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HomeCraftsPostproductionPP-Post Supervisor-Gary Brozenich/Kingdom of Heaven

PP-Post Supervisor-Gary Brozenich/Kingdom of Heaven


Many are touting Ridley Scott’s upcoming Kingdom of Heaven as artistically equal to his last historical epic Gladiator. On the heels of such recent underperforming epics Troy and Alexander, the film itself has some hurdles to overcome. It also comes with a built-in expectation of being from Hollywood’s most successful British director.But it delivers, not just in its rich story and thoughtful historical accuracy, but also in the way its era and location—12th century Europe and the Middle East—are depicted. Shot in Spain and Morocco and posted in London, the film is a veritable visual feast containing some of the most seamless visual effects ever to be committed to celluloid.CG supervisor Gary Brozenich, based at the London visual effects facility The Moving Picture Company which completed the lion’s share of the visual effects shots for the film, talks to Below the Line about how it all came together.Below the Line: How big was the visual effects team for Kingdom of Heaven and what was your specific role on the project?Gary Brozenich: We had a team of 80 to 85 people working on the film, a combination of 3D and 2D people, the compositors. On top of that was the production team and data operators. My role was as CG supervisor, which meant everything computer generated and the content of the shot. Our facility was responsible for the battle scene and the crowd scene mainly for the siege of Jerusalem. And we were responsible for the digital environment, so we did the CG cities for all the sequences. It was around 440 shots altogether. It ranks up there with the larger projects we’ve done.BTL: What was the main directive for the film. Was there anything you were particularly trying to achieve, or avoid?Brozenich: From the outset we were told it wasn’t to appear a visual effects film. The visual effects were to be there as part of the story. So we had to make sure it fit neatly and as seamlessly as possible. The story is set in 1187, at the end of the first crusade. What we did was basically a historical recreation of Jerusalem of the time. There was a set built in Morocco with the outer wall of Jerusalem and four courtyards behind that. Then anything beyond that four courtyard area was computer generated. One of the things we are becoming more and more familiar with is environment recreation. It means that instead of going out and shooting miniature, the director has more flexibility. By creating a digital environment it gives them the flexibility to move buildings around, redress shots, compose cities behind what they’re doing. Everything they do, in our mind, it’s like a digital miniature.BTL: What’s special about the visuals in this movie? What were some of your biggest challenges?Brozenich: Getting the armies was a big thing. We’d never done anything except two-legged people, soldiers, and here we had to do horses, men on horseback, men on horseback with computer simulated flags they were carrying. It really escalated. On top of that we had to have them interacting with machinery, trebuchets, different types of CG and live-action catapults. That was a big challenge. There was a formation and a formal idea of choreographing the shots that Wesley [Sewell, post supervisor] had in mind. There are these two kings, one on the inside of the wall, Balian (Orlando Bloom), and one on the outside, and it was like two leaders playing chess, moving and countermoving with a siege, a ground attack, and a night of bombardment. So being able to take those military strategies and make it feel natural was a challenge.BTL: Tell us about some of your processes and the tools that came into play.Brozenich: The very first stage in the process was modeling the character. We had a little man, recreated from photos I’d taken on set. The idea was we’d recreate these soldiers so we could blend from live action man to CG man. Modeling the soldier was done in Photoshop and Maya. Texturing and shading it to make it look perfect was all done through Renderman. But the bulk of our work was achieved through in-house development. We have a render process we’ve created where we can multiply each character up, all in different costumes and with different appearances. The way the movement is done is through motion capture. Prior to Kingdom of Heaven we had to use outside vendors for motion capture, but for this project we bought our own equipment and set up a motion capture studio. It meant we had the freedom to process whatever we needed whenever we needed it. It represented a whole new level of getting movement, fully under out control.Our computer-generated guy is driven through motion capture, and that’s driven by our in-house crowd simulator ALICE, which stands for Artificial Life Crowd Engine. Within ALICE each character has a certain level of intelligence, so they can avoid collisions, have a sense of people next to them and know whether they’re friend or foe. I can dial up how smart I want them to be based on how far they are from the camera or the motion within the shot. This is actually something we’d written for Troy, but we had to rewrite a lot of it for Kingdom of Heaven because of the horses and the men operating the machines. One thing that Alice does is take long motion-capture clips and break them down into shorter ones. It can call up very small parts of various clips from a huge motion library and create new moves; so if a guy walks up to another guy and needs to engage him, he can walk up and decide whether he needs to walk around him or fight him and it’ll call up another clip. We can continually add control and blend it seamlessly. Unlike some other crowd packages out there, we do an awful lot more specific direction. We were glad we had that control—it gave everybody the freedom to choreograph with ease and to do it more gracefully.BTL: Clearly what audiences see is quite different to the reality…Brozenich: The best achievement for us would be for audiences to think there were 50,000 extras there on the day. Though we don’t want them to think about it real hard! In reality there were around 600 to 1,000 extras spread over different units. Typically we’d have anywhere from 100 up on a particular shot. Sometimes we’d completely remove them from the shots and replace them with CG guys or with CG elements. There was a huge amount of effort that went into the composition and construction of shots. Then the 2D guys did a lot to bring reality back to what we’d done; adding explosions, smoke, mixing live action with CG, and the like.BTL: How involved was Ridley Scott in the CG and postproduction process?Brozenich: He was very hands on. He came in in the early stages with paintings and images, and and we were able to jump in right away and start blocking the city with him within a reasonable amount of time. What was brilliant about working with him was he was very clear about what he wanted. He wanted to be there and react as much as he could one-on-one. It was really helpful and it sped up a lot of processes. We did the shots better because we were able to get through the creative process with him directly. It was a huge honor to spend that much time with him. He was great to work with; down to earth and pragmatic about things. He really understood what we were doing.

Written by Sam Molineaux

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