Allan Magled began his career in the VFX in 1995 working at CORE Digital Pictures. In 2002, he founded Soho VFX with Berj Bannayan and Mike Mombourquette and worked on many projects including THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, THE A-TEAM or RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.
What is your background?
My background is a 3D artist. I started in the industry in 1995.
How did Soho VFX get involved on this show?
We had worked with some of the vfx production staff in the past and have a great relationship with Fox having done many projects with them over the years.
How was the collaboration with director Ben Stiller?
It went very well, he was very clear with what he wanted so it made easy to achieve what he was looking for.
What was his approach about the visual effects?
He basically said that he wanted all the effects to be photo real and feel believable with in each shot.
How was the collaboration with Production VFX Supervisor Guillaume Rocheron?
That’s easy, Guillaume is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever worked with. He was great at taking the shots were they needed to go. He gave great direction.
What have you done on this show?
We were responsible for the Volcano sequence and the Shark sequence. Additionally we had done a CG airplane flying into Greenland and parked at the Nuuk airport along with many other stand alone shots in the film.
Can you describe one of your typical day on-set and then on post?
We really weren’t on-set. As for post it was a daily routine of reviewing shots and having cineSync sessions with production, getting notes, applying the note and delivering the shots.
How did you approach the beautiful Airline Flight sequence?
We started with some practical photography covering the start and the end of the shot. We then needed to project that onto geometry so we could control framing and timing. In between we added CG water, icebergs and clouds. The airplane was a fully digital build complete with cabin and cockpit lights to really sell the day to night to day transition. It was a painstaking process over about three months but I think the results are well worth it.
Can you explain in details about its creation?
This is one of those shots that, at first glance, seems like it would be relatively straightforward but there is a lot of hidden complexity in there. The take-off section started with some practical aerial photography which we needed to project in sections onto runway geometry so that we could add the text as well as control the timing of the take-off. A big challenge with the in-flight section was to really give a sense of altitude and speed and size to the plane. The digital water in this section needed to blend seamlessly with both the practical runway plate water as well as the plate at the end. The little things are all in there too. All of the plane’s control surfaces (elevators, flaps, etc) are working as they should (both during take-off and landing). We even see the lights in the cabin and from the cockpit instruments during the nighttime section. We tried to keep the sunset/sunrise as realistic as possible by using real HDRI images of the sun and sky at the right times of day. The plate photography for the landing actually had the sun coming from the wrong direction for our story so we had to remove all of the shadows, project onto new geometry and re-render the shadows to match the sunrise.
How did you enhanced the Iceland airport?
We only added the CG airplane behind the building and a Nuuk sign to the building along with some weathering and a sky replacement.
Can you explain in details about your work on the shark sequence?
This sequence was a big timing and animation challenge. The shark needed to work properly with Ben’s performance and so even when the shark was only a fin in the water we went back and forth many times to get the timing perfect. We went through massive amounts of reference photography of sharks swimming and breaching so we could make sure that everything was believable. The model itself was incredibly detailed (down to the teeth and insides of the mouth) since we ultimately needed to get very, very close. We also needed to make sure that the fin could plausibly look like a porpoise fin when that was important for the story. Size and shape and getting just the right amount of reflection from the wetness as the shark breached.
How did you handle the challenge of the shark animation?
We tried to get a shark to wear a motion capture suit but too many animators were getting eaten so we decided to animate by hand using a great deal of reference photography.
Can you tell us more about the water simulation?
We used a hybrid system of Real Flow for the water sims, Maya nParticles and some custom meshing, motion blur and rendering tools. We created a water surface for every shot that mimicked the real ocean surface that was in the live action plates and used that to run our cg shark through as a collision surface for the water simulations. This allowed us to create all the wakes and splashes and integrate them into surface of the practical water.
Can you explain in details about the volcanic explosion?
The volcano sequence is an enormous undertaking in terms of dynamics simulations. We started from practical photography and then re-created each environment with stand-in as well as renderable geometry to interact with the volcanic cloud. At the beginning the eruption is in the distance and only interacts with the sides of the volcano. Once the cloud is chasing the car the interaction becomes far more complicated. The first problem is that the cloud starts very far away at the start of the shot but by the end it needs to almost engulf the camera. This required a gigantic simulation to get all of the detail needed. Additionally the cloud overtakes buildings and trees. We ended up re-creating these all in CG so that the trees would bend and move under the force of the cloud and the cloud itself would interact and flow around these obstacles.
How did you manage so many particles and FX?
In the end it became a data management and processing exercise. Fortunately we have quite a lot of both. One shot alone had over 10 terabytes of fluid and particle caches to manage. Our sysadmin yelled at us but we got the job done.
Can you tell us more about the CG biplane?
We lidared and photographed a crop-duster that Ben really liked and used that as a base to model and texture the biplane for the movie.
How did you create the CG Sean Penn?
We received a cyberscan and photographs from production. These were used to model and texture the digi-double. Because he was standing in the wind on top of the plane, we also created his clothes for a full cloth simulation.
What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
Ultimately the volcano was the biggest challenge because of the size and detail of the simulations.
Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
Every movie prevents me from sleeping until it’s delivered. Actually I don’t sleep until it’s released in theaters. But for whatever it’s worth this movie kept me up the least.
What do you keep from this experience?
That after all these years I still love doing visual effects.
How long have you worked on this film?
We spent almost a year on this project.
How many shots have you done?
Roughly 100 shots.
What was the size of your team?
In total we had a crew of 40 artists working on this project.
What is your next project?
We just wrapped on ROBOCOP and POMPEII and are currently working on DIVERGENT and POLTERGEIST.
What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
STAR WARS, JURASSIC PARK, GLADIATOR and SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION.
A big thanks for your time.
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© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2014