Modus FX Crafts Subtle CG for Breaking Dawn – Part 1

This is a very neat article about how Modus FX Crafts Studio worked on the visual effects for Breaking Dawn, including making Bella’s baby kick and move inside her belly.

Press Release from Modus FX: 

Montreal, Que: Oct 20, 2011… Montreal-based studio Modus FX recently delivered invisibly integrated visual effect shots for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1. The latest installment in the wildly popular romantic vampire series based on the novels by Stephenie Meyer opens in theatres on Nov 18. Incorporating a stylized look as a visual expression of the more-than-human qualities of the characters, the film required seamless CGI and a refined aesthetic. 

A team of 12 artists at Modus had six weeks to complete 42 shots for the film, which included creating a pregnant belly for lead actress Kristen Stewart, digitally removing a wrist brace she was wearing in another sequence and a variety of subtle cosmetic refinements. 

Yanick Wilisky, visual effects supervisor and co-founder of Modus FX, described the challenges of creating organic CG. “We are all so used to seeing organic objects and surfaces. If something is just slightly off, you know it’s fake – even if you can’t put your finger on exactly what the problem is.” 

Making Stewart look pregnant was one of the tasks assigned to Modus. “They wanted the baby to kick and move inside her belly,” said Wilisky. “We had to match the camera moves, the lighting, even the film grain, along with the subtleties of her skin.” 

In fact, according to CG supervisor Martin Pelletier, “The two hardest things to work with in CG are water and skin.” 

“For this project, we had to be really quick in terms of turn around,” he explained. “We made use of very complex lighting from the set, adding 3D layers, and a matchmove of her stomach, to make her look pregnant. We took our time at the start to get the recipe right and that paid off in efficiency once we got going. We were soon able to turn around several shots each day.” 

“Hand-Crafted” Visual Effects 

In one central sequence – the wedding of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) – the camera pans around the newlyweds as they embrace. However, due to a minor wrist injury, Stewart was wearing a brace on the day of the shoot. Naturally, the brace had to be removed in post. 

“Matchmoving a close-up is a good example of the challenges of organic CG,” said Pelletier. “We started with a CG model of the hand and then carefully crafting the rig to create natural motions. Once we had that, every minute movement of the hand had to be matched exactly.” 

The shot, which is over 300 frames, called for extensive camera tracking and object tracking. Lighting artists at Modus rendered the actor’s hand with subsurface scattering to capture the partial translucence of skin and make it look believable. 

“Tracking was particularly challenging, because when they were shooting it, they weren’t thinking about it as an effects shot. There was no camera metadata for the sequence,” Pelletier explained. “The solution was to do a series of careful manual adjustments until we had correctly replicated the light sources on the set. For work like this, it really takes the eye of a skilled artist to get it right.” 

“Bella is moving in the shot as the camera circles around her,” Wilisky added, “She’s holding Edward’s hand, so we needed to recreate parts of his hand, along with some of the background. It was a highly technical and complex shot, but no one will see any of that when they watch the movie.” 

The Modus Pipeline 

“We have developed a very efficient pipeline for visual effects in live action shots, particularly for aspects such as motion tracking,” said Wilisky. Along with in-house proprietary technologies, Modus uses tools such as PFTrack, Mocha Pro and the Nuke 3D package. “The shots we delivered on Twilight are similar to the type of invisible effects work we’ve done in the past on films like The American, Barney’s Version and Jane Eyre. The studios recognize that we have a strong pipeline and that we know how to deliver.”

Directed by Bill Condon, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 will be released Nov 18, 2011 by Summit Entertainment. The film stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner.

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