Dreamworks

Jamie Price
Visual Effects Supervisor


The following is a transcript of the presentaion given by Jamie Price on Saturday July 21 at 11:00 am at Comic Con 2001. The presentaion was quite informal, Jamie was introduced and spoke about his involvement with the production and answered any questions from the audience.


Jamie Price giving his presentaion

I'm responsible for planning, design and execution of all visual effects in the film. The film's not done yet so we don't know how many (shots) we've got. Somewhere between 400-500. A typical movie has about 2000 shots so when you see the final film chances are that about 25% of what you will see will have been touched by visual effects at some point.

A lot of people use the terms special effects and visual effect's interchangeably, but they're actually two very different departments on a movie. The special effects group is a group of people responsible for effects that occur while you are actually filming. Things you see during production of the film. Smoke, fire, wind, and mechanical things like that. Visual effects is more concerned with different elements that are gathered during the production of the film and then combined later in post production either separate photographic elements or computer animation. Things that we shoot at a later date to combine to create a finished shot in the film. The Time Machine itself is a really good example of how special effects and visual effects work together. The design of this machine came out of the art department.


Closeups of these renderings can be found here

You can see some of the renderings here, then it was manufactured by the special effects group and the art department actually created a computer model. These renderings on the bottom row where all created from that model which is very detailed. I think it was about 1.6 million polygons for those of you who know about computer animation. I was told that the one third from the left took about 4 days to render on someone's laptop.

The fact that built that detailed computer model really served us very well because this machine itself was machined from the digital files that were created for that model and then in fact we were able in visual effects to take that model and use it to begin our animation and our preliminary designs for the computer version of this and because it was so detailed, number one, it matched exactly the design the art department and director wanted. It also matched the physical machine that special effects department had created which meant that when we overlayed our machine or used different pieces of it we were able to know that we were going to have an exact match.

Question: So somebody must have plotted the chair in, to put in that model, that's the same chair right?
This is a hand carved chair, I'm not sure how accurate this design matches the original, I haven't seen any detailed photos of the original previously. It is a great great piece of work, the artist did a superb job.

Another great thing we had to do on this, is when the time machine starts up, these blades which actually physically rotate as in the mechanical model. They begin to spin so fast, faster than they can actually spin in production so we take them over with the digital effects. We had the special effects department actually take these things off. So all these spinning and whirling discs were all removed. We filmed a lot of this against a green screen then we were able to add our digital blades and sphere of time energy, that's a completely digital effect, on top of this. Again, because we had such a detailed model, we knew that our stuff would match exactly.

We filmed a lot of this as I said in front of a green screen and traditionally when you're doing work in front of a green screen or blue screen there's some rules you need to follow. Like you would say, well we don't want anything that's moving really fast because that's going to create some blurry edges, might be difficult. We don't want anything shiny because that's going to reflect the green into the machine, that might be a problem, you really don;'t want anything transparent because we might see the green screen through it, you're not sure what you're going to do. Normally I'd walk in and someone would show me something like this and say OK what are we going to do now, but in fact, with the control we have on our technology all the things which used to be a detrament to visual effects you can actually use to your advantage. So for instance, we did a lot of neat stuff when, you can see how reflective this machine is, well it's reflecting the environment. It's reflecting us, the walls, all the things that are standing here and if we shoot it in front of a green screen we need to recreate all that so we get a a realistic image at the end of the day that's reflecting what's in the environment that were putting the machine into. Because of the control we have now we are able to isolate reflective forces of this, find the green in that (the reflections) tell the computer that that green is a different green than in the background and what we want to do is take the green of the screen, replace the background back there and take the green that's actually reflected on the machine and replace a reflected element in there. So we can actually compute what the reflections would look like and use that green that spilled on the Machine and use it to increase our effect.

Question: Is there is enough green in the brass reflection that you can tell the difference?
Yes definately. We were initially concerned about shooting against blue because the brass looked a little green and has some yellow in it. It wasn't a big deal. We did a couple tests.

