Luma Pictures Creates Beautiful, Bloody VFX for “Apocalypto”

Luma Pictures helped to recreate the world of Pre-Columbian America?Äîin all its breathtaking beauty and grim violence?Äîin providing visual effects services for Apocalypto, the new, epic feature film from director Mel Gibson and Buena Vista Pictures. The studio produced nearly 70, visual effects shots for the film, including its opening scene, a stunning, 1300 frame sequence showing Mayan hunters pursuing a taper through the jungle. Luma also contributed to many scenes depicting brutal warfare and other violence, among them one of the film most powerful sequences depicting, in explicit detail, a ritual human sacrifice.

For the film opening scene, Luma Pictures created a CG butterfly and composited it into a live action background plate. The camera follows the butterfly as it nimbly threads its way through the dense foliage of the rainforest until it chances upon the scene of the tapir hunt. Luma also digitally retimed the sequence, from the moment of the tapir first appearance, to increase its dramatic impact.

The butterfly sequence was among a package of some 30 visual effects shots that Luma was initially awarded for Apocalypto that also included a digital waterfall, enhancements to animal stand-ins and some of the most difficult wire and rig removal shots in the film. Its success in delivering the initial sequences helped the studio to win a second, more complicated, group of shots.

‘Ted Rae (the film Visual Effects Supervisor) and Kim Jorgensen (the Visual Effects Producer) were very impressed with the realism of our work and the way we were able to accommodate their needs quickly,’ explained Luma Pictures Visual Effects Producer Glenn Morris. ‘They had some additional shots that included CG weapons and gore enhancements, and they felt that we were one of the only vendors with the capability to execute within their time and budget constraints.’

Among the most challenging?‚àö√ë‚àö√Üand memorable?‚àö√ë‚àö√Üof those scenes is one depicting a human sacrifice. In the film, a man is bound, painted blue and taken to the top of a pyramid where his head is chopped off. For this riveting sequence, Luma role was to digitally remove the head of a stuntman (playing the executed prisoner) and replace it with a CG stump complete with blood spurts. ‘Removing the stunt actor head and making it look like he was actually decapitated as his body topples down the temple steps was a real challenge,’ added Compositing Supervisor Justin Johnson. ‘It required an extremely accurate match move and realistic 3D integration but we pulled it off.’

Luma also worked on a series of shots for a sequence in which a group of prisoners is set free, only to have to run for their lives as their captors hurl rocks, arrows and spears at them for entertainment. Most of the shots in the sequence were filmed without any weapons at all, so Luma’s job was to add CG projectiles of varying types for dramatic effect. It also simulated weapons penetrating fleeing prisoners using CG stand-ins, blood and other gore effects. In one of the more gruesome examples, an arrow penetrates the back of a man skull and runs through his mouth. Luma finessed this shot by adding CG elements that included the incoming arrow, blood spurts and teeth that fly toward camera.

Although Luma Pictures is probably best known for the amazing creature effects that it has created for such films as Underworld: Evolution and The Cave, the studio takes great pride in its ability to craft realistic visual effects elements that audiences, swept up in the dramatic action, accept wholeheartedly as real.

‘This film is truly a visual masterpiece and most of our work was intended to intensify the action or facilitate storytelling that would have been difficult to shoot through practical means alone,’ explained Luma Pictures Visual Effects Supervisor Payam Shohadai. ‘But it needed to do so invisibly. If audiences suspect that a fight sequence has been digitally manipulated, it loses some of its impact. We don’st want people walking out of the theater marveling over the visual effects, we want them to be caught up in its incredible story.’

About Luma Pictures
Luma Pictures is a leading provider of visual effects services to Hollywood with a reputation for artistic integrity, technical innovation and efficient production. The company served as lead visual effects provider on Underworld: Evolution, one of the biggest hits of 2006 and widely acclaimed for its incredible creature and environmental effects. Some of the studio other credits include Apocalypto (Buena Vista/Icon), The Cave (ScreenGems/Lakeshore), Revolution’s ‘Zoom’, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Paramount), Crash (Lions Gate) and Ray (Universal Pictures). Current projects include First Snow for Furst Films, Touchstones ‘Primeval’, The Cohen Brothers ‘No Country for Old Men’ and Anthony Hopkins ‘Slipstream’

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