Tuesday, July 12, 2011

ILM Singapore's Visual Magic In "Transformers: Dark Side Of The Moon"

Industrial Light Magic (ILM), a division of Lucasfilm, has already been in Singapore for about 5 years. And lately, they have taken up more high-profile projects in the movie industry.

As a local, Red Dot Diva beamed with pride when she knew that the ILM Singapore team had a significant role in Paramount Studios' animated film, "Rango". (Read the interview with one of the "Rango" ILM team members here!)

Then mid last week, she received a nice surprise invitation to a ILM career talk specially for students on 9 July morning at the Cathay. The talk would be followed by the screening of "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon" in 3D! Of course, she couldn't say no!

Held at the auditorium-styled Theatre 1, the career talk was hosted by Brennan Doyle, ILM Singapore's VFX Supervisor. As the stage spotlight was not switched on at all, Red Dot Diva could only vaguely make Brennan out to be wearing a plaid shirt and establish that he was definitely American from his accent. (Of course being a busybody, she Googled him later!)

Looking around, Red Dot Diva noted that the auditorium was filled with young people, all eager to find out what it takes to be a good VFX production artist.

Brennan kicked off the talk with a brief introduction of ILM and the history of visual effects, then proceeded to list some movies released in 2011 that ILM Singapore had been involved in. They were "Rango", "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" as well as the current hot favourite, "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon".

(Side note: "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon" made history in Red Dot Island by becoming the biggest 5-Day weekend opener of all-time. The movie crossed SGD 1 Million in daily sales for three consecutive days! The Red Dot Islanders sure do like their robots.)

There were some pretty interesting information offered by Brennan during the career talk. Here's a quick rundown:

- the best VFX people are those who are able to command both sides of their brain almost equally well. This was because they are expected to work with technology to create art, just like Renaissance genius, Leonardo da Vinci.
- Having a good grip on the fine arts is very important. The VFX artist should be able to adept at drawing, painting or sculpting.
- It is also crucial to be familiar with various pop-culture references. The team members actually watch tons of movies, consisting of all genres.
- The teams hold daily meetings with the ILM San Francisco office to discuss about the progress or dailies.
- The ILM Singapore team have a thing for toys. When pics of the teams' various workspaces was flashed on screen, Brennan said, "You can see that most of the workspaces have toys. Lots and lots of them. We simply love them." (Red Dot Diva noted an awesome shot of one of the digital effects team's office which was guarded by models of Iron Man and War Machine! Talk about giant toys.)

Part of the scene ILM Singapore was involved in
Then came the best part of the entire talk. Taking the scene from "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon" where Sentinel Prime came sliding down a tall building in Chicago, Brennan walked through the process of how the actual sequence was actually finalized. To see the effects come to life layer by layer was simply magic.

Here are some noteworthy points that was highlighted during this segment:
- As part of the concept art process, the digital team will imagine and create visuals on how the character (or asset, in their terminology) will look like when its damaged. They will also discuss and determine how the character will transform and what its different facial expressions would be like.
- Very often, an actual real life reference is used for the look of a digital character and its character development. In Sentinel Prime's case, they were imagining him as an elder statesmen, and Sean Connery became the reference for Sentinel Prime's look and movements.
- Photographs are taken frequently from the actual film set where the directors and actors are. These photos are important as references too. One of the key things that the VFX team determine from these photos are where the camera is facing and what its angles are.
- Lighting is also added to the asset when the animation is done. And for the Transformers, the team discovered that the robots look much cooler when they are side-lit.
- ILM Singapore contributed about 24 minutes of work in "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon". Two of the scenes showcased during the panel was the one of Sentinel Prime (mentioned above), and another was that of Carly Spencer running under a pile of rubble to confront Megatron.

Naturally, folks were curious about what ILM Singapore's next projects would be. Brennan rattled off a list of movies that include "Red Tails", "Battleship", "Mission Impossible 4" and "The Avengers". At the name of the last movie, the audience clapped excitedly. Trying to sound nonchalant, Brennan said he will be hopping off on his bike to Thailand the next day and when he returns from his holiday, he would have tons to do for "The Avengers".

As for those not adventuring in Thailand that weekend, what a better way to spend a Saturday morning than to watch a summer blockbuster movie in 3D for FREE?

If one is curious as to what Red Dot Diva thought of the top-grossing movie, she would simply divulge that she had wisely left her brain at home and managed to survive the messy ride. - Phew - Oh, and she learnt that she's gotta practise doing a supermodel duck-pout. It certainly adds a certain dimension to .... things.

But Red Dot Diva acknowledges that having seen ILM Singapore's passion and hard work invested in "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon" did enhance her appreciation for the noisy 152-minute 3D music video for robo-heavy metal.


Special thanks to Rasa Buckley from Lucasfilm Singapore for the invitation to the event!

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