FINAL DESTINATION 5: Chad Wiebe – VFX Supervisor – Prime Focus

Chad Wiebe began his career working on the impressive opening scene in bullet time of SWORDFISH at Frantic Films. He then worked on THE CORE, X2 or CATWOMAN. It then supervised the VFX for films like TOOTH FAIRY or DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION. In 2007, Frantic Films was acquired by Prime Focus. Chad then oversee the effects of ECLIPSE.

What is your background?
I started out in art school taking graphic design and illustration at a Winnipeg college. Then when a computer animation branch of the program was created, I opted for an additional year specializing in learning 3D modeling and animation. From there I got my start at Frantic Films where we worked on the opening bullet time sequence of SWORDFISH. This led to an opportunity to travel to Los Angeles to work on a few previz projects which eventually led us to Vancouver to work on THE CORE and X2 which were filming there at the time. We saw the potential in Vancouver for a lot of future work, so we ended up setting up a small satellite office for Frantic in Vancouver which is when I permanently relocated there to help run and grow our Vancouver division of Frantic Films. (Note: Frantic Films was acquired by Prime Focus in 2007).

How did Prime Focus got involved on this show?
Prime Focus had previously worked with Steve Quale during AVATAR, and I had also worked with Ariel Shaw as VFX supervisor for DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION; he was also working with our VFX Producer Charlene Eberle at the time. So the relationship was there and the fit seemed right. Prime Focus had also done a substantial amount of stereo work in the past, which made the fit even better since FINAL DESTINATION 5 was to be shot in stereo.

How was the collaboration with director Steven Quale?
It was great. Steve has an immense amount of experience shooting stereo which was a huge asset both during the shoot and also during post production. He was really able to push the stereo in a way that worked with the movie and made the experience for the audience that much better.

Which sequences did you made?
We created the opening premonition sequence of the movie, where the suspension bridge collapses and the main characters meet their demise.

Can you explain to us the impressive recreation of the bridge?
The bridge had actually been lidar scanned, which was a great starting point. It gave us a good representation of the layout and scale of the bridge and its components. From there we had to incorporate 3 different set pieces of sections of the bridge into the model of the full bridge, which was challenging because they were each slightly different from one another, and also slightly different than the bridge itself in terms of scale and the angle of the bridge deck. Once the model was completed, we began the texturing process using massive amounts of reference photos of the bridge and the various sets that were built. Being such a large structure, it was a painstaking task to make sure every detail was considered down to each beam, cable and rivet.

How was the shooting of this sequence? What was the real size of the set?
The shooting for the bridge sequence lasted about 2 months and they actually built 3 different set pieces, which were in 3 different locations. One was an actual paved section of recreated bridge on the side of a mountain outside of Vancouver, which overlooked the ocean. This was the largest of the sets and allowed us to populate the bridge with a number of cars and construction vehicles. Then we shot on an elevated set piece which was used to propel some cars off of as well as shooting our main actors as they dangled off a hand railing which was hanging off the bridge. Then we also used a section of bridge that was on a gimbal which allowed the bridge section to lower and tilt preceding the full collapse.

Did you create some previz for this sequence?
We spent about 8 weeks doing previz for the sequence before the shoot.

Can you tell us in details how you destroy the bridge?
After our initial RnD, we started by creating a complex rig and bridge element management system in 3ds Max, designed by our rigging technical director Eric Legare. It factored in all the different elements that made up the bridge and allowed us to approach it using a combination of keyframe animation and dynamic simulations, while also managing the sheer volume of data included in the bridge model. By using keyframe animation as a starting point, we were able to quickly block out broad stroke animation passes which we would submit for approval on different aspects such as the vertical or horizontal sway of the bridge, the frequency of the cable vibration, or the amount of torsion being applied to the concrete deck.
Once we had a general look approved as a starting point, our lead FX artist Jon Mitchell would take the animation and pipe it into Thinking Particles, which we used for all aspects of the destruction, from the cables vibrating and snapping, to the concrete crumbling and breaking away and the vehicles interacting with other elements on the bridge, including the bridge itself. This was a bit of a balancing act because each aspect of the bridge and its destruction had the potential to be art directed which isn’t always easy when working with simulations. So we would at times cache out certain elements of the bridge that Steve and Ariel seemed happy with, and then try to build additional simulations on top of that.
Once the base destruction was signed off on, we would begin adding the fine detail particles, dust and debris, using a combination of Thinking Particles and Fume FX.?On top of this we also had a talented team of animators, led by Jared Barber, who would take base bridge simulations and begin blocking out all the background character animation…..which in total amounted to about 80 different digi-doubles. While we did receive motion capture of actors running around and reacting to different events, we were only able to use this as a starting point since our bridge has a substantial amount of sway during most of the action shots. So they would have to add the characters staggering as they ran, reacting to different obstacles in the way and then ultimately fall with the bridge in interesting and different ways.

