L.A.-based VFX visualization house Proof recently provided extensive previs and postvis services for Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. The film was released by 21st Century Fox Studios on Dec. 19.
“Proof started working on this film while we were still prepping,” said VFX supervisor Erik Nash. “While they weren’t the only previs company on this project, they did create many sequences and they stayed on through the end of postproduction as the sole postvis team. Proof brought a great deal of creativity to the table. So much of the movie depicts creatures that come to life – creatures that could only be presented digitally. They provided the first pass, which amounted to blocking the animation for the characters. In many cases, the animation for the characters didn’t change all that much when those sequences were later handed off to the VFX vendors.”
Eric Benedict served as Proof’s previs supervisor on the film, working on the project for 10 months. Proof was initially retained to produce the previs on one sequence in which actors Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan appear as three inch tall characters who get sucked through a ventilation shaft at the museum. After that, Proof was commissioned to develop several more sequences featuring these small characters, including the explosion of Pompeii, and the end credits/party sequence.
Benedict also created 3D models of the greenscreen stages so that the filmmakers could merge the real life actors against the CG generated scenery. The company helped determine where the cameras should be positioned to film Wilson and Coogan from far away to help make them appear only three inches tall.
Proof also showed the filmmakers where 3D characters and creatures, such as zebras, elephants, hippos, a woolly mammoth and a nine-headed demon snake, should be placed relative to where Ben Stiller and the other live-action cast members would be walking through various environments.
“Proof’s creativity often resulted in ideas that ended up in the final version of the movie,” said Nash. “Some of Proof’s best sequences included the Pompeii sequence, in which their work was invaluable. That sequence basically took two live-action actors against greenscreen and put them in an entirely new world. Also, the Xiangliu sequence, which involves Ben Stiller (Larry Daley) and Dan Stevens (Sir Lancelot,) battling a nine headed serpent that has just come to life, was really a terrific sequence, done in postvis.”
In addition, Proof worked with the filmmakers to develop previsualizations of stunts, taking video footage of stunts and placing them within a CG environment. This allowed the stunt team and the director to see how the practical action would play out in the cinematic world the filmmakers were trying to create.