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BOT VFX enters the Dark Dimension for Dr. Strange

Leaping beyond the confines of a comic book panel can be a tricky task, especially when trying to establish a believable world that movie theatre audiences have never seen.  The ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe took on this challenge with 2016’s Dr. Strange.  Directed by Scott Derrickson, it’s not a story of just another city-saving reluctant hero in a cape (actually, in this story even the cape was a hero).  Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular hero, the film is nothing short of a hallucinatory head-trip.

Luma Pictures was responsible for some of the most difficult VFX shots in the film.  Not surprisingly, Vince Cirelli of Luma Pictures was one of the nominees for Best Visual Effects in a Motion Picture at this year’s Academy Awards.  Vince and his team at Luma leaned on BOT’s expertise and capacity to assist with some complicated and painstaking work to help Luma’s compositors seamlessly integrate CG elements into the live action plates.

BOTs were tasked with assisting on two of the most mind-bending parts of the film, totalling over 150 shots: the opening sequence starring Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One) and Mads Mikkelsen (Kaecilius), and the climactic battle between Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange) and an uncredited Benedict Cumberbatch playing an other-worldly villain (Dormammu). Over the course of 3 months, a team of over 30 BOTs was led by Srikanth S. on the rotoscopy and paint front and Govardhan A.B. on the matchmove front.

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The most challenging of the BOTs’ tasks was the removal of complicated stunt rigs and wires.  To help create a level of realism in the unreal world of the story, plates were shot with intricate camera moves along with changing lighting conditions.  Using tools like Foundry’s Nuke, the team used a combination of procedural techniques, frame-by-frame manual painting, and a hybrid approach combining the two.  The artists and the Supervisor relied on their experience to judge case by case, shot by shot, which approaches would be most efficient and effective.

BOT VFX Dr Strange2

Multiple deadlines and clashing deliveries were met with meticulous planning, scheduling, and collaborating. The team came through in true superhero spirit.

As 3D Supervisor Govardhan A.B. puts it, “The timeline towards the end was very tight. The minutest of details had to be worked on in an extremely short timespan, but the team’s support was phenomenal.”

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BOT’s goal was to deliver exceptional work on time and budget. After successfully racing to the finish line, BOT VFX Executive Producer Hetal Jain gushed, “Working with Vince and his team at Luma is always an enriching experience for BOT; we’re glad to be associated with a film that’s an Oscar nominee.”

BOTs hits Warp Speed while working Star Trek Beyond

It’s always challenging working on a space epic especially working on the franchise that launched modern fandom! BOT VFX took up the challenge and stepped into the final frontier supporting both Kelvin Optical and Atomic Fiction in creating visual effects for Paramount’s summer blockbuster Star Trek Beyond. Directed by Justin Lin, the film takes the Enterprise crew yet again into uncharted territories, engaging with new aliens, and of course getting mixed up with a new enemy.   In this installment Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban are joined by Idris Elba as the villainous Krall.

BOT was initially engaged to pinch hit for a handful of trailer shots right before Thanksgiving 2015.  BOT VFX EP Hetal Jain says, “Being a lifelong fan, when asked to do some quick work for Beyond, we were stoked!” Those few shots grew exponentially, with the team expanding to 55 artists who worked for 2 months on the project. In total, the BOT’s collaboration on the project consisted of 37,181 frames, 346 shots over 12 sequences. Jain continues, “Bot is always seeking larger scale and more complex shows to work on, with Star Trek Beyond we got both.”

The most complex of the sequences BOTs worked on was the extension of the film’s featured villain Krall’s base on the Blue Planet. The mining quarry shot on location in Vancouver needed to look more remote, more uninhabited and more otherworldly. The tons of roto work by BOT to isolate the characters and set structures, including multitudes of muffins, orbs, petals, cabling and various other set pieces used by Krall’s army to harness the energy from the Blue Planet, helped to limit the CG needed. Instead of having to create a large CG set, only smaller portions of the quarry needed to be replaced, thus helping the on-set vision come to life.

Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

Star Trek Beyond – Before

Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

Star Trek Beyond – After

Additional sequences that BOT was integral in delivering were Krall’s introduction on the Enterprise, and the battle on the Enterprise that ensues. The physical set of the Enterprise, while extensive, had a ton of green screens, camera tracks and railings that needed to be removed. This proved to be especially challenging for BOT’s Paint team since the set was built with lots of reflective surfaces to showcase the new and pristine USS Enterprise design. BOT took care to do this while keeping the plate king.

For Beyond, Roto-Prep Supervisor Sankara Subramanian preferred using a blend of Silhouette and Nuke for managing lot of motion blur perfectly for tight roto. This workflow, especially for the handheld camera movements in the quarry sequences, created a lot of motion blur in non-linear movement. “For my 2D team, overall, the biggest pressure was in handling the large volume of shots with varied environments and nuanced requirements to deliver so quickly. Frequent turnover calls via cineSync and RV helped us to quickly resolve any queries that we’d stumble upon” says Subramanian.

BOT also contributed by supplying camera Matchmove using 3DEqualizer and Autodesk’s Maya. “Star Trek Beyond being an anamorphic show, the primary challenge was solving the plate distortion and lens squeeze,” says A. B. Govardhan, BOT Matchmove Supervisor. “In addition to using standard tools in 3DE, my artists are also quite versed in animating the Maya camera manually.   We had several shots were the decision was made to track the camera by hand. This required a thorough understanding of the practical camera move and how it was accomplished on set.”

The BOT Dev team was integral in our success as they supported us to fully integrate our two pipelines and developed some proprietary tools for Maya as well as 3DEqualizer. A. B. Govardhan says, “It was great being part of the development of tools and working with our partners, modifying our workflow to better integrate with newer pipelines.”