International visual effects company Pixomondo completed 546 shots on Red Tails, about a third of the film’s 1,524 total VFX shots. A passion project of executive producer George Lucas more than 20 years in the making, the tale of World War II Tuskegee Airmen features explosive VFX work from five of Pixomondo’s 11 global facilities – a network of companies located across the US, UK, Germany, Canada and China.
Awarded the project in late August 2010 by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) who supervised all of the visual effects work on the film, Pixomondo spread the work across their facilities allocating shots based on artists’ strengths and studio resources. Pixomondo VFX supervisors Bjørn Mayer and Boris Schmidt oversaw the project internally.
ILM’s Craig Hammack, the film’s overall visual effects supervisor, noted, “Pixomondo was an integral part of the effects team and were burdened with some of the most complex scenes in the movie. They were great collaborators that were able to go beyond the execution of the shot work and contribute to the creative design of their scenes. This is my third collaboration with Pixomondo and second with Bjørn. He and Boris did a fantastic job of supervising their team through the many challenges that come with complex high-end effects work on a film such as Red Tails.”
“Working on this film was a pleasure from beginning to end. Craig Hammack pushed our teams to deliver their best – always with clear feedback and direction. We are especially proud of our work on the train crash, which is also our most complicated sequence in the film,” said Mayer. “There was a lot of engineering research that went into how the brakes would impact the movement and how the train would jump the tracks. We collaborated closely with Craig on how to set up the camera angles, adding more close ups, and in the end were able to make the crash even bigger that originally envisioned.”
Pixomondo’s Los Angeles facility contributed 328 VFX shots to the film. Mayer and Schmidt developed setups for the remaining shots completed by the studio before sending them to other Pixomondo facilities to maintain a cohesive look. Some of the visuals completed by the LA Pixomondo team were the destroyer sequence, digital construction of the 1944-era Pentagon as well as the development of clouds, airplane shaders, cockpits and rigging of planes. Pixomondo Stuttgart completed 88 shots including many of the aerial bomber sequences and airplane crashes that appear towards the end of the film. Most of the matchmove and rotoscoping work was done at Pixomondo Beijing along with the majority of the cockpit shots – about 80 total. Pixomondo Shanghai contributed 25 shots, mostly of the airfield when the pilots are going to or coming out of planes. The train crash sequence was created by the Pixomondo team in Berlin.
Red Tails, which features scenes with hundreds of CG airplanes, posed serious rendering challenges. Pixomondo was well equipped to tackle those challenges with their global 24/7 workflow enabling the company to tap hundreds of render cores and artist workstations around the world to maximize their rendering bandwidth.
“Working with ILM was great on this project as it was a very back and forth process,” said Schmidt. “Our global company structure enables us to tap different creative strengths at Pixomondo facilities around the world – key on a project of this scale to working cost-effectively and across time zones, allowing us to execute these amazing sequences. ILM upholds very high standards and we really learned a lot from this experience.”
Set during World War II, Red Tails tells the racially charged story of a crew of African American pilots in the Tuskegee training program. Opening Jan. 20, 2012 in the U.S., Red Tails stars Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Nate Parker and David Oyelowo and is the feature film directorial debut of Anthony Hemingway.