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10 Man of Steel VFX Facts from SIGGRAPH

It turns out that 90 minutes was way too little time to spend with five facility VFX supervisors who worked on director Zack Snyder's Superman opus Man of Steel. By the time each man showed some footage and shared a story or two about how the shots were accomplished, it was on to the next presentation. And some of those shots were exceptionally complex. In case you missed it, here are 10 intriguing, easily digestible takeaways from the fast-paced session at SIGGRAPH yesterday.

The show was extensively previs'd by Pixel Liberation Front.

Weta Digital used lots of earthly locations as source material and reference for the movie's Kryptonian environments. According to Weta's VFX supervisor Keith Miller, the planet's vertical fissures were suggested by strip-mining operations, the layout of Rio de Janeiro was a model for the organic-looking alien cityscapes, and Norway's Preikestolen, or Pulpit Rock, was a particular inspiration.

According to Stephan Trojansky, the two major sequences Scanline VFX worked on — the oil rig disaster and the tornado sequence — were at risk of being removed from the movie when they began to seem too similar to real-life catastrophes.

Describing the work Look FX did to make a school bus crash into the cold water look believable, Max Ivins joked, "it's all about the bubbles." Well, not entirely a joke. They were created in Maya and comped in Nuke and Flame, and they definitely help sell the shot. Read the Art of VFX interview for more.

Henry Cavill's hero was replaced by a CG Superman more often than anyone expected. In one case, Guillaume Rocheron, the film's VFX supervisor at MPC, said a digital double was swapped in for live action during the fistfight with the eight-foot-tall Kryptonian Nam-Ek when it was determined that Superman should hover off the ground in order to punch him right in the face.

MPC's HDRI shots of Smallville were taken with a Canon 5D snapping pictures on a motorized head during pauses in the shoot, and became the backdrops for virtual cinematography in the big Smallville battle. "You can't do more real than reality," said Rocheron.

For the destruction of Metropolis, Double Negative started by building a multi-city hybrid in Esri CityEngine, then wrote a bullet physics implementation inside Houdini, dubbed Bang, to depict the destruction.

Man of Steel is a stereo show, but all of the VFX shots were delivered in mono and post-converted.

We've come a long way since Iron Man — D-Neg VFX Supervisor Ged Wright revealed that the production never bothered to build General Zod's armor as a practical costume. It's completely CG in every shot where it appears.

You don't tug on Superman's cape — because he probably doesn't have one. In the vast majority of shots — Rocheron estimated 90 percent of them — Superman's cape is completely CG, so that its movements can be art-directed at all times.

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