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JoeLetteri37 karma

JURASSIC PARK was really the first time we created a character using digital techniques & computer graphics, so it was pretty new to us. Hopefully we got it right and it still holds up! Today, we do a lot more detailed character work, especially with dialogue & facial expressions & performance capture, and there is a lot more realism that we know how to bring to these characters. The computers back then had less power than your iPhone does, and the computers now have a lot more but the images are so complicated that it takes weeks to render each frame of film you see rendered onscreen.

In JURASSIC PARK, we used keyframe animation, there was no motion capture. And we really didn't have that many shots of digital dinosaurs in the film, there were only about 65. On DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, we had hundreds of apes in many of the shots, and 1200 shots in the film.

I got to keep a little plastic T-rex? And some t-shirts. That's about it.

JoeLetteri22 karma


Caesar holding a gun in the air?

So there's 2 streams that need to happen. One is we have to design & build our Caesar model in the computer, so we have to get all the facial expressions working, we have to get all the skin & muscles working, we have to get all the fur working, we also have to understand all the material properties of everything - fur, eyes, teeth, fingernails, skin - and we have to understand how to apply lighting in a physically correct way, so we can use a computer to essentially digitally photograph him.

So that's the preliminary work.

Then, onstage, we have an actor (in this case, it would be Andy Serkis) in a performance capture suit, and he would be working with our director Matt Reeves, and they would be filming the scene, with our Director of Photography Michael Seresin, and they would be filming the scene as if everything in it were real. So Matt would be directing Andy, Andy would be holding a prop gun, and Michael would be photographing him and lighting him as if everything were real. Then we record all of Andy's motion, and we also record all the physical attributes of the set - we scan the set he's recording on, we rebuild it, we record all of MIchael's lighting, and we re-create all of it in the computer.

Then we apply the animation, and we re-light the scene, and we re-photograph it digitally, and we render it out on the computer, and then we take our computer elements, and we composite them in with the live action photography, paint out anything that shouldn't be there (like Andy in his performance capture suit), and once you put everything together, you have the final film image.

It's a long process, because a lot of the building of the characters - that preliminary process - takes months before you even start to film anything. Once you have things filmed, though, it's generally 3-5 months for every shot.

JoeLetteri22 karma

There's 2 that really stand out, pre-CGI - they would have to be 2001 and STAR WARS. Because 2001 was just visually stunning, with its portrayal of space and how you could use FX to take you INTO space, and STAR WARS just applied that with a whole idea of an action movie sequence that just really opened up a whole world of storytelling.

JoeLetteri22 karma

There's still a need to understand how to use FX to tell stories, and there's always work that has to be done to figure out new FX and new things that haven't been done before, and especially for us at Weta, our interest is focused a lot on character animation, and that requires a lot of specialization and quite a large team working together to achieve all the aspects you need to create a character. Besides the motion capture and the animation, you have to understand how the skeleton works, how the muscles work, how the skin works, how the eyes work, how the cinematography works - there are so many aspects to it that it requires a large, dedicated team to do it, and I think that will be the case for a little while yet.

JoeLetteri21 karma

You know, it's always hard to think back to where you are - the most recent one is always the one that sticks out in your mind, and in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES the one that sticks out is where our director Matt Reeves had to push the camera really close, right into Caesar's eyes, because it gives you a sense of what Caesar is thinking, and it allows you to think about what is going to be happening in future stories.