You’ll Never Guess Image Engine’s Secret

In January 2009, Image Engine answered the call from Visual Effects Supervisor Richard Yuricich to discuss a package of shots that covered a broad and interesting mix of film compositing tasks. Image Engine jumped at the opportunity. Be it digital matte painting, driving composites, snow addition or burning down a children’s tree house with a helpless boy on the roof…. Image Engine had the skills and talent to rise to the challenge.

Utilizing The Foundry’s NUKE, Robin Hackl, Image Engine’s Visual Effects Supervisor on the project, was able to lead a small, yet skilled team with aplomb. Image Engine’s main body of work was the tree house fire sequence, where Esther, the orphan in question, sets a tree house alight with her adopted brother still inside. Although using practically shot fire and smoke elements provided by production, as well as pre-existing elements from the Image Engine library, the task of visualizing a blazing tree house was a tricky one, as any remaining hint that the shots were composites would destroy the sense of reality and threat.

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This was where using NUKE really came through, Robin explains: “Our ability to utilize NUKE’s 3D capabilities in our workflow for Orphan was a huge time saver. Instead of spending their time manually tracking elements to the plate as usual, the artists could spend that time making the composites look photo real. The approach of 3D tracking the scene once and modeling a rough approximation of the geometry of the tree house allowed the artists to place the fire elements accurately in 3D space. This allowed us to spend our time on integrating the element rather than on worrying about the 2D track slipping or incorrect perspective.” Visual Effects Artist George Kyparissous then added CG embers on a shot-by-shot basis to help fully integrate the shots.

Another sequence of note was the addition of a computer generated knife blade  created using Autodesk’s Maya, to heighten the danger when Esther is threatening her adopted brother again. This small sequence of 12 shots composited by Alex Llewellyn was lit by George Kyparissous with DNA’s 3Delight. Image Engine also finished  several establishing digital matte paintings that required substantial 3D work, as well as added snow to match continuity.

  • Before-Orphan
    Before Orphan After

All in all, the project lasted just over 4 months, providing Image Engine’s newest Visual Effects Producer, Steve Garrad, with a great taste of what Vancouver has to offer. “After 14 years of working in London’s visual effects market, I was very impressed, not only with the talent and ability of the crew, but also with the excellent facilities here at Image Engine,” Steve said. “I look forward to spreading the word about everything Vancouver has to offer the visual effects world.”

“We are very pleased to have helped Dark Castle bring this chilling tale to the big screen,” added Visual Effects Executive Producer Shawn Walsh, “and we look forward to working with Richard and everyone at Dark Castle again soon.”