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Immersed in Movies: Pulling Off a New VFX Twist for 'White House Down'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood June 28, 2013 at 1:01PM

Uncharted Territory, which has become a model of efficiency and innovation during these precarious times for the VFX industry, came up with a new concept for handling Roland Emmerich's "White House Down": management and quality control rather than creating the bulk of the effects in-house.
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White House Down

However, one new tool that proved invaluable to Uncharted was the Ncam system, which enables virtual production through real-time camera tracking. This was used not only by the director and camera operators for the framing of virtual sets but also editorial for onset composites as a starting point for final shots. Weigert even used it for animating objects inside virtual scenes to cue extras and give correct eye lines to actors.

But Engel found Ncam indispensable for assisting with the White House rooftop attack shot on a stage. "Immediately instead of seeing a bluescreen, Roland saw the actual background of a fight on the rooftop. That way he could look at his monitor and decide to crane higher, say, for better composition."

All sorts of lessons were implemented such as making sure the virtual environments looked their best early on so you didn't have to mess with them in post, or shooting slightly overexposed so you didn't need as many bluescreens behind windows (which saved around 400 VFX shots).

Like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, though, Engel and Weigert believe a cataclysm is coming to the industry. "For me, there's something wrong with the general approach," Weigert offers. "Visual effects are treated as a shot by shot bidding basis that doesn't really work anymore. Today visual effects are part of the production infrastructure. It's a strange hybrid that isn't integrated into the production. It really needs to be formally made part of the infrastructure.

"You don't pay the orchestra that plays the score by the length of time they actually contribute to the movie in the end. You don't pay the editing team by the cuts that they make. It needs to change so the whole visual effects crew -- every modeler and texturer and rigger and shader artist -- would be part of the production. The studio needs to hire all of these people like they hire the entire art department, camera crew and lighting. As soon as that changes, there will be a lot more equal opportunity for the people that are working in this industry and also a little bit more responsibility on the part of the filmmakers and the studios to be diligent about their planning and doing it."

In the meantime, Uncharted does what it can to stay ahead of the curve, waiting for the industry to come up with a better business model that will benefit everyone.

This article is related to: White House Down, Roland Emmerich, Immersed In Movies, Features, VFX


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.