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Immersed in Movies: Stepping Up the VFX for 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation'

Features
by Bill Desowitz
March 29, 2013 2:55 PM
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Dwayne Johnson in "G.I. Joe Retaliation"

After viewing the bang-bang antics of "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," it made perfect sense that Jon Chu became the director. His dance experience with "Step Up 2: The Streets" and "Step Up 3D" provided the perfect training for the choreographed action he devised for the "G.I. Joe" sequel starring newcomers Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock and Bruce Willis as the original Joe. The stealthy overthrow of Cobra after the Joes have been decimated and disgraced involves a series of escapades that are as remarkable for their balletic brilliance as their explosive firepower.

And "Retaliation" required its own VFX Joes for support from Digital Domain, Industrial Light & Magic and Method Studios (under the overall supervision of James Madigan). But other than the obvious CG explosions and a brief bit of creepy morphing, the result is invisible VFX at its most proficient.

DD (supervised by Thad Beier) handled several key sequences, including an exploding motorcycle by baddie Firefly(Ray Stevenson), a space-based satellite, a tank battle, the reveal of the President (Jonathan Pryce) as an imposter, and a massive explosion that marked DD's biggest simulation ever with 1 billion voxels.

Therefore, DD was tasked with creating vehicles and aircraft that look cool as well as plausible. The work consisted of a fully CG version of the Cobras' complex, high-tech HISS Tank (a counterpart to a practical tank model that had to appear photo-real and indistinguishable from the physical model), along with the satellite and the Cobra commander's dual jet engine-powered helicopter.

As the tanks roll, the treads pick up mud and dirt and kick up dust, all of which had to be created in CG to match the practical tank in every way, down to lighting, color, and texture. The HISS tanks also have Gatling guns, and fired tracers that needed to be visible in the daytime battle. DD (in collaboration with its partner team at Reliance in London) had to work out an approach where they slowed down the bullets enough to make them visible, but not so much so that the physics would appear to be implausible.

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