Inside Cinema

Ender’s Game: The Magic of Digital Domain

February 20, 2014 - 12:10 pm   |   By 

They cut your head off and it’s all that remains.

After spending an afternoon at Digital Domain for The Digital Bits, I discovered the wizards behind Ender’s Game kept only the face of the actors during many of the scenes in the movie.

Everything else is CGI and looks surprisingly good.  [Read on here…]

 

At Digital Domain

THE PROBLEM OF ZERO GRAVITY

Matt Butler, VFX Supervisor, said the footage from the set didn’t quite look as if the actors were in zero gravity. “In general, what we did is we replaced everything and only kept the face with the exception of a few shots,” he said.

Butler, nominated for an Academy Award for his work on Transformers: Dark of the Moon and a 17-year veteran of Digital Domain, faced a real problem with zero gravity. “We don’t have zero gravity here,” he said, so we’re handicapped in having actors look like they are in zero gravity.

Digital Domain replaced all but the faces for a number of scenes to help enhance the movement of the characters. CG made the movements more organic to what it would be like to be in zero gravity, he said. “It’s very easy to now make animation that is true to zero gravity.”

At Digital Domain

Wire work is restrictive, said Butler, and there were many problems with the harnesses. It’s harder to make changes in photography because it has already being shot but computer rendering can go back and make whatever changes you want.

So why bother having the actors go through the harnesses and pretend to be in zero gravity? “You want actors to perform in an environment that is as close as possible to what they’re trying to act,” he said. It helps them to know where to look and how to move, and that performance is enhanced by CG.

 

Ender's Game

CG TEASER

The impact of CG was a big key in getting the movie made in the first place, according to Ben Proctor, Production Designer. The entire teaser trailer was made with CG. “Early on, we did these for a teaser which was an attempt to raise funds for the movie,” he said.

Proctor is a veteran of over 10 years working on such films as Avatar and Tron: Legacy. The 45 second teaser was showed at the Cannes Film Festival and was a big success. “We raised $40 million presale based on the strength of the teaser and so we really tried to invest it with a lot of the look and feel that we wanted for it,” he said.

Ender's Game

The layouts in the teaser and the original designs ended up in the actual sets, said Proctor. “It substantially feels like the movie that we made.”

 

THE DESIGNS OF ENDER’S GAME

Once Gavin Hood came on board as the director, Proctor said things began to fall into place. Some of the changes occurred with the main sphere. “Gavin’s vision was we can make this a lot more interesting.” “Let’s see Earth, let’s have that sense of kids training in space for space battle,” he said.

Ender's Game

The designs were changed to find a balance between fantasy and reality. “Trying to come up with something that is clearly a fantasy design but that has the hallmark of reality to give some credibility to the whole thing,” said Proctor. Dishes at the end of the sphere looked great on the outside but blocked a lot of the views when inside the sphere. “Somehow we split the difference between NASA designs as we know it and a little bit of elegance of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969) and some of the great space design movies,” he said.

At Digital Domain

The importance of CG begins in pre-production. Scott Meadows, Pre-Viz Supervisor, said the pre-viz gave Hood time to make key decisions on various shots. Storyboarding and pre-viz were an important part of the planning for the film. “We were pressed for time so we did use storyboards to help finish the designs,” he said. Pre-viz can be a big plus in justifying the cost of the movie. “At the end of the day, it really reflected in the film,” he said.

 

INSIDE DIGITAL DOMAIN

Inside the massive CG room at Digital Domain, there are 122 cameras and many lights. The room is built to be big and functional so “we can do pretty much anything,” said Gary Roberts, Virtual Production Supervisor.

At Digital Domain

“We do a lot of pre-viz just to plan out things,” he said. A demonstration was made for the press as Hood showed reporters how to film a sequence involving a little mouse and a giant as seen in the movie.

The director shoots a variety of shots until he gets what he’s looking for, said Roberts. “We can augment the performances digitally here. There are many ways to do that, including scaling up a performer to be a 26-foot giant.” Roberts added that once the basic animation is done, he and his crew can make subtle changes into the final film.

Ender's Game (Blu-ray Disc)

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES

The movie looks and sounds great on Blu-ray as one would expect from this type of film. The special features include two audio commentaries, one with director Gavin Hood and another with producers Gigi Pritzker and Roberto Orci. Between the two commentaries, the viewer learns how the book was adapted for the screen and what changes were made as well as plenty of information on the production of the movie.

Eight featurettes make up Ender’s Game: The Making of Ender’s Game (49 minutes) covering adapting the book, casting, special effects and production of the film. Deleted and Extended Scenes (almost 11 minutes) include optional commentary by Hood. Finally, there is Inside the Mind Games (almost four minutes) about motion capture and two theatrical trailers (4 minutes).

- Mario Boucher

(select photos by Mario Boucher)

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