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3D Pipeline Brings “Ghost Rider” To Life

Fire and 3D conversions generally don’t mix.  This was the problem Jenny Fulle and her visual effects and animation production services company, The Creative-Cartel, were faced with on “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.”   In order to create a realistic appearance to the flames the engulf Ghost Rider’s head, Fulle and her team created a innovative hybrid pipeline that allowed the primary visual effects company (Iloura) and the 3D conversion company (Gener8) optimized quality and maximized the budget.  411 Publishing recently spoke with Jenny Fulle to discuss how the hybrid pipeline created a rich, fully dimensional image with fire that until this point has only been achieved by shooting with 3D cameras.


411:  The Creative-Cartel has developed a different type of pipeline that helps the visual effects company and the 3D conversion company maximize what they are doing and create the best type of stereography for the movie. Before we speak about that, I wanted to ask what happens currently, what is the system for creating that stereographic effect?

Jenny Fulle:  There are two ways to go into it, or there has been.  One is to shoot with stereo cameras, and the other is to shoot with a traditional 2D camera and then convert as part of the post process.  Conversion generally has been a process that has come kind of at the tale end of visual effects.  VFX might turn over some maps, like alpha channels, depth maps, to help conversion along.  But for the most part the conversion has been done in a vacuum after everybody else was done doing their thing.

Ghost Rider’s head is a flaming head, and that’s one of the difficult things to convert.  Part of the conversion process is you pull the element that you want to focus on, so that you can put it into most backgrounds, and that’s how you give it depth, you move it over just a little bit.  With fire that’s very difficult because it is transparent.  It ends up looking very flat, like the old practical effects trick that you would see at a haunted mansion where they have the gel paper with a light behind it.  We had to figure out a way to do something a little differently.  Before we started shooting, we said to our primary conversion vendor and our primary visual effects vendor “Look, we need a hybrid pipeline.  We want to be able to render all of these ‘Ghost Rider’ shots in stereo, and that’s going to mean that we need to convert our plates before the visual effects are done.”  First we would get the shot and send it to VFX and they would do part of their normal process: match it up in roto, clean up Nick’s (Cage, who plays Ghost Rider) head with the interactive lighting rig, take it out, and then send the match move and the cleaned up plate to conversion, and then conversion would separate and come up with the right eye/ left eye and then send the stereo cameras back to the visual effects company so they could match that on the left eye and the right eye so that it is a native render. So you get all of that volumetric and you get that true 3D look from it.

411:  Prior to the pipeline, how was it done?

JF:  Prior to this both companies were doing steps one and two, and they weren’t sharing things and obviously we didn’t get the benefit of the stereo render visual effect, if we were doing straight conversion.

411:  It’s interesting because when you describe it, it sounds almost simple, though I am sure that it is not.  Why do you think it has taken so long to reach a point where you are able to develop this hybrid?  Why do you think this hasn’t happened before?

JF:  It’s funny that you say that because it is simple – there’s nothing secret about it that you aren’t getting Marj.  At The Creative Cartel we’re taking on more and more components of the process, and people keep saying “That’s a simple idea!” and it‘s like “Yah, it is a simple idea!”  There is nothing that we are doing that is this big, innovative thought that nobody’s had before; it’s just about the implementation of it, and being able to do it.  Doing the hybrid pipeline for “Ghost Rider” is a logistical challenge: you have to keep track of over 850 shots (handled by different VFX companies with numerous deadlines affecting numerous processes.)  Additionally, your filmmakers have to be willing to commit to their cut somewhat early.  You want to have your sequences cut before you go in and do your conversion, because your point of convergence is going to be fluid throughout your scene, you want to make sure that from shot to shot you’re not yanking the viewer’s focus too much or they will end up with a headache.  You want to flow through the sequence.

411:  So this sort of process matches up well with those sorts of filmmakers who have taken the time to do some previs where they really know what we want?

JF:  Yes, absolutely.  And it can work for other types of filmmakers too.  Some filmmakers are cutting in their head when they are shooting, and once they get to the cutting room they pretty much know what they want, and this process is great for that type of filmmaker.  If this is the type of filmmaker who really works it out in editorial and spends a lot of time redoing cuts, then it becomes a little more challenging.

411:  And so your company’s ability to step in and make sure all effects are being managed and overseen allows this to happen more fluidly.

JF:  Yes, right.  Absolutely, and we don’t have to spend so much time on our workflow pipeline just for the management of the shots, because we keep that in place.  We have that a well-tuned machine at this point, and so adding a layer of complexity in managing the process is easier for us than it might be for a group who’s just trying to get all of it together for one show.

411:  Are there other types of specific 3D effects that you see this being a benefit for – for instance, I think automatically of movies that include water, because that always seems so problematic with the 3D.

JF:  Absolutely.  Water is a really good one, anything that is kind of particle based, so fire, mist, clouds, water.  It doesn’t have to be just for particle, however.  I think that any time where you can convert your plate early and then render your visual effects in stereo you’re providing a much richer experience.

411:  Can you speak about how this saves money?  I’m guessing that’s mostly from taking that duplication out of the equation?

JF:  That’s for sure!   It definitely was a very cost efficient way to go.  After we had delivered everything and the work had been such high quality and knowing what they had paid for it, one studio exec over at Columbia said to me, “You know, you ruined it for everybody else, right?”  I said, “Yeah, well, oh, I’m sorry.”

411:  I know conversion comes under a lot of scrutiny, and some movies this past year have had a lot of criticism for poor 3D.  Do you think this type of pipeline could help correct poor 3D conversion?

JF:  There are different types of conversion, and some conversions are better quality and easier to watch than others.  I think that the  type of conversion that we are doing, with volumetric shapes and re-projecting images back on really helps with  the 3D, as opposed to just kind of doing cards where it’s more just like a pop up book.  I’m actually a proponent of conversion for most film makers –shooting with 3D cameras is very time consuming and very cumbersome, and you have to make a lot of decisions early on that you wouldn’t have to make if you weren’t shooting in 3D.  If you change your mind later it ends up costing you a lot of money because you end up having to throw away one of the eyes and you have to convert the other eye.  So, I’m a believer that conversion is the way to go, especially with the hybrid pipeline.  The filmmaker does not have to worry about the 3D aspect of it, they can just shoot the film that they want, and we can bring the richness of the 3D later.  I know there are people who vehemently disagree with me, but that’s my stand on it.

411:  Would you be happy to speak with producers who are thinking about doing a VFX heavy movie who are interested in doing a stereo conversion?

JF:  Absolutely, as long as it is part of the VFX process, you know.  If it is to enhance the VFX that we do, absolutely.  We are looking at some other projects that are hybrid now too, and I’m very excited to show off what we learned from the first one.

To learn more about The Creative-Cartel, please visit their website: