How did Prime Focus World get involved on this show?
Prime Focus is always working on a number of projects simultaneously through different stages of development pre production through to post production. WHITE HOUSE DOWN was green lit by Sony and with the relationship we have with the supervisors Volker Engel and Marc Weigert, we started looking at a collaboration on the project.
How was the collaboration with director Roland Emmerich?
Mark and Volker have worked with Roland Emmerich so our main contact was through them, it was great having them on the production side because they knew exactly what the director wanted.
What was his approach about the visual effects?
Once you know that Roland is directing the movie you know you are going to be working on epic visual effects for a blockbuster with a lot of explosions. WHITE HOUSE DOWN was based in reality and the approach was always to keep it as realistic as possible.
How was the collaboration with Production VFX Supervisors Volker Engel and Marc Weigert?
Our collaboration started in August 2011. We discussed what would be the best sequence or sequences for Prime Focus World to get involved in, they are both very hands on and always knew exactly what they wanted giving a very clear brief of what and when they expect it.
What have you done on this show?
326 shots, spread across 2 major sequences including digital environments, explosions, digital doubles, fire, bullet hits, CG fly-overs and fighter jets.
Can you describe one of your typical day on-set and then during the post?
All the on set data was collected by Mark and Volkers in house team. We were provided with hundreds of texture references and surveys for all asset builds that we have completed on the show.
How did you approach the limo sequence?
The close up shots of the Limo sequence were easier to handle due to less background to composite whereas the wide shots were very difficult because we had to replace a lot of the background to make it look like he White House garden.
Can you tell us more about its shooting?
The limo sequence was shot in a Montreal park that had a similar look to the White House garden. There was the logistical challenge to get around of how they drive around the White House garden and understand what you see in the background.
How did you create the White House and the environment?
The White House including the White House garden and trees were all provided by Method Studios Vancouver and were plugged into our own system to accommodate differences in pipelines. For the White House surroundings which includes the Treasury and Isaac buildings and the city behind, they were all generated by Prime Focus World and mainly done as 2.5D projections.
There are various explosions during this sequence. Can you explain in details about their creation?
The pool-house explosion was mainly done through Houdini which included destruction, smoke and fire and was rendered through Mantra. It was a full CG shot where we closely worked with Mark and Volker to choreograph the shot. The White House roof explosion was also done in Houdini but debris was rendered in Arnold as was due to the rest of the WH which was also fully rendered in Arnold.
Can you tell us more about the military troops outside the White House?
We approached military troops as digital doubles and crowd agents depending on how close they were to the camera and the animation cycle Roland wanted to see in the shots. Both digital doubles and crowd agents were rendered through Arnold. For the digital doubles, animation was completed by animators but as for crowd agents we were supplied hundreds of different animation cycles done with motion capture by Mark and Volker.
How did you approach the beautiful fly-over shots with the planes?
The fly over shot was one of the bigger challenges on the show, Mark and Volker provided a very detailed pre-vis which helped a lot with understanding the complexity of the shot and also defining the approach. Everything was fully built in 3D and only the city-scape behind the White House was done as a 2.5D projection. The biggest concern was how we were going to render billions of polygons that are generated by the trees and forests in the background that required to be fully 3D and textured due to the camera move in the shot.
How did you recreates this huge and well known environment?
The White House itself is such a recognizable building and with that comes thousands of references you can get hold of but also the rest of Washington City which is featured in a lot of Hi-res photography, we found through various companies specialized in aerial photography. We also got hold of GIS data for Washington which helped to build the layout and the rest of the city.
Can you explain in details about the planes creation?
The planes were built purely on image references and blueprints we found. They were built in Maya and textured in Mari. In order to cover all possible scenarios, we discussed with Mark and Volker the resolutions we needed achieve to allow the director close up shots of the F22s.
How did you handle the lighting and render aspects for the jets?
We heavily relied on plates provided by production to match the lighting which varied from shot to shot due to story. We ended up generating HDRIs from plates and as everything was rendered through Arnold it was pretty straightforward to get good looking results.
What are your secrets to give them a photo-real look?
As for any other photo-real requirements you only rely on real references, textures and plates that will guide you to achieve the photo real look. Certain techniques and tools can always help but ultimately the VFX artist’s eye is the one that is key to photo reality.
Did you have a favourite shot and why?
The fly-over shot was my favourite, probably due to the challenges we faced in order to create such an enormous full CG shot. As much as you have to match reality, there was vast artistic freedom to help the shot look real which involves traffic to crowds to trees, birds, water etc.
How did you split the work amongst the various Prime Focus World offices?
We split the work between all three offices, London, Vancouver and Mumbai, we mainly tried to split the work by sequences but due to the nature of our work we sometimes ended up rendering shots in one place and comping in another.
What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
For such an iconic building its hard to have any artistic freedom and getting as close as possible to reality was the biggest challenge across the whole show.
Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
Several but certainly the big fly over shot was at the top of the list.
What do you keep from this experience?
We definitely learnt a lot of how to deal with massive Cityscape CG shots and how to deal with billions of polygons that need to be rendered.
How long have you worked on this film?
We got involved Aug 2011 and delivered the show at the end of May 2013.
How many shots have you done?
What was the size of your team?
What is your next project?
Prime Focus World is always simultaneously working on a number of shows but the one I am involved in is HERCULES.
A big thanks for your time.
// WHITE HOUSE DOWN – MAKING OF – PRIME FOCUS WORLD
// WANT TO KNOW MORE?
– Prime Focus World: Dedicated page about WHITE HOUSE DOWN on Prime Focus World website.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2013