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Babel/Gamma/eyeon

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For director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s upcoming feature Babel, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto got to try out Gamma and Density’s Cinematographer’s Color Correction Program, or 3CP, as an on-set color correction and look management tool.“Both myself and the director were consistently happy with the results, and I could relax and watch video dailies without fretting about how the colorist would interpret the images,” said Prieto, shortly after principal photography wrapped.The 3CP package consists of an input device and software, bundled with a laptop with a display calibrated for use on film and HD productions. For film work, it is calibrated to various Kodak and Fuji film stocks and relies on reference stills to convey the cinematographer’s intentions to the colorist.For visual effects, Iñárritu turned to Toronto-based boutique post house Intelligent Creatures.“Overall, we’re more focused on doing more seamless shots, rather than over-the-top visual-effects shots—the kind of stuff that people wouldn’t notice,” said Lon Molnar, visual effects supervisor on Babel and partner in Intelligent Creatures. “It’s more self-fulfilling when people don’t notice it’s a visual effects shot.”Intelligent Creatures was given a tight eight-week deadline to turn around some 34 visual effects shots for the film in order to screen it at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. In addition, Santa Monica-based Lola VFX was called on for digital cosmetics and makeup enhancements.“There was a sequence where they ripped the head off a chicken and obviously they didn’t want to harm the animal, especially with child actors around,” said Molnar. “So we put green tape around the chicken’s neck so we could identify the area that we were going to remove digitally.”Located in Toronto’s Beaches neighborhood, just a few blocks from Alias (now owned by Autodesk) and eyeon, the company relies on the former’s Maya and the latter’s Fusion software for 3D and compositing. Intelligent Creatures was founded four years ago by four partners (Molnar, Raymond Gieringer, Michael Hatton, and Wendy Lanning). They all came from Command Post/Toybox, where they worked on such films as Panic Room, The Cell and Chicago.From the beginning the company standardized on Fusion, because, according to Molnar, “Fusion seemed to be the system that packed more punch.”For Babel the biggest challenge for the company was the final shot in the film, which was supposed to be helicopter shot, zooming out over the city of Tokyo.“Because of logistical reasons they couldn’t get a helicopter in there to do it, and so they called on us to take care of that for them,” said Molnar.“So I went to Tokyo and spent a lot of time on the roof of a 30-story building,” he explained. “We had the camera on a dolly with a Zebra head hanging over the side of the building. The main actors were on a balcony and basically and I got them to shoot the first 30 feet of the shot and then freeze and let it roll. We held there for about a minute simulating what I was going to do with the move.”From the rooftop, Molnar also shot extensive reference material of the city, and found a building further away to shoot reference material for the end of the zoom out.“I just wanted to find some kind of reference end point and then I shot a whole bunch of tiles from that point as well—just still photographs so I could create the city digitally at high resolution.”He explained that the company used 21/2D techniques to create the shot, projecting matte paintings (based on reference stills) onto the 3D CG buildings.“We even went so far as to cut the main actors out of the main plate, and project them back in 3D in order to get a really smooth camera movement, so that we don’t get that bump where the real camera ends and the 3D camera picks up,” said Molnar.

Written by Scott Lehane

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