STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS: Ben Grossmann - VFX Supervisor - Pixomondo
"We knew we were going to try and make the ship harder to see but have the chaos of the lights to give you an indication of where it was," explains Pixomondo visual effects supervisor Ben Grossmann.
"So while we were on set we had already been modeling up the ship and getting an idea of how it was going to work in terms of previs'ing the sequence.
We took one of our animators and put him right on set next to the Navcam guys.
They had a three-pulley rig system going on - so our animator in Maya could make a flight path, an attack sequence and translate it into the Navcam rig and now this lighting grid with lasers and spotlights and paparazzi lights could recreate and replay that attack sequence."
The basic conference room set was fleshed with out with CG extensions for exteriors.
"But when you were inside the conference room," notes Grossmann
, "you could look out into this dark expanse of a stage and there would be this light rig that was moving around in an attack sequence that was programmed by a Maya animator.
One day we had a review and J.J. would stand in the conference room and he
would watch all the various attack sequences we had animated replayed on this Navcam rig, and he
could say I like this one, that one, I think this should be faster, have one that hovers or darts over there.
It was a very interesting and tactile way for J.J. to direct the animation."
A highly detailed ship was required for the final shots, along with CG interiors and digi-doubles.
also ran fluid simulations for all the dust and debris and damage, and fluid sims for the building itself to create pools and pockets of swirling air and eddies.
"We set parts of the building on fire and blew a lot of smoke out of the conference room," says Grossmann
"The way J.J. turned it over to us was as a moody and atmospheric environment," recalls Grossmann
"It gave us a lot of opportunities to hide the Klingon fighters in the clouds, and give them something to swoop around in," states Grossmann
"We also knew there was a dialogue sequence at the beginning that was going to have to be interesting on the outside, and I thought what better way than flying through toxic clouds and having giant ominous silhouettes.
The sequence was supervised by Adam Watkins in Los Angeles, with the look of the world and ships designed by Enrico Damm, CG Supervisor, and Dan Cobbett, Comp Supervisor.
Our FX Supervisor was Patrick Schuler and animation supervisor was Sebastian Butenberg."
"We took reference from the Burj Khalifa in Dubai," adds Grossmann
, "and from really tall and spire-y buildings, and although that had some curves on it, what I liked was when you see pictures photographed from up there, the buildings are so tall that they peek through the clouds and you have no real sense of how far you are away from the ground.
"Not in the traditional namesake of the Klingon empire," says Grossmann
, "but more of like, you can imagine this chase scene as an unarmed trade ship and a bad-ass predator.
You had this larger more predatory hawk chasing a little sparrow trying to take advantage of its size and move through little cracks and nooks and crannies and be a little more nimble."
Watch a short b-roll clip inside the ship with Kirk and Spock.
A toolkit of building styles and architectures allowed animators to move around structures for the ship chase, often referencing well-known movie car chase scenes.
"We blocked in the city and action and we then added in lots of nice secondary animation details - louvres and wing tips moving around," explains Grossmann
"As we start to descend down through the atmosphere, we had the idea to almost give it an underwater feel.
We figured that with that much humidity and moisture to create a toxic cloud, you'd imagine there's a lot of toxic sludge around.
We ran a bunch of waterfall simulations and we allowed pretty high amounts of accumulated condensation to create these toxic waterfalls that the ship flies around and through."
Even lower on the planet surface, the lighting moved to an 'underwater cave' look with shafts of light scattering in the atmosphere and illuminating the environment.
"We realized the most effective way to nail this look and make it feel real was by rendering as much as possible the volumes of atmosphere all in one," says Grossmann
: "To help give a sense of scale to these volumes we ran blowing air debris and bits of ash and detritus as fluid sims rendered out with Thinking Particles.
"We knew there would be set extensions," says Grossmann
, "but while shooting it J.J. said well, we have these light rigs that were stand-ins for Klingon fighters that were cable rigged controlled Navcam style platforms and they can move lights around, so let's make sure we are establishing hovering Klingon fighters overhead.
"J.J. one day ran up on set and said he
had this great idea for this new gun," recounts Grossmann
"It turns on like a flashlight, it doesn't have a projectile - whatever it touches just disappears - it's just gone," continues Grossmann
"We would have a CG character as a Klingon running through the set and then the Boolean gun would hit him in the legs, and you see him ragdoll and his
body parts start tumbling around," says Grossmann
"In the intensity of the action, I don't even think you're conscious of it happening.
You just know that there's a big bright gun."
To depict Harrison's gun taking out the Klingon fighters, Pixomondo
suggested stitching both live action and planned CG shots.
"J.J. really likes to have that tactile interaction that either starts from or results in a tangible close-up of an actor that people don't question," comments Grossmann
"There's so much going on in these shots," says Grossmann
, "and I gotta tell you, even as the visual effects supervisor I would always find something new that the artists would put into it.
"Our challenge was, how do you show radiation as a threat?," outlines Ben Grossmann
How Pixomondo's Ben Grossmann describes the challenges of delivering shots in both 2:35 and IMAX: