Iron Sky is a dark science fiction comedy directed by Timo Vuorensola with CG Supervised by Samuli Torssonen. The film is created in the wake of the cult series Star Wreck which parodies a little-known US series of a similar name.
After the completion of the zero budget Star Wreck parody series which took seven years out of his life, the Finnish CGI Producer Samuli Torssonen, was thinking about what the creative group could be doing next. Torssonen had overseen all the visual effects himself in that parody and even starred in the productions as well. Another local studio BlindSpot Pictures wanted to make a bigger production and another mentor suggested putting ‘Nazis on the Moon’. “After a while we realised this was actually quite a unique, comical story,” Samuli adds.
The director wanted the world to be really believable so that the whole concept would be taken seriously. While Timo Vuorensola clearly had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, he wanted to show how the world would react if it was actually true that the nazis had been living on the moon all that time. True to their task, the crew got straight to work on the serious business of making great CG. “There's always that cinematic twist of making everything look so very big,” explains Concept Art Director Jussi Lehtiniemi. “We wanted all this crazy technology to be an order of magnitude bigger than the previous one.”
In this movie, the Space Zeppelin the nazis used to transport their attack craft from the moon to the Earth would be over three kilometres in length. But the huge vehicle Götterdämmerung is even bigger still: [OK, perhaps not as big as the DeathStar]. Everything is super big for no apparent reason, but looking real enough for viewers to be accepting of the absurd idea. But the ‘real big’ concept art and modeling of the massive vehicles was a true goal of the team from the beginning.
Visually developing the scenes and creating a feeling for moving about on the moon was also a gigantic task for Jussi Lehtiniemi and his concept and modeling crew. Many of the Energia and Blind Spot Pictures crew took on multiple roles as the line moved in their production Gannt chart. A lot of time was spent bringing together the final iteration of the Fortress, then building and designing the virtual environment of the moon and the lunar autobahn. There was a lot of research and imagining of other shapes to be used for the UFO.
Samuli puts the creation of the effects of Iron Sky down to the Finnish Sisu, which translated means that they never give up, “... even when all the odds are against us.” The VFX crew in the Energia made sure to believe in the project and in the story. Because this film production for Iron Sky started in 2008, the team had time to develop scripts, do research, play with concepts and devise some really entertaining story arcs, but in the end it is a shlock-horror SciFi film which is a lot of fun. “With only half a million Euros, we knew we had to limit the number of guys who were real specialists on our crew,” explains Samuli. “At the height of production we still only had 10 to 15 guys that were full-time, although we had some trainees to help with the rendering and generating some of the assets. We had only 50 computers, standard PCs i7 cards and 16Gb of RAM. But in our search, some amazing people started to pop out of the community wanting to help. Many were LightWave artists from California, really experienced guys who had been working on shows like Battlestar Galactica, the original Star Treks and Firefly. So we flew them to Finland and rented a couple of flats near the the office.”
Jussi Lehtiniemi worked on all of the concept design for the spaceships, the Götterdämmerung, the Machineroom concept and a more detailed design for Dr. Richter's table, and a matte for the Helium-3 mine the ill-fated American astronaut finds on the moon. The schematic explains some of the most important ship parts, such as the Atomic explosion chamber for the Atomic Howitzer, in which nuclear bombs are detonated to accelerate the projectile to launch speed. Also, the main machine room and command bridge seen on the film are highlighted.
This Finnish team has a long history with NewTek Lightwave. Samuli used the software to put his previous serious, Star Wreck, together. For the production of Iron Sky, there were quite a few Maya guys among the Finnish artists so it was decided to start Iron Sky as a Maya-based production. “But soon afterwards, we realised we needed more artists,” says Samuli, “and sometimes the old and reliable solution is the best one when the deadline is approaching rapidly. We went back to LightWave because everyone knew it.”
In the end, all the space shots were created in LightWave. The only exception was the Götterdämmerung. The virtual sets were devised in Maya and rendered using mental ray. “We also used the LightWave 11 beta at the end of year 2011,” explains Samuli. “Lightwave has some really powerful features like the real time preview VPR and a very good internal renderer which is easy to setup and something you can count on. And of course the 999 free render nodes are a huge plus when you just don't have a huge CGI budget. The Foundry's Nuke was used for compositing.”
“These big ships have a long history,” says Lehtiniemi. “Starting from scratch, making something really unique like this is not an easy task. We started big and got bigger.” The first task in creating something huge is to get back to basics. Close to something with primitive beginnings, like a basic shape. A solid shape like the big saucers in Independence Day, or the Borg Cube in Star Trek. This needed to be something as big and bigger. It needed lots of large rooms, corridors and hangars. Interior space lent this sense of exterior expanse.
“The feeling of movement should be in the design and there had to be a focal point in the look of the model. I decided to give it almost a snout, much like that of an angry looking boar,” explains Lehtiniemi. “I also put a vast Radial engine in the design as well, kind of like a Boxer motor from Porsche but a throwback from WWII. The Radial engine motion is almost organic in its motion. But that would be what they would have there, only much, much bigger of course. We wanted to have to be so big and so organic-looking that it resembled something actually coming to life.”
“When you have one really good idea working as a focal point, you can then elaborate from that and everything comes purring along. A bit like a big engine actually. In our ideas, the Radial engine connects to the locomotive engine and kind of pulls the vehicle along, making the movement easier with inertia and momentum. Engineers have designed all the coolest contraptions in the world. We have it easier that real engineers of course. Whereas an artist can turn up, throw everything together just to look coherent and show it all to an audience to be entertained. I find that very funny,” says Lehtiniemi.
In Iron Sky, the use of zeppelins is a no-brainer, but then they use zeppelins to catch and then throw meteors. “We initially thought we wouldn’t have enough UFOs but after the first few rounds of sketches, the director Timo said, ‘Hey guys, shouldn’t it be more like a space saucer?’ Then of course we built more and he came to say what he thought. We had flying saucers that were 50 meters across, and we had the mother ship which we had 5000 meters across. We needed something inbetween. Had to be like a zeppelin, with the simple cigar shape. We thought it was too obvious,” explained Lehtiniemi, “But then Timo [the director] said we needed to have [frickking] space zeppelins.”
USS George W. Bush
There was over three years of concepts behind the creation of the USS George W. Bush spaceship. In fact the designs were so numerous and different from one another that some of them became British ships for the movie,” says Jussi. The Gauss Gun as the main weapon for USS George W. Bush was another must-have feature in the film that was there right from the beginning, as was the concept of orbital asteroid bombardment. It gets crazier. In Iron Sky, Sarah Palin is President.