• ‘The Fountain’ is a long-term film project by Darren Aronovsky, a film maker with a successful and independent ‘Sundance-encrusted’ history. While ‘98% of ‘The Fountain’ is CG-free,’ that two percent slice holds the film together, depicting rich Mayan forests, skies and deep space, seamlessly.

    The Toronto-based VFX feature house Intelligent Creatures took on the challenge of creating backgrounds and ‘ spaces’ for The Fountain with enthusiasm. Formed four years ago with the heady brief of dealing with only high-end feature film work, Creatures is headed up by Raymond Gieringer, Wendy Lanning Lon Molnar and Michael Hatton.

    Each has extensive experience in the field, specifically visual effects supervision, compositing, animation and producing on works that includes ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ and ‘The Matador’ and later, ‘Stranger than Fiction’ and ‘Babel’. Gieringer and the team were being asked to help design and execute more and more large, multi-layered shots that are complex in nature, and ‘The Fountain’s challenges were right in step.
    The production began, then stopped, many years ago on the Gold Coast in Australia. Originally starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchette, the story involves fantasy, time travel and a ‘Tree of Life.’

    Also included are depictions of a relationship that stretches across three time periods in the course of a millennium, beginning with the period of the conquistadors in the 16th century, followed by a modern-day period of scientists in search of a cure for cancer, and into 26th century deep space as the hero hurtles toward a nebula. The production finally went ahead with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz in the lead roles, in August 2004.

    The Intelligent Creatures crew first worked with Dan Schrecker and Jeremy Dawson, Darren’s visual effects supervisors, while the pair were working on other Aronovsky films, ‘Pi,’ and ‘Requiem for a Dream.’ They had by then formed their own internal effects house called Amoeba Proteus.

    “When it came to doing some of the research and development for the space environments in “Fountain” they asked us to participate,” says Raymond Gieringer from his office in Ontario. “I believe it was our successful initial design and concept work for the space backgrounds that got us on-board.”

    Intelligent Creatures’ challenge was to design and create various ‘hero’ space backgrounds that would serve as the backdrops for Tom’s (Hugh Jackman’s) voyage towards a dying star. Each environment was modular, yet connected, so they had to discover what each would be comprised of, and ultimately how they would fit together.
    These discoveries took the form of repurposing many elements both large and very small that existed within macro-footage created by an artist in the UK named Peter Parks. “We needed to develop multiple canvasses to act as our space environments, so we reassembled thousands of pieces of Peter’s footage to do just that,” explains Gieringer.

    Peter Parks is a specialist in macrophotography. Working out of a refashioned farm-house outside of London, Parks cooked up soups of bacteria and different fluids to depict the deep space effects in ‘The Fountain’. Taking a leaf out of the Stanley Kubrick book for convincing in-camera visual effects, Parks’ contribution is a tremendous achievement.

    “We used his elements as the basis for much larger canvasses that we would design and execute,” Gieringer continues. “In simple terms, the elements we used were from the real world (macro-photography), but the ways in which they were combined were CGI based. After the macro-elements were created, Peter left it to us to take them to another level.” In the end cut of “The Fountain,” the Intelligent Creatures VFX crew created about 234 shots for Hugh’s overall voyage.

    Related links:
    Intelligent Creatures
    The Fountain
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