Wednesday, August 1, 2007

STORM WARNING (Feature Film)

Storm Warning is the first film from maverick Melbourne-based production company, Resolution Independent.

Directed by Jamie Blanks and produced by Pete! Ford this digital feature was incredibly ambitious in its visual scale when compared to other Australian films of similar budget.

Pete and I have always shared a vision of creating high-production, post focused digital features and Storm Warning was an ideal candidate for a subtle blend of practical knowhow and digital trickery. As the majority of the film takes place at night during a heavy storm, it was decided to build the entire farm set inside and out rather than shoot on location, which is often the norm with Aussie films.

The set build itself was quite an achievement with several multi-story buildings constructed at Docklands Studios and fully dressed in hillbilly chic. While the set looked fantastic in camera, the periphery of the set was later digitally replaced with huge swaying pine trees, distant thunderclouds and incessant CG rain.

The final film contained over 300 VFX shots from full blown CG sequences to subtle tweaking of footage during grading.

Contracted under RI, I worked as the films VFX Supervisor throughout production and later as lead VFX artist responsible for creating a majority of the effects. I was joined by Cameron Smith (Weta) and 'another guy' who created the amazing CG 'Joey' which is featured in the pivotal 'kitchen' scene.

• Convincing digital rain was essential for delivering a believable and consistent environment for the film.

Early testing of different techniques helped us to find a solution that was realistic yet cost effective for the sheer number of shots that required rain. Requirements included 3D tracking and integration with set pieces and cast, depth of field tracking, interactive lighting control, addition of puddles, splashes and shadows and heavy rotoscoping of just about everything in the shot. This extra flexibility enabled us to stylize the rain and make it far more controllable, dynamic and less troublesome than prac rain.

• A boat-to-boat sequence in which a sunny cloudless blue sky is transformed into a brooding overcast prelude to the storm. The sequence featured heavy compositing and 3D tracking to place rendered volumetric clouds in the sky. Air-to-ground pickups were shot during post and a full 3D model of the boat and storm clouds were tracked into the original footage.

• One death scene involves an elaborate mantrap constructed from fishing hooks which snags 'Brett' and hoists him up into the air in agony. The practical stunt rig was removed and replaced with digital mono-filament, far too thin to comfortably support our actor (especially as they are all attached to his face) and interact with his desperate attempts to grab at them.

• Another scene features an attacker falling back into an exposed propeller.

This was achieved with multiple plates taken on-set and combined with blue-screen footage of our actor. With the action viewed through the windshield (a shot already established during the sequence), the plates were composited in 3D to allow greater control of the camera and the co-ordination of the action. As 7KvA lighting guns are firing all the way through the sequence, careful attention was payed to the timing of the flashes in all of the respective practical plates and the integration of the digital rain elements.

The film was completed earlier this year and has been picked up by the Weinstein Company.

Storm Warning is due to hit screens before the end of the 2007.