In Obvilion, Tom Cruise plays one of the few remaining drone repairmen assigned to Earth, its surface devastated after decades of war with the alien Scavs. On one of his sortés, he discovers a crashed spacecraft with contents that bring into question everything he believed about the war, and may even put the fate of mankind in his hands.
Digital Domain’s work covered the range of visual effects, from planning the shooting approach to creating full CG sequences, digital doubles and vehicles to set extensions, explosions and natural phenomena to simple wire removal. All of the VFX had to carry Director Joseph Kosinski’s distinctive, design-centric aesthetic. Barba and DD worked closely with the art department to realize environments and vehicles, contributing significantly to the look of the feature.
While Digital Domain built the drone, and both the drone and the Bubbleship had live action counterparts on set, the virtual models were shared between the two crews. The back-and-forth of how the drone behaves and the Bubbleship flies “As the movie developed, something that Pixomondo did with the drone, it would get back to us that something happened with the drone,” explains Preeg. “There was a really open communication line about what things came up and there were a number of reviews and because Pixomondo is actually just down the road from us, either our Supervisor Eric Barba and Joe would drive over to do the review there or visa versa, but importantly, both supes would be at both sittings. It was good to have both Bjorn Mayer and Eric Barba together, just so information could be available to the rest of the crews.”
Matt Smith, the Compositing Supervisor at DD says there were 370 shots, heavily composited needing to be delivered. “The footage brought in with the Sony F65 camera is the sharpest footage we’ve ever seen. We have a team of veterans here at DD, as well as some key freelancers as well and the key was the quality of the plates being delivered, it almost looked CG-sharp from side to side,” Smith says. “We had to bring in a few different tools we’ve developed in different shows to work with the plates for grey matching and abberation, but the lenses they used were really clean and the plates were very clean to match into. There were some pretty amazing Iclandic vistas.” Not being a stereo show, the Oblivion crew at DD were able to bring some of their 2D tricks back after a run of 3D shows.
Digital Domain created the TET, the all-CG giant inverted-pyramid-shaped space station that controls the drones – both its exterior and its interior, based on concepts from the art department. A small practical stage was built to shoot plates, but everything else is digital. The TET is a vast monolith, 30 miles long, and was a challenging element to texture and light. Digital Domain was also challenged to create shots that communicated the TET’s scale accurately when the tiny bubble ship flies toward it. The interior of the Tet is a series of three inverted pyramids leading to the chamber where Sally, herself an inverted pyramid with a pulsating texture and red lens-like eye similar to the drones’, resides. Artists created a sense of scale inside the Tet largely through atmospherics.
"Something that is 30 miles wide and featureless doesn’t lend itself immediately as being able to show its scale," says Greg Teegarden, the CG Supervisor at DD. " In one shot you can see it from the ground, and can make out that this huge craft is in orbit. In some shots it can be seen with the bubble ship, so the sense of size is easier." Sometimes the DD crew had to cheat a little to give the right yawning vista of scale. Steve Preeg says there wasn’t a ton of change from the PreViz on what Joe wanted to see, other than some camera angle cheats, but the addition of what Konisky would call ‘space-dust’ helped a lot. “Every part of that TET played mind games with you because you’re trying to understand the scale. Being that the vehicle was in space, usually there is no atmospheric falloff, and very little textural detail.”
“The TET scene was the biggest setup for the 3D team,” adds Teegarden. “We had to generate everything from scratch. Apart from the part digital double of Tom (Cruise) sitting in the Bubbleship cockpit, and part of that was practical.” Digital Domain was working on the interior of the TET which was to be seen as a vast empty space. Not even any floors to speak of. “Until you see the brief you don’t know what you’re getting into. Because it was all ‘virtual’, that task fell on us,” explains Teegarden. “You don’t really know until you start building it.”
The scale of the TET was an adventure to create as well for the Digital Domain crew. It had more to do with treating the space inbetween the viewer and the TET itself, than the surface detail itself, because the surface almost looks the same far away as close up to it. “It was up to the texturing and the lighting team to convey the sense of space,” adds Teegarden. “Then the compositing team headed up by Matt started to layer in the atmospherics. It cascaded through all different departments to sell the idea this was a really large space, not just outside the TET, but inside as well.”
Matt Smith worked on TRON and had a great experience making entire scenes that were completely CG, where the department had to build the large arena scene and emit that same scale. “There were echoes of this in the approach to the TET in Oblivion,” he explains. “It was something we’d done with this director before and coming into this, I had a great degree of confidence we could get together and do it again.”