To create cost-effective visual effects solutions for the critically acclaimed graphic novel "WATCHMEN".
Focusing on Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach, our strategy was to extract the core concept of the characters to find a unique approach to each of their visual effects needs. Breakdown the graphic novel and then present a competitive solution and bid.
Steven Ilous, in conjunction with his technology company, the Digital Concept Group (DCG) met with visual effects executive Chris De Faria at Warner Brothers (WB) to explore new technologies and pipelines for their upcoming feature films. The project at hand was WATCHMEN, with two characters that presented them with unique challenges. Dr. Manhattan, a perfect physical specimen, all blue, nude and able to grow from six feet to fifty feet. The other character was Rorschach, a dark character whose internal emotions are reflected by an inkblot on a burlap sack mask covering his face.
With Dr. Manhattan, we wanted to keep casting options open for WB, as the characters' physique would severely limit WB's options; although, WB wanted to see solutions that didn't involve full performance capture.
The technique developed was essentially a face replace on a CG body. Traditionally, you composite an actor's face on a stunt doubles' body. But in this case, we pasted an actor's face on a full CG body. We set out to prove this as a viable production method.
We prepped a shoot and called in our friends from Sony Cine-Alta. They brought in a digital cinema camera they had been testing in R&D. Steven served as the director for this R&D test and the visual effect supervisor.
Against a green screen stage with tracking marks, we shot an actor with his face and neck exposed. We tracked the live action plates and extracted the actor's physical performance. We then applied the real camera move to our 3D camera and the actor's body motion to the CG double. After we had a perfect match, we composited the real actor's face on the CG body. This gave us the real actor's facial performance and all the benefits of being able to shoot on set. In short, this saved time and money.
The other character, Rorschach, would prove to need a more advanced solution, as the question at hand was more complicated:
Experimenting with FLIR cameras (Forward Looking Infrared), we created a pipeline that captured temperature-controlled markers placed on the actors face that would only be visible to infrared cameras. Another solution we developed was an EMG (Electromyography) system that would effectively translate electrical signals from facial muscles into digital inputs that would drive a custom inkblot F.A.C.S system.