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PP-Lola VFX nips and tucks

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Forget the pancake and powder. The latest in makeup for movies is a computerized nip and tuck that goes by the name of digital cosmetic enhancement.Until recently, digitized makeup fixes for films have involved tasks like removing moles or slight moustaches from the faces of otherwise beautiful actresses to firming up actor’s sagging behind.But in a big leap forward, Lola—the leading company in the field—has come up with the computerized equivalent of the fountain of youth. It’s on display in the startling first scene of box-office smash X-Men: The Last Stand, where stars Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are de-aged by two decades in what amounts to a total digital makeover. “It doesn’t look like an effect at all,” declared one reviewer, “they’re just younger, the clock somehow rolled back.”The attention-grabbing opener of X-Men 3, an integral part of the film’s plot, has provided Lola—an independent unit of Colin and Greg Strause’s Hydraulx FX house—with a welcome opportunity to talk openly about its activities. Nearly all of Lola’s clients are sensitive about having computer-tweaked beauty “secrets” disclosed, so the firm usually is asked to keep its work hush-hush.Without revealing the film involved, Lola executive producer Thomas Nittmann provides one example of a recent request, which was to make a star’s cleavage less revealing so the movie could qualify for a G-rating. More frequently, the call to Lola is for a starlet’s breasts to be enhanced or an actor grown flabby to get six-pack abs re-applied. Or mundane fixes, like filling the gap in someone’s front teeth.Digital cosmetic enhancement isn’t a bargain. It’s still very expensive for high definition television. But using the technology can also wind up saving a movie studio a tidy sum if, say, an actress’ skin breaks out during a costly shoot. Instead of having to work around the problem for several days, it can be cosmetically fixed later in post.The hardware Lola uses doesn’t come cheap either. Workstations that employ Autodesk Inferno and Flame for compositing can cost well into the six figures. The company also relies on some 30 servers. “It’s one of the biggest render farms around,” notes Mittman. “So when a shot is finished, it can be immediately rendered and we go on to another shot right away. It allows us to do a high volume of shots in a relatively short time frame. A lot of the requests for cosmetic fixes typically come in as a movie is finishing up and about to go into digital intermediate phase, so we need to be able to respond quickly.”The use of computers for cosmetic purposes took hold initially in the world of music videos, where the Strause brothers started. “A lot of divas who want their faces to be flawless in a video insist on having this written into their contracts,” says Guy Botham, director of marketing for Lola. The brothers decided to bring the technique to movies. “Today computer cosmetics holds promise for aging stars to extend their careers without undergoing repeated rounds of plastic surgery, often with undesirable results,” says Botham, “I wouldn’t be surprised if many A-list actors soon start making this a contract condition.”

Written by Jack Egan

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