Thursday, 8 March 2012

"If The Halls Could Speak, What Stories Would They Tell?"

(Click on the Thumbnails to see Full Size Images)

Our first update involves two renders of sets used in the film REVERSION.  The first one above is the Lobby of Ethercorp's biological research facility in the Congo, and the second image is from the Office set in another part of the facility.  At one point in time, prior to the events of the film proper, Ethercorp may have had a sprawling facility where this ruin now stands.  Insulated from the outside world, and isolated from peering eyes, what stories would the halls tell if only they could speak?  Would they tell of the disaster that befell the place?  Or perhaps there is a more intriguing secret to which the walls are now mute witnesses?


Ok, so what we have here are two sets.  Back when we were close to concluding Pre-Production, the time had come for us to start transposing some of the assets that were designed on paper into CG sets, props, and actors.  In addition, the time had come for us to test in a more concrete way some of the principal Visual Effects that we had talked about in roundtables and to put to the test the type of choreography and visual style that was depicted in storyboards.  This mini-work, called a Milestone Test, was something we borrowed from Jurassic Park and some Pixar film projects.

Basically the principle of it was: "If we can make one minute of footage that looks good enough for what we want to do.  It is not impossible to make the other 10 minutes."  These renders are actually from sets used in that Milestone Test and represent the first sets that were constructed for the film.

From very early on, we knew that with a running time between 7 to 10 minutes we couldn't possibly cover everything that Ethercorp had been prior to the events of the film, but we wanted to hint at something that could be left to the audience imagination and still wouldn't detract from the experience even if no one really noticed it.  

Our Sound Engineer in particular talked about how we could try and tell part of the story with just how the place looked and sounded.  This will include, in the final copy, things like maybe the sound of the air-conditioning left switched on.  But visually we wanted to couple this strategy with some touches here and there.

What is interesting about the physical design of these places (and the other places in the film that are not in this post) is that we actually began the design process with pristine versions of the sets.  Once we were convinced that it was something you could find in a corporate multi-national pharmaceutical operation in the African Congo (or at least what you would find in a "movie pharma operation"), we basically took a sledgehammer to the place to create the abandoned look.

We felt this was the natural way for us to make it seem like everything used to be very nice in this place before whatever it is that occurred had happened.

Another interesting thing I must note is that these set renders represented, at a very robust stage, the maturity of our Color Scheme system.  One of my personal weaknesses as a traditional artist is that I never learned how to paint.  Early on in the project I was aware of this weakness and I had invited Mike Ulrich, who is an excellent painter, to basically cover that weakness by working in the colors for the Concept Art early and in that way we could work the lamps in based on the color.

However, Mike suffered a wrist injury before he could even get started and he retired from the project.  With that, our Color Scheme was left very late. Wes Talbott joined in many weeks later (almost after Pre-Production).  This issue of leaving the Color Scheme very late in Pre-Production was a bitter pill for us, but also a valuable lesson.

This is because our script demanded a complex and changing Color Scheme. Basically, reviewing the script and looking over the pencil-drawn storyboards, we knew that we needed a different color tone for each "Act" of the film.  This is quite different, say for TV ad work, or most game cinematic work where you have one color scheme and you carry it throughout the entire picture.

At the same time, it couldn't look like there was a different movie going on each time we went from one phase to another.  This is where it pays to have color control, strict color control.  And the sooner you have that control the better.

Again, the renders show the results.  You have elements that belong in the same universe by design, but feel different from changes in color tone.

Most importantly, the testing that resulted in these renders revealed to me something a lot of the great directors have always professed to be true: "Directorships are not Dictatorships".  When you share a vision.  When you share an idea.  When you tell a story.  It conjures up images in the artists around you.  On many days it will result in ideas here and there that are superior to your own.  The right thing to do for a director, in my opinion, is to recognize when someone in your team is smarter than you are, or more brilliant on the day, and pass him the ball.  The right thing to do for that bright team member, is to give it up for the team and let it emerge on screen.

There are many many things on these sets, more than I can recall or list out immediately, that are the result of inputs from the Modeler, the VFX Technical Director, or other team members.  There are all these little pieces that really did not come from me directly, but came from what others saw in the story I let them into.  And these are the things that really make REVERSION what it is.  Greater than what I could do alone.

This "Shared Vision Creation" is something that marks every aspect of REVERSION; down to the unique way the title is written.

I didn't imagine I'd be saying this much just from the first update of the film.  But indeed a picture tells a thousand words.

More to come next week...


  1. I really enjoy the overall mood of these, lighting, color and overall environment/style are really great!

    I think the computer lab should perhaps be more in ruins. More broken glass, and more variety/randomization in sizes of broken pieces on the ground. That water thing could probably be tipped over or punctured with maybe some of it spilled onto the floor, and perhaps tipped over computer chairs and the tiipped over monitors maybe even on the floor with the chairs and the desks maybe all smashed up. Everything looks a little too organized still in comparison to the first image. True randomization is hard to pull off because true random doesn't really look good, it's hard to get past because we want to make things look grouped and oraganized. Maybe try to go a little more random with this one

    The first image really works great. The inner left escelator, differences in some of the lights and the wires all over the grounds and fallen pieces, cracks on the windows have very good variety, really nice work!

  2. Hi!

    Thanks for the feedback. The funny thing about REVERSION was that our benchmarks usually jumped between "Reality-Reality" and "Movie-Reality" and "Anime from the 1980's". The last influence is particularly important because back in the 80's, when the productions were more elaborate, Japanese artists had a way of sort of man-handling the colors to get the mood they want, down to controlling where shadows went, etc. This was something that not only looked great on screen and was "camera pan-proof", it was also something that was very utilitarian and really cut-down the problems of "dealing with reality".

    Reality not helping? Throw it out the window!

    It is true we could have disheveled more places, but you're right, in the end we wanted a "movie mess" not a "real mess".

    Thanks again for your feedback.