Frantic Films Takes Effects to 'The Core!'

Mon 7th Apr 2003 | News

In THE CORE, Geophysicist Dr. Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) discovers that an unknown force has caused the earth's inner core to stop rotating, rapidly deteriorating the planet's magnetic field and causing our atmosphere to literally come apart at the seams. To resolve the crisis, Keyes and a team of gifted scientists journey into the earth in a subterranean craft piloted by "terranauts" (Hilary Swank and Bruce Greenwood) on a mission to detonate a device that will reactivate the core.

Working closely with the film's Visual Effects Supervisor Greg McMurry, Frantic created 85 exciting VFX shots for the film, in addition to pre-visualization ("previz" for short) and onscreen graphics. The previz and post teams were led by Frantic's visual effects supervisor Chris Bond and producers Ken Zorniak and Gene Senior.

Previz, Animatics, and Onscreen Graphics Creation
Frantic began work on THE CORE in October of 2001. In providing VFX for the film, Frantic had to overcome several technical and artistic challenges in addition to tight deadlines. As Frantic's shot count climbed from 45 to the eventual 85 shots, Frantic's pipeline proved capable of handling shots that included entirely CG environments, live-action plate composites, dynamic simulations, and multiple effect applications.

As a significant portion of the movie takes place in the unseen world deep beneath the earth's surface, THE CORE production team relied on Frantic's creativity and ingenuity to create the look for this unvisited world.

Frantic Films broke new ground in innovative filmmaking on THE CORE. Previz expanded beyond simply being a planning tool to integrating it into the production and postproduction of the show. In capturing the director's vision before shooting a frame of film, Frantic's work helped to maximize the creative input from all departments and vendors throughout the course of the show. Frantic's role then expanded to onscreen graphics, adapting their previz to create real images for the actors to interact with.

The Geode Sequence
Research and development was key in creating the post effects for THE CORE. The critical Geode Sequence, for example, was initially planned to be a complex miniature shoot augmented with CG elements and backgrounds. Frantic offered a more effective approach, however, and developed photo-realistic crystals and 'proof of concept' of various physics dynamics systems that would simulate the collision of the ship "Virgil" with thousands of crystals. Employing this combination of hard body and fluid dynamics systems, Frantic was able to produce the action-packed Geode Sequence seen in the final film.

In the initial portion of the Geode Sequence, Virgil falls 1000 feet into a field of crystals. The shots in this part of the sequence posed three major challenges:

  • First, the lasers from Virgil that are used to propel the ship through the molten rock are reflected and refracted in thousands of crystals. To create a photo-realistic look, custom computer code was used to deal with the interactions of the lasers with the crystals as the light is bounced from crystal to crystal.
  • Second, in colliding with the crystals, millions of shards of debris are scattered in Virgil's path. To create convincing motion in the debris, Frantic ported a pre-existing physics dynamics system to procedurally animate the crystal debris.
  • Finally, the sheer size of the geode and number of crystals posed significant render challenges, all of which were overcome through custom modifications by Frantic's technical department.

Of the 65 shots in the Geode Sequence, approximately 40 involved shattering crystals, while the other 25 required lava - and a whole new array of visual challenges for the Frantic team.

Oceans of Lava - from Concept to Reality
As production continued on the movie, Frantic also used a fluid dynamic system that was flexible enough to create a massive 1000-foot waterfall and a swelling ocean of lava. Comments Bond, "We used custom software at Frantic to create a realistic lava surface and lava fall. This system provided us with the flexibility to create a crust for the surface of the lava and allow for debris that would splash yellow lava on the brown cooled surface."

For the majority of the lava shots, live-action plates had to be seamlessly added. Frantic extended the practical set beyond its limitations in creating such shots ranging from camera pull backs of hundreds of feet, camera tilts revealing the size and magnitude of the lava fall, and ultimately the enveloping of live action elements by the computer-generated lava.

The Brazzelton Sequence
Frantic's work is also seen in the "Brazzelton Sequence," where Frantic generated a "heat haze effect" and a melting effect for practical props to simulate the heat intensity of the environment. A "sticky shoes" effect was created to demonstrate the melting of the character's shoes under these extreme conditions.

Tools and Talent
VFX supervisor Greg McMurry guided all VFX work for The Core, along with Denise Davis (VFX Producer) and Janet Earl (VFX Coordinator). Meanwhile, Visual Effects Supervisor Chris Bond, Visual Effects Producer Gene Senior, Pre-visualization Producer Ken Zorniak, and CG Supervisor Mike Shand oversaw the Frantic team. In accomplishing its work for the project, Frantic utilized cutting edge tools and techniques, producing many of the effects using 3D Studio Max, Maya, Digital Fusion, Boujou, Scene Genie, After Burn, Brazil, Entropy, Real Flow, and more.

Related Sites:
Frantic Films
The Core Official movie site

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