OBLIVION: Bjørn Mayer – VFX Supervisor – Pixomondo

Bjørn Mayer began his career in visual effects more than 10 years ago. He worked at Pixomondo on films such as RED BARON, 2012, RED TAILS or HUGO.

What is your background?
I studied graphics design in Stuttgart Germany and Film Design & VFX at the Filmacademy Baden-Wuerttemberg in Ludwigsburg and graduated in 2001.

How did Pixomondo got involved on this show?
Joe heard about our work on RED TAILS creating fast paced dog fight, full cg cloudscapes and other environments and set extensions. So he asked to meet me and talk about OBLIVION and have a look at our work.

How was the collaboration with director Joseph Kosinski?
Very easy and very pleasant. Joe is clearly one of the nicest directors to work with.
He has extensive knowledge about visual effects and respects our work as he understands that we are here to help him tell his story. His visual style is great as he proved already on TRON: LEGACY and tons of commercials.

What was his approach with the visual effects?
We had numerous meetings to talk about sequences and how-to-approaches way before production. He was very interested in understanding how to approach and solve the shot at hand. Sometimes directors say: ‘put a greenscreen up and the guys will figure it out and fix it in post’. Joe is very different: he likes things to be planned and prepared. That is a great asset and saves lots of (expensive) discussion on set and helps getting through tight shooting schedules.

Can you tell us more about your collaboration with Production VFX Supervisor Eric Barba?
Eric and I are both Production Supervisors. We evenly divided the tasks between Pixomondo and Digital Domain according to their strengths and effectivity. Eric and I were sharing the visual effects supervisor position for Universal equally to ensure quality and progress of the work.

What have you done on this show?
I came up with the location of Hawaii and supervised four days of plate-photography on the Haleakala volcano for the background projections of the Sky Tower- and Control Room-set. My team in our Stuttgart facility, lead by Thilo Ewers and I generated about 40 minutes of extreme highres projection footage for the overall 21 full HD projectors on stage.

Together with Zach Alexander (lighting technician) and projectionists of PRG I ensured the quality as well as the completion in time of the projector setup before the main crew started shooting at the stages.

Together with Don Gray (SFX tech) and Nick Markel (The Third Floor) oversaw and designed the gimbal-moves of the Bubbleship cockpit for the entire movie.

I supervised and directed 2nd Unit in Louisiana and New York City to shoot inserts, libraries of additional gimbal moves, background plates as well as a large amount of sfx-plates together with George Billinger (camera operator 2nd unit).

Throughout principal photography in Iceland I supervised and directed aerial unit. He created together with David Paris (pilot) and David Nowell (aerial director of photography) flight plans and schedules to get all aerial plates needed in the correct weather and light condition.

Back in Los Angeles I supervised the 456 visual effects shots of Pixomondo and contributes with concept drawings and ideas to the overall look of the movie. My in detail knowledge of the about ten hours of aerial footage help creating the large establishing shots of destroyed earth at the beginning of the movie. By designing the ice canyon and cave for the aerial battle sequence, I helped Joe Kosinki bringing in even more unique locations into his movie.

How did you create the Sky Tower for the wide shots?
Pixomondo has a lot of experience with seamless set extensions as well as architectural visualization. We started out with plans from art department and a Lidar scan we made on stage. After building the whole building, texturing and shading to a pretty very detailed level, we used it as an asset in several of our shots as it could hold up easily to even pretty close flybys.

What was its real size?
The main level, the control room and the workshop area has been built in full scale on stages in Baton Rouge. The main level on stage was about 20-25 m wide.

How did you manage the various skies background around the Sky Tower?
In Hawaii we shot with a rig consisting out of 3 red epic cameras, each one shooting in 5k resolution. Our Stuttgart team stitched these plates together and generated 40 minutes of 14k x 2k (26 megapixel) full range image sequences. these huge data amounts were cut into 10 times of day / kinds of weather clips that were sliced into 13 Full HD quicktimes that could be projected from the 21 projectors on set.

Overall we delivered 130 four-minutes clips to cover any situation the script asked for in the movie.
These clips were handed over to the company responsible for the lighting and projections on set PRG. And after a lot of testing and dialing in the projectors Claudion Miranda and Joe approved the set up for shooting.

