Handling Wet-for-Dry and Personified Smoke

Jeremy Hunt, owner/director of the boutique visual effects house Screaming Death Monkey had long known Chris Watts, the visual effects supervisor on 300. So when it came time to choose vendors to work on the film, a company as small as Screaming Death Monkey was granted the rare opportunity to work on a big budget film. Of course opportunity is what you do with it.

In addition Click Here to read the Q&A with 300 VFX Art Director Grant Freckelton on how the look of the film was established and created.

Sky Replacement & Set Extensions
The first sequence follows the main character, King Leonidas, on his treacherous climb up a rocky mountain to the temple at the top. Shot all on greenscreen with the actor climbing a rock wall, SDM built extensive set extensions, the coffee-stained skies and enhanced what little there was of a the practical set including the flames from the torches. If you read the Q&A with VFX art director Grant Freckelton, you know that the sky had to have a particular look combining photographic and painted elements.

“I started with photographic sky and cloud elements in Photoshop,” explains Hunt. “I added a lot of watercolor textures that I hand painted and scanned. I used that to build layers in Photoshop and then brought that into Eyeon Digital Fusion compositing system as layers. From there I was able to animate cloud movement and undulations so the matte paintings weren’t static and had some life to them. Then I spit out a large sequence that went to the compositor Wayne Shepard, who put everything together in Inferno.”

The bulk of the work at SDM however was creating the scene with the oracle, who is kept in a permanently drug induced state from narcotic smoke billowing around her.

“We were provided with a plate that was shot on blue screen underwater, it was high-speed with a lot of speed ramps, so we had to match their edit as well as match the practical set, which had already been established in earlier shots. So we had to build it all in 3D, matching the skies and everything else that had been established,” says Hunt. “One of the challenges there was getting the color of her skin to match. She was shot in totally different locations under totally different circumstances. The cinematographer did a good job of trying to match but with light traveling through water it’s always going to look a little different. The quality of the light playing off her skin as far as specularity and highlights was pretty different so to get those to match so that they could be cut back and forth was difficult. Then we had bubbles to deal with, bubbles sticking to her skin or coming out her nose occasionally or sticking in her hair. There was a lot of clean up to do. But getting those skin tones to match from the dry to the wet was the real challenge. We wanted to get it to a point where it could cut seamlessly back and forth so that then the colorist could just apply an overall color to the entire scene.”

Personified Smoke
The narcotic smoke emanating around the oracle was also to interact with the oracle as if it were another character.

“The smoke was supposed to look realistic but at the same time have a certain style that Zack [Snyder, director] and Grant [Freckelton, visual effects art director] presented to us as a look and a feel. From a technical standpoint to achieve the smoke we did a lot of cloth simulations. We actually built the smoke in rigid geometry [using 3D work in LightWave 3D v8.5] and then converted it into a cloth simulation adding wind and various other variables as well as morphing it through bone chains and other animation tools. On top of that we filmed a bunch of practical smoke, incense and other wispy type smoke and then laid that back on top of it. Through a very long process of layering and composting we were able to achieve a look that everyone was happy with.”

Click here to read the Q&A with 300 VFX Art Director Grant Freckelton on how the look of the film was established and created.