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Customer Success Story :: Digital Domain, USA
26 April 2012
"The render elements and buffers in V-Ray are a huge advantage. It makes rendering mattes a no-brainer. And the customer service and support is exceptional. Now, that we’re running Maya 2012, I’m looking forward to working in V-Ray RT!"
Interview with Blake Sweeney on Real Steel
About Digital Domain
Founded in 1993 by film industry icon James Cameron and two business partners, digital production company Digital Domain has delivered innovative visuals for more than 90 movies — some of the most successful entertainment properties, including Titanic, Apollo 13, the Transformers trilogy and TRON: Legacy. Its artists have earned multiple Academy Awards®.
A creative force in advertising, Digital Domain has also created imagery for some of the world’s most visually arresting commercials. The company has been at the forefront of innovation for nearly two decades and is expanding its role into the co-production of feature films and the creative development of advertising.
THE BACKSTAGE EXPERIENCE
Real Steel is an impressive production involving lots of CGI. What were some of the key sequences you worked on?
There were a few key sequences: the bull fight, crash palace (the fight between Noisy Boy and Midas) and the Finale (the end fight)
What were some of the production challenges in Real Steel?
The biggest challenge in Real Steel was the quantity of shots. We had to deliver 600 shots in probably a little over a year and we had to render around 14 photo realistic robots of which we only had 4 live action robots, the rest had to be created from nothing.
We knew the shots were going to require extensive use of reflections and environment lighting. We started to get good looking images from day one, and it meant we wouldn’t need a team of shader developers. Plus, we were able to get consistent mattes and render elements for compositing.
Tell us about the bull fight sequence? How did you go about lighting these shots?
It’s a live action bull fight that takes place outdoors. We actually had an extensive set of on-site reference photos, and using the Meta data with the exact time and location, we were able to set up a VRaySun to match the position exactly. Even with hair on the bulls, these were some of the fastest frames to render in the entire movie. I think they only took about 30 minutes each.
The Crash Palace sequence highlights a fight between Noisy Boy and Midas. How did you approach the materials on these characters?
We actually had practical photos of the high gloss car paint, and we were able to match it almost perfectly. As you could imagine, the materials of the robots needed to change as they sustained damage during the fight. So, we created complex shading networks using VRayBlendMtls, allowing the damage to be controlled precisely by texture maps.
How did you approach the lighting in this sequence?
There are two main sources for light in this sequence. There’s the environment itself, and there are the internal lights on the robots. Since it’s a contained environment, we started with an HDR, and we separated the light sources into individual VRayLight planes with HDR textures. The lights from the robots themselves were a combination of point lights and VRayLight planes.
Did you use GI in these shots?
In general for the movie, we selectively used GI as needed. It depended on how shiny the robot was. If it wasn’t very shiny, then GI made a bigger visual impact. One area where we did use GI was on Midas’ fiber optic hair.
There’s a lot of quick motion in these scenes; did you render motion blur in camera?
Yes, motion blur was rendered directly out of V-Ray. That’s a really important feature for our workflow.
What were the challenges for the finale sequence?
For the final fight, the arena is filled with photographers and flash bulbs going off, and we wanted to have complete control over which flashes happened and when. So, we set up the shots with lights in a dozen different positions, and then we rendered out the scene once with all the lights on. Then, using the VRayLightSelect element, we were able to control all of the flashes in post.
Did you use any other special V-Ray features in the film?
Actually, yes, at the end of the movie, we used VRayFur to create the grass.
You have trusted V-Ray for the visualization of your creative projects for a long time. Why V-Ray?
The render elements and buffers in V-Ray are a huge advantage. It makes rendering mattes a no-brainer. The VRayExtraTex element for secondary passes such as ambient occlusion is great as well. And the customer service and support is exceptional. Now, that we’re running Maya 2012, I’m looking forward to working in VRayRT!