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Mike Seymour has decided to prepare a written breakdown of the VFX of Ready Player One created by ILM and Digital Domain. Learn how the team worked on the effects for a film full of geek stuff. You can criticize the picture’s plot and the way everything evolves, but you have to admit that Spielberg has managed to deliver stunning visuals.
Cofer commented, “the development of the avatars was quite an effort. ILM got involved early on, working to help prototype the designs, as they evolved. We always had to keep in mind that these avatars are virtual, but they are being driven by real-world actors.” Guyett agrees, noting, “it was very important to Steven, and to us, that we convey the distinct personalities the cast brought to their characters. And the more we got to know them, and the more we saw their work, it couldn’t help but impact some of the design choices we made.”
Art3mis was a complex character to tackle. The character has overly large eyes which gives the character an almost elfin quality. Parzival was hard to balance between the heroic character, and the underdog. The team decided to try and get complete takes from the actors, without complex word by word editing of their performances. The editorial team did do some performance splicing of the motion capture performance data, mainly to add in good reaction shots, rather than editing on individual words as is sometimes done in animated features.
The design of Aech represented the greatest disparity between a human and her alter ego. “Adam Stockhausen came up with some really fascinating looks,” Cofer says. “Aech is a mechanic so he is part machine with hydraulic parts, which was a creative launching point for that character. If you look closely, his skin resembles the tough hide of a rhinoceros and there’s also some manta ray patterning on his head. Those are the kinds of visual choices Helen made to present herself in a certain way in the OASIS. She’s quite a special character.”
The young cast members who were all novices in the realm of performance capture, agreed that the process was demanding but rewarding.
The film was prevized, mainly in the action sequences. When approaching an acting scene, Spielberg would shoot it virtually, much as he would do in real life. For Ready Player One, the director used a cutting-edge VR headset as a tool to direct in a virtual environment. Wearing a VR headset, he could scout an entirely digital set and plan his shots.
Spielberg would scout the virtual set, and he would let the actors be in the environment. With the Digital Domain Zulu kit software for the sets and virtual world, the director would film the motion capture. The scene would be shot with two cameras on the motion capture stage. “Just like any movie, he would be like ‘OK we are on a steadicam, we are pulling back’, etc. Grady or I would often operate a camera” says Guyett. “But of course, you also need more coverage, and that would be stage 2. He could then go back and film further and add to these shots, replaying his favourite performances and filming it from other angles “
The film would, therefore, be built in layers:
- Pre-viz to get the beats down and any rough ideas for the scene.
- This would inform how they started the motion capture on the soundstage, but the actors were free to explore their acting space.
- Then once after the director had the 2 camera coverage, he could go back and refilm the recorded performances from anywhere to obtain a great wide shot or establishing shot.
This filming of the close-ups or establishing shots would often be done on a separate day in a special director’s V-Cam tent, where, viewing the scene on multiple screens—he could frame his shot and do all of the camera coverage that, on a typical film set, would require several takes.
Spielberg commented after filming that, “every single set in the OASIS is virtual, so they created an avatar for me that let me walk through the space and see the actual set. And once I figured out how I was going to shoot each sequence, I asked the actors to put on the goggles so they could get a feeling of what their environment looked like. Otherwise, you’re acting in a big white room with a bunch of digital cameras looking down at you. It’s confusing for any actor or director to walk onto a bare-naked set and try to imagine what’s there. With the goggles on, we didn’t have to imagine. All we had to do was remember what it looked like when we were back in the motion capture volume.”
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