The Time Machine, of course, was a big part of our effects. We did a lot of work were we show time travel, geological time travel, what the time traveler sees when he looks out at the world as it changes and sees his environment changing around him.

If you walk around the booth, you'll see some of the other things we did, sort of a progression of time, starting with his world in 1899 and going around through the various passages of time that you see. You can see in each one we're responsible for a lot of the environments that were created in the periods of the film.

We did a lot of mat paintings, miniatures, blue screen, green screen. We did a lot of CG computer animation, character animation. Also we did a lot of set extensions which enabled film makers to build a smaller set than they might need to show the scope of the particular scene and we would expand that either through paintings or 3-D models which would give them a much broader scope than they could get. So typically we would take a scene shot on stage and make it appear to be a very large environment.


The Eloi cliff dwelling set before being extended by visual effects

We also had some CG creatures, you see some pictures of Morlocks over there. Stan Winston's group built a suit that stunt performers wore for a lot of the film. But there was also some super human motion to these Morlocks. So there's a point you'll see, when you see the film, they'll start doing things that a human couldn't normally do. So we used in post transition CG, do some computer animation, character models. So this film really ran the whole gamut of visual effects. Great thing to be a part of not only because of this classic thing we all got in the back of our heads but from a visual effects standpoint we all grew up with, now we all get a chance to take that and pay some respect to it, even try to do a little better.

Oliver Scholl, who is the production designer, will be here at 1:00 pm and he was a big hand in designing this with the director and did a great job in capturing the period. If you look at some of the artwork and photographs over there, for the the New York 1899, you can see the sort of Victorian elegance they tried to create with the machine and set pieces for the lab. That's one of my favorite portions of the film. It's really rich and a lot of detail. A lot of nice production value.


Orlando Jones, Guy Pearce and Simon Wells

Question: Was Orlando Jones, filmed entirely green screen?
He actually, that's a very good question. Did you see some of the shots? We shot him, he's a character that lives in a pane of glass so we had to think about a number of ways to do that. We could have shot him green screen, then put CG piece of glass on top of him. We could have put the practical glass in, then try to put him in between the background and the glass. At the end of the day, we just decided to put him in there and shoot it.

Some of the controls that we have are so good right now that you have a lot of... really older things that would have required a lot of hand work, can now be done fairly easily on the computer. Rotoscopeing is one of them. That's where we isolate the shape, trace the outline of something to create a mat so we can treat it separately from the background, so in the case of Orlando, what we decided to do was just go for it. Rotoscope him, so we filmed him in the location, then separated the perimeter of his body from the rest of the background so we could make him into an effect without effecting the rest of the background. So it was very convenient for him. A lot of the time it is very difficult for the actors to perform in an environment where they can't really see their surroundings or what they are interacting with. I have to go in there and sort of explain to them, this is where you're supposed to be looking. The Director gives them a lot of motivation to do that but in this case, much easier particularly in scenes where Guy Pearce and Orlando are interacting. Much better for the two of them to do it all at once and in a lot of ways much better for us. We don't have to shoot a background and go shoot a green screen and match the camera angles. So a situation like that, when we had these tools we could sort of brut force it so we decided to do that. So when you see the film, we're hoping a lot of people will think the green screen work was really good even though didn't actually do any! A lot of tricks, a lot of cheats and usually the simplest ways are the best.

Question: How is the script?
The script is good. In my opinion it's deceivingly complex. It's a movie with three distinct time periods, three different worlds. You've got this this character that is traveling and reacting to all of it. Very complicated thing for an actor. He did a great job. I think it's terrific.

Question: Is H.G. Wells utopian thinking of the 19th century versus the dystopian reality, is that all in there?
Well some people say Well's book really is social commentary, right, about proletariats and I think there's still some of these overtones in this version of the film and I think there also is a lot of things about the 1960's version that as you look at it now, they seem a little dated. I think that the themes of the story are really universal. I think they are really captured really well.

Comment: The look is nice.
The look is fantastic and a lot of interesting things about the cultures and societies in the future that they comment on. It's fun to work on something that's related to part of your roots.
Thanks guys!

 

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