Prometheus extras

Tue 3rd Jul 2012, by Paul Hellard | Production

CGSociety :: Production Focus

3 July 2012, by Paul Hellard

Rising Sun Pictures (RSP) in Adelaide Australia bid and won 160 shots in Ridley Scott's Prometheus. The location shoot was well and truly over by the time RSP came onboard but as they found out, there was a major amount of work still to be done, working directly with Richard Stammers and all the other VFX houses.

Stammers had some very clear ideas about how he was going to have the storm sequence filmed. After a conversation with him early on, with the RSP VFX Supervisor Tim Crosbie, he was deciding whether he should shoot with full live action particles, purely CG particles or a mixture of both. He made the call to do green-screen in-situ, with large fans and smaller practical debris, and then fill in with CG rocks and further dust.

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“In stereo, you’d look at it and wonder how the hell are we going to integrate more particles into this,” adds Crosbie. The main sequence that RSP worked on was the storm sequence, as the crew return from the underground caverns. "We picked it up when Noomi Rapace gets blown backwards as the very first storm front hits," explains Crosbie, about RSP's involvement on one of the movie’s signature sequences. "We had Mark Wendell as a CG Supervisor, helping out with the many particle elements required for lots of shots but especially for the storm sequence."

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Apart from that very wide establishing shot of the storm approaching, most of the elements in the storm were live action, green screen elements, but when it cut to closeups, there still was a need to see a few larger particles, bouncing around dangerously. This is a storm of such furiousity that fist-sized shale stones are flying horizontally and bombarding everything in sight. "In the end, although we simulated a lot of stuff in Houdini, we ended up using that as a driver to use NUKE's particle system," says Crosbie. "We pulled little sprites and particles from the green screen elements, all shot at a high frame rate. One of the hardest rig-removal sequences I've been involved in since the first MATRIX movie when they shoot up the granite foyer, running up the wall and does the somersault. That took three and a half weeks of pure paintwork working in Cineon. This was a bigger challenge and if didn't have NUKE with us, we wouldn't have been able to do it."

"The other major piece we worked on were the helmets they all wore. They were all very reflective and they were, in some shots, filming in daylight, which meant at some point or another, there was going to be reflections of crew, camera and lighting systems in the glass."


Richard Stammers asked the RSP team to 'muddy-up' the reflection as much as they could, while the shooting conditions were made conducive to keep reflections masked as much as possible. It was a toss up between doing a full match-move and putting new reflections in, which would have been very time-consuming, "but, it was a reflection on a reflective surface, and you could see through to the background, which for a face mask glass, was the face inside it. While it was a stereo shoot, we could pull source material from one camera eye or the other, and build up the replacement face if we took some of it off while clearing a foreground reflection," Crosbie explains. "There were a few areas where we were able to add clouds over the top. Fairly simple in concept but because the result is on a 15-20 meter screen in stereo, we had to get in there and be extremely accurate."

At the outset of being awarded a spot on Prometheus, after producing a few concepts, Stammers directed the crew at RSP to, "go quiet now for a month or so and to come up with the goods." This gave the crew at RSP time to get all the rig removals, camera tracks and mattes done at their own (fast) speed. The comp team and a couple of match-movers at the Adelaide site.

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Steve Messing was the Visual Effects Art Director creating concept art work on Prometheus independently and alongside the studio MPC in London. He was working under the direction of Ridley Scott with the visual effects supervisors, responsible for generating original 3D matte paintings, key-frame story boards and set designs for costumes, creatures, landscapes and spaceships. He helped define the visual tone of the film and contributed visual effects as well.

Messing is a veteran CINEMA 4D user and filmmaker who has worked with other A-list directors on Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. His work on Oz: the Great and Powerful, Star Trek 2, Pirates 5, Life of Pi, and Gangster Squad will be coming out later this year, and 2013. As Visual Effects Art Director on Prometheus, Steven Messing worked under Production Designer Arthur Max on several physical set builds as well as CG environments, creature, costumes and spaceship designs. He also worked through post-production contributing to matte shots and additional designs that needed refinement under VFX Supervisor Richard Stammers and VFX Producer Allen Maris.

Pilot's Chamber

Ridley Scott wanted to redesign the original set from the first Alien film and give it a finer degree of ‘filagree’. He also wanted to add additional set pieces to support specific story points in the script. Messing spent weeks refining CG models using CINEMA 4D in combination with Photoshop and ZBrush. “I designed the center dias, desk console, sleeping pods and chamber walls. Ben Procter also spent a lot of time engineering the Pilot's Chair which he helped refine using ZBrush and CINEMA 4D. They delivered the construction crew very detailed working drawings based off this CG sculpt. Once designs were approved, they were sent to Weta who completed the final CG set extension as the Pilot's Chair rises from the center of the dias and is helmed by the Engineer.

Engineer's spaceship known as the Juggernaut. Ridley felt the original was primitive and did not have a believable level of scale or detail. David Levy helped lay out the ship’s overall shape and Alex Kozhanov helped come up with a form language for the surface textures. Messing took Alex's patterns and refined them further by hand painting very detailed UV maps to be wrapped around the cg model. Using layers of displacements he was able to generate a very detailed series of orthographics for the modelers at MPC to begin their final CG build. “They did an amazing job matching the layout very accurately - this model was very tedious to design and was truly a labor of love for all involved. The same approach was also utilized for the teardrop disc ship that is briefly seen in the film's prologue and was completed by WETA.


Messing designed planet landscapes using a combination of ZBrush and CINEMA 4D. He modeled a dozen very detailed pinnacle formations and lit them in CINEMA 4D using HDRI and global illumination. “I then painted over the renders and layered them together with atmospherics to create interesting compositions to present to Ridley,” he explains. “The final elements in the film were completed by MPC and are a combination of plate elements shot in Iceland and Jordan mixed with CG extensions. The result is quite realistic and we were able to achieve the scope and grandeur of the environment that Ridley was after.”


Opening shot

Messing stated that the opening shot of Prometheus provides a glimpse of what appears to be primordial Earth being revealed from shadow. He modeled and textured this shot in CINEMA 4D and rendered stereo elements that were composited in NUKE. The planet layers were a combination of clouds, oceans, and continental land masses that all cast shadows as the sun rises,revealing the planet. He used CINEMA 4D's Global illumination Engine and raytraced area shadows to achieve a realistic layered effect at an accurate scale.



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