London-based VFX house, Cinesite, completed a series of stunning and technically challenging visual effects for the new epic disaster movie by Sony/Columbia, Battle: Los Angeles. Cinesite was responsible for many of the film’s standout battle sequences, including shots of smoldering downtown Los Angeles, the invasion of Santa Monica beach and an explosive battle against aliens.
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, Battle: Los Angeles is a sci-fi thriller that follows a Marine sargeant (Aaron Eckhart) and his platoon as they take a stand for mankind against an unknown enemy that’s invading and destroying Los Angeles. Working closely with Liebesman and production VFX supervisor Everett Burrel, Cinesite’s visual effects team was headed up by Ben Shepherd, visual effects supervisor, who spent 10 months working on the film, including six weeks on set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Cinesite’s Emmy award-winning work on the HBO miniseries, Generation Kill was a key factor in Liebesman choosing them for the job. Their expertise in creating detailed military hardware, helicopters, light armored vehicles and elaborate explosions meant that a pipeline was already in place which could be built upon.
To create the scenes of epic devastation, Cinesite applied realistic smoke, dust, fire and water explosions. Physical elements shot on location were composited onto digital matte paintings. Layers of haze, smoke and dust were created in Maya Fluids and Cinesite’s proprietary software, csSmoke. The donut-shaped smoke rings seen at various stages are Cinesite’s trademark in the film and symbolize the aliens landing. Liebesman set Ben’s team the task of creating dramatic but realistic smoke rings after the director was inspired by an explosion on set. The team rose to the challenge by experimenting with proprietary software and creating photorealistic thick black smoke rings which exceeded the director’s vision.
Cinesite also built the Commander Alien which was designed to have human mannerisms so the audience wouldn’t at first identify the figure as an alien. The model was key-frame animated and to make the Commander stand out from the other aliens, he was heavily textured and given a greasy, sweaty look and feel. The alien hovercraft was another element that the team generated. Based on original designs by Paul Gerrard, it features in the film as a gun platform for the aliens to fire from.
Additionally, the team produced the sequence where the Marines leave Camp Pendleton to tackle the invasion of Santa Monica airport. The plate was shot with three helicopters which Cinesite enhanced to a formation of 12 by adding CG ones. The airfield was further populated by tanks, light armored vehicles and armor, as well as atmospherics such as smoke streams and distant smoke rings.
“We really enjoyed working on this feature. It enabled us to use the full breadth of our talents from creature creation through to crafting complex elements. Jonathan was inspired to work with us after seeing our work on Generation Kill and trusted us to deliver something that would go beyond his vision. It’s everything you want from a disaster movie, and then some!” said Antony Hunt, managing director of Cinesite.