Making of Odd Thomas by BUF
Watch Making of Odd Thomas by BUF Studio, VFX Production Notes and Design.
Director: Stephen Sommers, Production: Fusion Films / The Sommers Company, VFX Supervisor: Joe Grossberg, Number of VFX shots: 80 do check out design research and production notes by BUF, Also Watch Making of Videos from BUF below:
VFX Production Notes and Design by Buf
ODD THOMAS is a movie written and directed by Stephen Sommers based on the number 1 New York Times Bestseller by Dean R. Koontz (2003). Stephen Sommers is also known for big blogbusters such as The Mummy (1999), The Mummy Returns (2001), Van Helsing (2004), or G.I. Joe (2009).
Stephen Sommers first experience with BUF was in 2004 for Van Helsing which gave him a glimpse of what BUF could achieve creatively speaking. This time, as Odd Thomas tells the story of a young man who can see the dead and ghostly creatures called Bodachs, Stephen Sommers needed BUF to bring those strange almost invisible creatures to screen, along with other key visual effects in the movie.
A Complex Setup
In the script the Bodachs play a key role in building tension and fear throughout the story. Using Stephen Sommers’ narrative recommendations we created a very complex setup and skeleton for the Bodachs so that they would never have the same amount of arms or legs during a shot, nor a top or bottom, nor a determined number of heads. Stephen S. wanted the Bodachs to be so complex that they would be very hard for the audience to catch, especially at the beginning of the movie. Their animation had to be very elaborate for one not to be able to understand their shape. This was a very exciting part of the process of making the Bodachs because BUF had to come up with animations that had never been seen before. We started with several animation tests based on spiders, cockroaches that were interesting for Stephen S. because he explained that the Bodachs were spirits, chimeras and that they could not be so close to insects. They could not look like grasshoppers and should not be referenced. Therefore we tried to keep away from any of the references we had and added strange and erratic moves and trajectories to the Bodachs. Again Stephen’s goal here was to create fear knowing that people are not afraid of things like spiders only because of their shape but because they are unpredictable.
Then Stephen S. explained Fang had to be more snaky and slow than the others. He had to be as disturbing as the others but more impressive so we played a lot with speed changes for example in the Picomundo Grill sequence when Fang first appears in the movie and goes around customers and tables. Although animation was a key element in making the Bodachs scary, finding the right render for Bodachs was crucial too.
As the Bodachs are deadly spirits from a parallel dimension, Stephen S. wanted them to look a bit like ghosts but in a very new way. Avoiding the smoky effect seen so many times before, we went for a more complex transparency-refractive render. It gave the Bodachs an almost gassy look, always evolving, almost like a mirage that Stephen S. really liked. Adding darkness and visibility to the Bodachs as the movie progresses, we worked step by step with Stephen S. to determine when and how we should see the Bodachs. Big challenge! The line is so thin between visible and invisible. You can’t show too much too soon and if you don’t show enough then it’s not creepy enough. Starting with a refractive render we added transparency textures pulsing all over the surface and inside the Bodachs, revealing only few parts of the Bodachs at the same time never to see their entire shape. These textures could be adjusted depending on Stephen S.’ requests. To achieve this kind of render, VFX BUF Supervisor Fabrice Lagayette’s presence on set was crucial to gather material such as Hdri maps of the sets that would later be used for lighting and reflection purposes on the Bodachs and would also help to composite the Bodachs into the shots. Other information such as set measurements and stills were important to recreate the entire sets in CG for each scene where the Bodachs would appear. Then we could animate the Bodachs in the right space and add contact and projected shadows onto the environment.
During the movie Bodachs are arriving in ever greater numbers going over 1000 Bodachs at the climax of the movie. This was taken into account very soon in BUF’s pipeline because we were going to have to deal with so many Bodachs in scenes like the ones taking place in the Green Moon Mall, in the suburbia when Odd Thomas is driving through Bodachs, or in the Mall at the very end of the movie when walls are completely covered with Bodachs, that we needed a bank of animated Bodachs with plenty of different behaviors, speeds, and shapes to be able to achieve crowd shots within our time range. For all shots and these shots especially we also did rough animated layouts to determine with Stephen S. the amount and speed of the Bodachs in each shot. This was very helpful for us as well as for Stephen S. because he was able to put work in progress versions of the VFX shots in his cut instead of empty plates, and we were able to better evaluate how to approach the animation on all shots we had to work on. Some featured foreground Bodachs had to be animated with detail and that’s where layouts were crucial and made us gain precious time because we knew that we could go into detailed animations once we had locked the amount of Bodachs and their distribution in the frame with Stephen S. Then it was pretty much all about animating those creatures trying to make the best come out of our imagination and creativity.