What references did you used when the bridge collapse?
The main reference that we kept coming back to was the Tacoma narrows bridge collapse footage from 1940. It provided great reference that exemplified just how much stress a seemingly solid structure can endure before finally breaking apart. Beyond that we exhaustively researched building demolition videos which provided great reference for how different elements such as concrete and steel react during controlled demolitions.?

How did you create the digi-doubles?
We started with cyberscans which were taken of each actor as well as a variety of extras for background digi-doubles. From there we had our team of modeling, texture and shading artists bring the characters to life. For digital hook ups, we would choose frames that would give us the most detail for re-projecting and re-sculpting the models to match the plate 100%, and from there we would have to rebuild any data that was missing to make the digital characters usable after the hook up point. This would also include posing hair and clothes to match the plate, but then continue to match the motion once we transitioned to hair and cloth simulations.

Did you develop specific softwares or tools like for the water?
We actually used Naiad for the water simulations where the bridge impacted the inlet below. It was the first project we had actually used the software on, and thanks to a talented team of sim artists led by Chris Pember, we were able to turn around massive fluid simulations in a short amount of time. We also had to build a Naiad to 3ds Max pipeline, for which Thinkbox Software’s Frost and Krakatoa were a big help by enabling us to convert the Naiad emp format to Krakatoa’s prt format which we would then use with Frost to generate a surface mesh. We also used Krakatoa to render all of our splash elements, surface foam and mist.

How did you recreate the whole environment?
The environment itself was actually built as a hybrid of Vancouver and a location about an hour outside of Vancouver where part of the sequence was shot. Since during the outdoor shoot the weather and lighting would change by the hour, reference photography was essential for recreating the environment and capturing the feel that Steve was looking for. Environment supervisor Romain Bayle built an elaborate 3D environment in Nuke by extracting different elements from chosen reference photos which would serve as a foundation for all shots. So you could literally point a camera in almost any direction and have a true 3D re-creation of the landscape. Of course this would also be art directed shot by shot, so once we blocked out the initial sequence, Romain would then use additional reference photography that we would shoot frequently to capture interesting cloud and lighting patterns as well as background mountains and landscapes. Being a 5 minute drive from the bridge itself was also a great help, as we were able to make frequent visits to obtain additional reference material.

How did you manage the stereo aspect?
That is always challenging due to the fact that you basically have to double up on most aspects or the work you’re creating, and this ultimately leads to an immense amount of data that has to be managed. Fortunately, since Prime Focus had recently completed TRON LEGACY, we were able to use many of the tools that were created for that show, which gave us a great starting point in dealing with the stereo aspect of the show.

What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
The biggest challenge was using a new fluid software which no one in our facility had used in the past. So there was a lot of learning and trial by fire required. Fortunately, having staff who were familiar with fluids from back when Frantic Films was using Flood, the transition was fairly smooth and the artists adapted really well which made the process much less painful.

Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
Well I’d say one of the trickiest shots was the shot where Sam gets sliced in half. This was originally intended to be mainly practical (and was shot that way), but then it was decided Sam would be full CG for practical reasons. So it definitely became a shot that required a lot of additional time and effort down to the last week of the show, but fortunately we had an amazing team that I knew could pull it off in a short amount of time.

Which division of Prime Focus have worked on this show?
The Vancouver studio.

What do you keep from this experience?
Every stereo show has its own unique differences and challenges. Working with Steve and the stereographers on set was a great learning experience which opened my eyes to many things I had never considered in the past in regards to shooting stereo. There are always rules and boundaries you have to try to adhere to when shooting stereo, but knowing just how far you can push something before you risk breaking it will always be something I continue to explore. Beyond that I feel fortunate to have been able to work with such an amazing team on this project including our CG supervisor Todd Perry and our VFX producer Charlene Eberle who with our team really pulled together to create some amazing work.

How long have you worked on this film?
Including previz it was 8-9 months.

How many shots have you done?
Just over 130 shots.

What was the size of your team?
About 70 artists.

What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
I think trying to narrow it down to 4 would be much too difficult. I have always been and continue to be inspired by the work coming out of the visual effects industry and my peers are the ones who drive my passion for cinema.

A big thanks for your time.

// WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Prime Focus: Dedicated page about FINAL DESTINATION 5 on Prime Focus website

© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2011

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Vincent Frei

Founder & Editor-in-Chief // VES Member // Former comp artist

6 comments

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  1. AlekB 15 October, 2011 at 22:19

    Very cool! I live right near tacoma and it was kind of cool to see the narrows bridge collapse used as reference! I love the interviews man they have helped me think about many a compositing and vfx challenge 🙂

  2. Jun Ags 23 October, 2011 at 15:37

    Spectacular….job well done for the VFX team. I just learned building demolitions using Rayfire in 3Ds max. Now, I know some tools.

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