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HomeCraftsArt Dept.-Pre-viz and production design

Art Dept.-Pre-viz and production design


Storyboards have gone hi-tech, making three-dimensional previsualization the new buzzword for script preparation prior to shooting.Computerized previz started to come into its own some five years ago but over the last two has grown in sophistication due to rapidly falling costs of computing and the advent of more sophisticated software like Maya and Motion Builder from Alias and Softimage|XSI from Avid.Previz worked wonders on 2004 films like The Aviator, Terminal and The Day After Tomorrow but has evolved further in just one year for upcoming releases like Steven Spielberg’s remake of The War of the Worlds and the next installment of George Lucas’ Star Wars series, The Revenge of the Siths.It has also gotten easier for directors to use without having to become computer geeks. “The most advanced tools are very intuitive and unrestrictive for the director so he can put his ideas out visually so everyone else can understand exactly what he wants to see,” says Curtis Garton, product manager for Motion Builder which Alias now offers along with Maya as a result of its recent acquisition of Kaydara.More than just a 3D animation of two-dimensional drawings, previz is being used to provide directors with a preview of how a scene incorporating special effects will look, to configure complex camera movements prior to the actual shoot and to model detailed equipment setups in advance. Previz also gives vendors a much better of idea of precisely what materials will be required and in what quantities to build sets, so there’s less waste of time as well money.“Previz allows you to pull off ever more complicated shots combined with visual effects,” says Oliver Hotz, head of Origami Technologies, who was in charge of previz on The Aviator, working closely with special effects supervisor Rob Legato.“Now you can previsualize sequences that you could never think about doing on a normal movie schedule, simply because it would take so long to figure out how to accomplish them once everybody arrived on the set,” he says.For The Aviator, Hotz and Legato managed to previz about 25 minutes of the Howard Hughes biopic in advance of shooting. Legato was the linch pin, also working with director Martin Scorsese on the previz. Production designer Dante Ferretti was not as in the previz process, sticking to traditional conceptual duties for the film’s overall art direction.The previsualization allowed Legato to precreate complex sequences like Hughes’ plane crashing into a residential Los Angeles neighborhood which incorporated miniatures, special effects modeling and forced-perspective shots done in-camera.Another advantage: previz can eliminate problems that in the past have been relegated to fixing in post when flexibility is limited. “In postproduction a lot of problems arise that you didn’t have control over,” notes Hotz. “With previz you know better what’s going to happen in postproduction, so you plan for it during the shoot.”Driving acceptance of previsualization technology is the potential for significant savings on a film’s budget. “Use of previz can reduce budget costs as much as 30 percent and that’s what’s leading to adoption by studios,” says Garton of Alias. “With our software, we aim to really streamline and tie together the preproduction from the initial phase of art and concept all the way through the pipeline to the actual shoot.“The beauty of doing the previz in 3D is that this process is non destructive,” continues Garton. “The producer or director may ask for a totally different camera perspective here or a wide-angle shot there, and it can be redone. It’s possible to try out multiple camera shots and camera angles, without destroying what you had before.”Another step is to bring in proxy characters and to place characters so you can start blocking out the timing and motion of shots. “Then one can move into the realm of doing the actual production animation where you bring in motion capture data, key device-driven animation and then sending that off to your rendering package,” he adds.So where is this computerized previz technology eventually heading? “The end goal, the pie in the sky, we’re all aiming for, is that when you get on set, every single person from your DP to your actors should know exactly what should happen,” says Garton. “You’ve prevized it all ahead of time so one take and you’re done.” That day may not be far off.

Written by Jack Egan

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