Hallway Vortex and Frost Effect
BUF has been asked to work on other very interesting and creative effects for the show. They are based on the fact that only Odd Thomas’ character can see Bodachs and about how the latter come into our world through a vortex. This vortex is first established when Bodachs leave the mall where Odd’s girlfriend Stormy works and once Fang has decided they should no longer follow strange character named Bob. The vortex opens into the ground. It is made out of scary dark and purple tendrils spreading fast with a strange bluish light beam in the center of the vortex. But the presence of the vortex in this scene was requested late during post-production because one of the great things about Stephen Sommers is that he would always discuss news ideas with BUF, willing to have VFX Supervisor Fabrice Lagayette’s input and most important, if his ideas were achievable. We would constantly brainstorm and share ideas with him and Joe Grossberg, his vfx supervisor. It was just great how simple and honest it was. Stephen S. wanted to make sure we would bring our French sensitivity to the movie. That’s what we tried to do when designing the vortex first in 2D to show Stephen S. different options. We also worked on 2D designs for what happens just before the vortex opens in Fungus Bob’s house wall. Some huge icy wave distorts the hallway, blowing the curtains and Odd’s face, leaving ice all over the walls and a cold fog with faces of pain shadowing out of it. For that effect we recreated the entire hallway in CG, modeling each and every piece of the hallway that would be distorted as the wave progresses. Then we camera-mapped the plate onto the CG model to get a render and restored all the areas that were not visible from the camera point of view. We added CG fog and modeled human faces with distorted features and face expressions of fear and pain, and used them as clouds of points to generate CG smoke. We then blended those different smoke elements together and constrained the smoke into a cone using gravity and other attractors to suck the fog into a keyhole of a doorknob.
Concrete River Basin Explosion
One of the biggest moments in the movie is the gigantic explosion that occurs in a concrete river basin. Stephen S. wanted it to be spreading really far in the distance to feel its power. Stephen S. shot a live action explosion of the truck that generates it, from several camera angles, and used it in the cut for the very first shots of the explosion. The other bigger shots have a CG explosion and some full CG shots. Stephen S. wanted a different camera move than the one that had been shot to see the explosion go in the distance, and wanted a nice helicopter shot, smooth and realistic. Using the plate as a texture, we modeled the river basin as well as the entire landscape around it. Trees were also isolated and re-projected onto 3D models. For the explosion itself, we locked its scale and timing with Stephen S. creating a rough layout for each CG shot of the explosion. Stephen S. gave us a free hand on adjusting the cut when doing animation. After several adjustments and versions shown to Stephen S. we started working on the render with fluid and smoke simulations rendered with fire and smoke shaders. The biggest challenge was to give scale to that explosion so that it wouldn’t look like a miniature, and therefore have the right speed and amount of detail into it. We added things like CG cars braking as the explosion is about to engulf them and CG dust being lifted by the shock wave created by the explosion, and debris propelled and flying towards camera.
Another great amount of CG work was done on the truck supposed to fall into the river basin and exploding. A real truck was shot with the right camera angle but at a very low speed and stopping right before reaching the edge of the river basin, and therefore not following. We had to do a full CG shot here again. Based on the original camera move we sped the camera 200 percent, modeled, textured and render a CG truck, created a CG driver to replace the stunt man who was driving the real truck, and did many different versions of animations of the truck bumping into CG wood barriers and going into the river basin in a cloud of full CG dust. It was awesome because because Stephen S. gave a lot of freedom on animation as long as it looked real and heavy.
The river basin sequence is one of the sequences for which Stephen S. wanted VFX Supervisor Fabrice Lagayette’s input. The first cut he came up with was very much different from the one in the final cut and had a total different ending for Fang. Stephen S. felt something was no right with the scene and wanted to discuss it with BUF because it was very hard for him to evaluate the efficiency of the scene with only plates of actors pretending to fight against Fang, but no CG creature actually in the shots. Once again Stephen was extremely opened to suggestions and that is what has been so unique about this show. His VFX Supervisor Joe Grossberg, has been a great communication help to the show and very helpful on giving extra material that we needed to achieve our visual effects. Stephen S. did many videos for use where he explained the work or animations we had to do. That was so great to have compared to pages of written comments. All the CG artists were all the more motivated in working hard for the show as they felt Stephen S. was very accessible.
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