Dan Mayer began working in visual effects more than 10 years ago. He has participated in series TV such as DEAD LIKE ME or STARGATE: ATLANTIS and also on many movies including NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM, TROPIC THUNDER, SALT or DARK SHADOWS.
What is your background?
In high school I was introduced to the world of vfx and that it was an option as a career. I loved the idea of the mix of creative and technical and enrolled in the Vancouver Film School. After school I was hired doing work in television and the video game industry. After a few years I made the switch to television and feature films. It has been 13 years since I started and I still have a passion for working on films and bringing the impossible to the screen.
How was the collaboration with director John Moore?
Our collaboration was mainly through Everett Burrell (production’s VFX Supervisor). Everett did a great job of translating what John wanted so we could figure out how best to achieve it. John came in already prepared with how he wanted it to look, and like a lot of jobs, there is a certain amount of collaboration as we work through the shots to give the best possible result to tell the story. DIE HARD has a long standing history which we had to take into account when we were helping come up with the look of our shots while we were in production.
What was his approach with the visual effects?
John was very interested in bringing the reality of how things would be shot in the real world into our cg work. This meant we paid attention to things like dirt and water droplets on the lens of the camera, as well as if a shot was technically possible, as if it was going to be filmed in real life. This helped seat the viewer into the film as the cg shots blend seamlessly with the live action around it.
Can you tell us more about your collaboration with Production VFX Supervisor Everett Burrell?
Everett came prepared. Right from day one we had everything we could ask for: reference photography, Lidar, plate photography, etc. It was great working with someone who knows exactly what we were going to need and provided it before we even thought to ask. Once shots were in production we had a great working relationship with Everett and were able to collaborate and bounce ideas off him. He had a clear idea of what the director wanted and what was the best way to get that on screen.
What have you done on this show?
My role on the show was primarily the organization and supervising of the cg team on the film. We had around 10 people involved on the cg team over the course of the show. I also modeled the hind helicopter, and did the majority of animation for the helicopter and the camera work for the shots we were involved in. We had a great senior crew of artists who did a fantastic job, which allowed me to put down spreadsheets and get some work done on the box throughout the course of production. Every production is different, but I like to contribute as an artist when I can.
Can you tell us in details about the creation of the Moscow Hotel?
The director wanted the Moscow University to be used as the look for the hotel we put into the middle of Moscow, so we provided very specific details of the photographs we would need for reference and textures. Production hired a photographer in Moscow to spend some time on location to take photographs of the real thing. Once we received the reference our modeling team went ahead and used photogrammetry techniques to build an accurate model of the building. Pictures from the photography session were used in conjunction with hand painting to texture the building. It was quite detailed as we had to deal with both near and far shots of the helicopter tearing it up.
What references and indications did you receive for the Moscow Hotel?
After learning about the building and doing some checking online, we found a lack of detailed pictures available so as I mentioned, production hired a photographer who was given a very specific spec sheet of the types of photos that would be needed to complete our portion of the build. Normally we would go to the location ourselves, but a combination of time and location meant we had to find another option. In the end we got great photos which made our lives a lot easier.
Can you tell us more about the creation of the CG Helicopter HI-24?
On set they had hired a real mi-24 hind which made for some amazing shots of the real thing. It also meant we would have to be extremely accurate in order to match cuts between the real thing and the cg helicopter. We received Lidar and photographs of the helicopter they had on set and we went to work. Time was spent making sure not only that the model was accurate but also that the type of details found on the helicopter moved and reacted how they should which helped to make the transition as seamless as possible. Textures and shader development had us looking closely at the footage they shot of the real thing. Military aircraft can look very different in different lighting situations and the team did a great job of matching the look of the hind. Eventually a few shots of the real helicopter were replaced by our CG helicopter because we had the ability to adjust for lighting continuity of the entire sequence. We were happy to hear that in some cases the director had to ask whether he was looking at the real chopper or the CG one.
How did you manage the lighting challenge for the Helicopter?
Lighting for the buildings and helicopters were done separately to allow us to make smaller tweaks to the helicopter. Sanghun Kwon was given the responsibility of matching our helicopters lighting to the plate photography and did a great job. I’m really happy with how the helicopter shots turned out. With a few weeks remaining in our schedule we received a change of direction for the lighting to enhance the dramatic tone, rather than being purely realistic. With the tools and artists we had at hand we were able to make these changes quickly, and definitely heightened the impact of the sequence.
In this sequence, John and his son jump out the window. How did you approach this big shot?
This was one of the most challenging shots because of the multiple passes that needed to be merged. 3D tracking created match move cameras for each pass that enabled us to reconcile the differences in each plate and create an overriding camera to drive the shot through the window to a point of view not feasible to shoot on set. This created a greater sense of danger. Looking at the finished shot it appears as though cg contributed to the exterior of the building for this shot, but we also had a lot to do in the interior, including tracer fire to debris.
Can you tell us in detail about the shooting and the creation of this impressive shot?
The shot had a lot of difficulties to overcome. It was shot with a repeatable spider cam, but due to the fact it was running on wires, the takes couldn’t be truly repeatable. In addition we had to seamlessly blend an actor take, with a stunt take as they jumped out a 40 foot window onto airbags. All the while the hind was meant to be shooting through the building and tearing up the hotel as they jumped out onto the scaffolding. Its difficulty meant it was one of the first shots we started working on, but one of the last to deliver. The director kept pushing for a feeling of vertigo to increase the sense of danger as they leave the window. Everyone was thrilled with how it turned out in the end, and that we were able to deliver exactly what they were looking for.
How did you manage so many CG elements for this sequence?
We had a great team of artists that all contributed to the success of these sequences. Our fx team received our model after the camera work was done so they could deal with the dynamic destruction simulation on specific areas of the building/scaffolding. This allowed us to tackle the complexity with efficiency, to help speed up workflow when doing the fx simulations. Once the simulations were done it would go back to lighting to reintegrate into the rest of the building and be rendered.
What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
From a cg standpoint, the biggest challenge was making our cg helicopter and building indistinguishable from the real things. When you are intercutting with real objects it makes our jobs a challenge as any small difference between the two can stand out as wrong. The scale of the building combined with how close the helicopter gets to it meant that we had a lot going on in the destruction scenes. A lot of time was spent to make sure we had interactive destruction going on throughout the sequence.
Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
Fortunately we had a great production crew and a great group of artists on this project. While the work was challenging, the team did a great job of meeting deadlines that had been setup at the start of the show, and proved time and time again that they could deliver. When everything was on target right from the beginning it makes it easier to sleep at night.
What do you keep from this experience?
I grew up on DIE HARD films, so it was great to be able to contribute to the franchise. The project ended up being a great example of how to do things right. Everything from the experience working with the on-set crew, to our production team, right on down to how we instituted milestones and met deadlines. It allowed us to focus on the art and making great pictures. I had a great time working with everyone and can only hope for all projects to go that smoothly.
How long did you work on this film?
Production time on our end was between 5-6 months for all of our shots.
How many shots did you do?
We completed 30 shots for the final cut.
What was the size of your team?
The cg team was comprised of about 10 artists over the course of the show. This doesn’t include production staff and compositors.
What is your next project?
NDA’s prevent me from going into detail on my next show, but I can say that it will be another Bruce Willis project.
A big thanks for your time.
// WANT TO KNOW MORE?
– Method Studios: Dedicated page about A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD on Method Studios website.
// A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD – SHOTS BREAKDOWN – METHOD STUDIOS
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2013