really well. Some of the panels had geometric designs etched onto them as well, so that our kinetic projections mingled with physical glass etchings. It turned out to be a clever merge of 3D set design and animated projections."

The advantage for the actors and directors was that they could physically see the screens, rather than having to imagine everything against a green screen. You also got reflections, light bleed and spill into the environment, making it all appear more real.

Before starting, the Wachowski's had assumed all graphics would be green screen and inserted in post, which is how they have worked before. When they saw the tests, they wanted the projected graphics on everything and that meant making changes and designing by the seat of their pants. David revealed, "The Wachowski's were a delight to work with and got really energised by working with us on-set. Motion designers Nik Hill and Ryan Hays would be perched with laptops, designing, animating and rendering literally as Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum were being shot. Lana and Andy would take a look and then get us to make changes on the fly for the next take. It was a demanding way of working, but a lot of fun and very satisfying to see it come together for the actors and directors."

A lot of this was only possible because Cinema 4D is so designer-friendly. It meant that Territory's team, which largely came from a design background, didn't have to get into the technicalities all the time. C4D tools are accessible so they could create the basic look quickly, get it approved by the director and then have a day or so to put in enough details to make the effects look polished and beautiful. David detailed how C4D made it all work, "The software is perfect for creating broad brushstrokes and then adding fine details. We do an awful lot of UI interface creation and there needs to be good handover processes between it and Adobe products like Illustrator and After Effects. We were swapping between C4D and AE with cameras going back and forth. With this constant overlap of software processes we can generate up to 30 to 40 screens for the next day of shooting. Normally you get into that position when you have spent a couple of weeks creating one or two hero screens. The director approves the look of those and then we roll out 40 screens based on them. It's not fun, but you make quick decisions and find out what your limits are."

In the end, Territory spent four months working on Jupiter Ascending, rendering an estimated 20 minutes of visuals at 2k resolution with its system of three Mac 3.5GHz six-core workstations. David concluded, "C4D is a great tool for getting good results quickly. By using the right blend of tools we managed to keep up with the high pace environment of film production. When the actors turn up you have to be ready to go and, thankfully, C4D is really robust, so you can do it."

Duncan Evans is the author of 'Digital Mayhem: 3D Machines,' recently published by Focal Press.

You can see more of the graphics from Jupiter Ascending here:
www.territorystudio.com

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