The hero is using a Bubbleship to travel. How did you recreate this vehicle?
Similar as to the Sky Tower, we were lucky that there was a practical mockup on set that we can match to. With plans from art department and Lidar scans and tons of detailed photography in different lighting situations we rebuild the Bubbleship to the tiniest nut and bolt.

How did you manage the challenge of its reflective material?
As we have done a lot of movies with cars driving around, we were prepared to shade it properly and match it one to one to the mock up.
We took for any light situation needed HDRIs to help with the lighting. we build rough geometry of aerial plates to reflect into the Bubbleship as well as rendering the ice canyon together with the Bubbbleship to get proper integration there.

How did you design and animated the deployment of the landing gear?
We made a few animation tests to show to Joe, taking in consideration that it should not look too ‘Transformers-style’. He wanted something more feasible / believable. You can see quite a few times in the movie, but unfortunately never clearly in detail how it really happens.

Can you tell us more about the impressive storm and the lightnings?
Storm and lightning illumination were created mostly in Terragen. it was very helpful to get the boiling and swirling of the clouds to the right menacing amount. We added some closeup volumetrics and simulated rain drops for the immediate foreground. Lightnings themselves are a cg & comp trick.

How did you proceed to create the huge environment around the Bubbleship and its interactions?
After discussing with Joe the benefits of generating a full cg environment in terms of creative freedom and fast paced camera moves. Our r&d team started developed approaches to generate highres glacier ice walls that are holding up extreme close up but still render in a considerable amount of time.

Can you explain to us in details about the fight between the Bubbleship and the drones in a canyon?
We received a previs from The Third Floor to start working with. It included all the plot points and timing of the fight but needed to be fleshed out. we sent prelit and simple shaded versions of our shots to Joe to approve and cut into the edit.

How did you created this huge environment?
The canyon consists of blocks and parts that could be used shot specifically to not have the whole length of the canyon in every 3D file. The canyon parts were rough build in 3Ds max, exported to Houdini, adding there lots of detail with procedural displacement and exported back to 3Ds max for final texturing, shading and rendering

Can you tell us more about the many destructions in this sequence?
We used a combination of Naiad, Thinking Particles, Fume and Krakatoa to simulate and render those destructions. everything gets dialed in in comp and beefed up with some of the sfx plates we shot in Baton Rouge.

How did you work with Digital Domain teams for the assets sharing?
As the structure of Pixomondo is based on sharing assets and resources world wide between the divisions, we are well prepared to pack up a shot or model and send it to DD. As DD and Pixomondo were the only vendors on this show our collaboration was closer than usual and exceeded simple asset sharing. we even worked together on some shots.

There are many devastated environments in this show. Can you tell us more about their creations?
As I knew the aerial footage best from the shooting in Iceland it was easy to choose especially impressive imagery and our concept art department then came up with destroyed landmarks. we showed those to Joe and he picked a handful for us to finish to final shots.

How did you manage so many different locations and buildings?
With a looot of work.

What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
To create a full cg environment for a five minute sequence in the ice canyon was most probably the biggest challenge.

Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
Fortunately I’m blessed with rock solid sleep. But there were clearly some shots that made me tear my hair out.
Prepping the projections on set before principal photography starts, hoping to get the right weather to shoot the last aerial plates in iceland and of course the last shots before final show deadline or trailer deadline.

Which branches of Pixomondo have worked on this show?
Los angeles, Stuttgart, Baton Rouge, Toronto, London and Shanghai.

What do you keep from this experience?
A lot of new friends I made on and off set, fantastic images and memories from Hawaii and Iceland.

How long have you worked on this film?
15 months overall with 6-7 months of shot production.

How many shots have you done?
456.

What was the size of your team?
231 world wide.

What is your next project?
Planning my vacation.

What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
STAR WARS, FANTASTIC VOYAGE, 2001, THE LONGEST DAY

A big thanks for your time.

// WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Pixomondo: Official website of Pixomondo.

// OBLIVION – SKY TOWER – MAKING OF

// OBLIVION – BUBBLESHIP – MAKING OF





© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2013

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Vincent Frei

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

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  1. freelancer 27 April, 2013 at 19:21

    Bjørn forgot to mention one little thing, freelancers which worked on this project are still not paid…..

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