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3dsMax in Motion Pictures
Johnny Mnemonic

Cyberspace Sequences by Sony Pictures Imageworks' Previsualization and Multimedia Department using 3D Studio R4

"At SPI, as at most other high-end visual effects houses, much of the computer graphics work for feature films is created on powerful Silicon Graphics workstations. Time and budget constraints for the production of the Cyberspace Sequences in Johnny Mnemonic, however, precluded the use of a high-end solution for the execution. Nelson and Merkert had to create a lower cost answer to give Gibson and Longo their cyberspace."

Copyright 1995, Sony Pictures Entertainment.

"The production team turned to Frank Foster and Sony Pictures Imageworks' Previsualization and Multimedia Department. Foster has long been an advocate of PC-based feature film production. His department pioneered the use of computers in the electronic storyboarding of feature films. ``We have always had a great PC department,'' said Nelson. ``And this was the perfect project for them. We were able to provide our client with twice the shots for the same cost, and we knew the look Longo was after could be achieved with this approach." "As a full service production company, we had a wide range of options for solving the cyberspace problem. Though they are not the appropriate platform for all computer graphic productions, PCs were the best solution for this particular production problem." Foster assigned 10 of his best animators to create a series of tests on the PCs. The resulting 45 minute video tape was sent to the vacationing Nelson in Hawaii. ``It was immediately clear that Frank's group was totally inspired to do their best work,'' recalled Nelson. ``The very day I got back, we started a schedule of daily meetings and screenings with videotapes sent to Longo and Gibson.'' George Merkert concentrated on production concerns. He questioned Foster and Nelson about their chosen production pipeline. Could the PC handle the resolution? What about the color and lighting? Would it be up to feature film quality?

Merkert's biggest concern was the VR data glove animation since it needed to perfectly match the movements in the live action Keanu Reeves shots with which the computer graphics created shots were to be intercut. "John used the idea of the data gloves brilliantly," said Merkert. "Since our visualization of it is pretty abstract, we needed to give the audience a way to access cyberspace along with the Johnny Mnemonic character. Nelson hit upon the idea of using the data gloves as a continuity device to carry the audience over the live action footage into the computer generated world. Therefore, believable animation of the data gloves was extraordinarily important" Foster asked for one week to do an animation test of the data gloves. If Merkert wasn't convinced of the technical approach, they would revert to more traditional animation techniques. The responsibility for this test was given to veteran effects animator Glenn Campbell. After seeing his test, Merkert became a believer. ``I was very impressed with Glenn's talent. It's hard to believe that he animated the gloves without using inverse kinematics or motion capture--he keyframed entirely by hand,'' said Merkert. To translate Jamie Rama's concept paintings into fully colored and lit 3D computer graphics, SPI turned to world-renowned digital artist Brummbaer. Brummbaer, a long-time collaborator of Gibson protege Timothy Leary, textured detail to the building designs. "Brummbaer gave the show that detailed, edgy look we were looking for," said Nelson. "We all tapped into this vision of cyberspace as a gritty but ornate, future urban environment. Once the rules of that space were defined, cyberspace began to mesh visually and conceptually." Matt Hausle and David Worman, experienced SPI animators, led the production charge supervising animators and doing shots themselves. A day before screening the first Cyberspace Sequence shots for the film's producer, Peter Hoffman, Merkert received a concerned phone call. Hoffman wanted to know why the crucial cyberspace shots were being created on PCs and not on more powerful machines. Was it possible that SPI had misjudged the PC as a production platform? The next day, SPI screened the footage for Hoffman. As he walked out of the screening room he said, ``Whatever John Nelson is doing, he is doing it right. I couldn't be happier with the way it looks.' "

Article from

Copyright 1995, Sony Pictures Entertainment.


Copyright 1995 Universal Pictures

"Las Vegas has changed significantly since the 1970's when the film took place, so Matte World Digital was called upon to recreate many of the classic landmarks that had sadly been torn down over the years. To create the scene, MWD worked closely with Lightscape Technologies to adapt their radiosity renderer for use in film. The radiosity algorithms are superior to conventional ray-tracing as they can accurately calculate the realistic bounce light in a scene. This was the first time radiosity was used to create CG elements for a film, an important ingredient in creating the realism of the Las Vegas strip at night."

Source: Matte World Digital

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