All images: Copyright 2016 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Venturing beyond the constraints of Earth, MPC explored the vast possibilities of creating VFX for sci-fi spectacular Passengers. MPC VFX supervisor Pete Dionne and VFX producer Tomi Nieminen oversaw 1,100 shots with the effects done by 600 artists. This included building the gigantic interstellar starship Avalon, FX work including a dramatic zero gravity water sequence and a red giant star, holograms, robots, digital doubles and of course space.
MPC focused on realism for its effects work, especially for the look of deep space,“Historically, the look of space in film falls somewhere between the cold, austere look of actual astrophotography and heavily stylised vistas with false colour and inaccurate scale” said production supervisor Erik Nordby, “since the film takes place in DEEP space it pushes closer to the former rather than the latter; falling close to naturalistic with some forgiveness built into the exposure. Together with Rodrigo Prieto A.S.C., the VFX team constructed an overall dome that featured a softer lighting ratio driven by hand-painted stars and nebula maps; very different to the high-key space lighting more recently in vogue.”
The design for Avalon, the 1,000m space cruiser, was inherited from production designer Guy Dyas. Several digital versions of Avalon were created to support the varying levels of fidelity required throughout the film. A relatively lightweight model was used for animation blocking and first pass lighting tests. This ship was then up-textured and covered with additional small details to help with scale. Finally, an art-directed pass of additional matte-painted texture would be used when the camera focuses on specific areas.
VFX supervisor Pete Dionne discusses the weeks of research undertaken for the zero-gravity water: “What we found in our initial R&D tests was that at this scale, the water would move so slowly that it failed to achieve the required feeling of peril, and once we started applying stronger forces onto it, it would explode and completely lose it’s form. Luckily, there is lots of great NASA reference of smaller volumes of water and its behaviour in space, relative to the surface tension and friction at this scale, so we looked towards that to achieve something that was much easier to art-direct.”
For the incredible red giant sequence, MPC referenced NASA photography of the sun for the look and the structure of the star. Its huge scale and depth was created using multiple layers of fluid simulation, each representing a layer of stellar structure. Leaping from the surface were large flares driven by FX simulations. Dionne explains, “We developed an animated DMP map for the photosphere, then volumetric chromasphere and corona FX elements layered on top, and then further simulated erupting prominences similar to those found in the sun. One additional layer we recreated for our red giant star were visible magnetic rays arching across the entire star. Technically, these can only be seen outside of the visible spectrum of our own sun, but they’re so beautiful that we couldn’t resist sweetening our star with this element.”
Passengers is in cinemas now.