Award-winning New Deal Studios (NDS) wields creative ideas to produce amazing visual effects for two highly anticipated summer blockbusters, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and Terminator Salvation.
“We live in a democratized visual effects world. How do you differentiate yourself in today’s age of globalization, commoditization, ubiquity of effects tools and ‘free on the internet’ mentality?” asks Shannon Blake Gans, managing partner at New Deal. “We are combating all these downward pressures by getting back to the basics and telling a compelling story fueled by passion for our art.”
20th Century Fox tapped New Deal VFX Supervisor Ian Hunter’s sense of cinematic storytelling, comedic timing and ability to maximize the visual effects tools available to develop the vision of the film’s exciting escape flight. The sequence puts the audience in the plane with actors Ben Stiller and Amy Adams (Amelia Earhart) as they maneuver through the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum. Through previsualization (previz), Hunter worked with Director, Shawn Levy, and Visual Effect Supervisor, Dan Deleeuw, to compose and choreograph the scene by combining live action with miniature and digital effects elements.
Once it was confirmed to be more cost effective and realistic to build and photograph a miniature, rather than create a completely computer generated environment, New Deal moved to the next steps of miniature fabrication, photography and digital effects. A crew of more than 50 artists worked tirelessly over six weeks to recreate a miniature of the Air & Space Museum based on the real blueprints. The 80ft. x 10ft. x 10ft. miniature filled the entire New Deal stage and included over 50 miniature airplanes and spaceships from various eras, along with the smallest museum details like hanging banners, lit display signs and mini model cases. Final digital work was completed by Rhythm & Hues.
The challenge was to blend the already photographed, first-unit, live action opening and closing sequences with the museum miniature. To accomplish this, the NDS Digital Art Department designed, engineered and constructed a 3D model of the miniature while the Digital Effects Division began the flight choreography of the Wright Flyer in the software program Maya. Hunter directed each department to move in tandem to work out construction and photography issues in a digital arena before applying solutions to a real world application.
Hunter explains, “Much of the groundwork for the photography of the ten-day shoot was accomplished with our digital previz team. They designed the flight path of the Wright Flyer to maneuver through the maze of hanging airplanes and spacecraft so that when it came to programming the computer-driven cameras for the photography, we were able to match the previz perfectly in timing and movement.”
New Deal Digital Supervisor Robert Chapin led the previz team in creating the scene’s flight path by gliding a virtual lens through the 3D model. The previz was vital in determining the plane’s altitude changes throughout the flight so that during shoot pre-production, Hunter could establish which parts of the miniature would require removable ceilings and walls to allow the camera to pass through. Chapin also exported camera movement and key set data to aid the photography crew in lining up the live action with the miniature shots as accurately as possible. Four New Deal departments collaborated seamlessly to bring this incredible flight through history to the big screen.
Next up for Hunter came Terminator Salvation. With just a few months until the film’s release, VFX Supervisor, Charlie Gibson, asked New Deal to help dynamically enhance many of the visual effects shots for John Connor’s fight against the army of Terminators with practical effects elements.
Hunter and special effects supervisors, Richard Helmer and Scott Beverly, designed a variety of explosive effects elements such as Terminator grenade hits, car explosions and a dramatic underwater submarine explosion that would be used to blend with the first-unit plates and digital effects.
To bring realism to the Terminator destruction, a prosthetic T-800 torso was rigged on a cable ratchet for mobility. The special effects team created everything from bullet hits to flying flesh debris to a fully engulfed flaming torso. Moving from fire to water, a specially constructed 30ft. x 32ft. water tank made room for the next set of explosions — only this time, under water. Shooting through portal windows to capture both the surface missile impact and the underwater submarine explosion, Hunter hired Photosonic’s high-speed camera crew to capture the brilliant explosions in two takes.
New Deal is one of the a few studios in the world with access to all the visual effects tools in one company where all departments work in concert toward achieving a stunning final image on the screen. They used these tools on Terminator Salvation and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian by mixing great cinematic design and the latest technology matched with solid production management. This is why New Deal is able to grow in an ever contracting visual effects market.
About New Deal Studios:
New Deal Studios was founded in 1995 by Matthew Gratzner, Ian Hunter and Shannon Blake Gans. This artist owned and operated, independent company is housed in two buildings in Marina del Rey, California. NDS has developed over the years into a full-service production and visual effects studio unlike any in the world. NDS contributes to each project by using a diverse palette of artistic tools that range from the art department, workshop, production, to the digital department and DI suite. Creativity and solid management practices are the foundation upon which NDS has grown over the years and why all major studios continue to entrust NDS with high-profile projects such as Batman: The Dark Knight and upcoming films Whiteout, 2012, Alice in Wonderland, and Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island.