"Vue really saved me. It seemed like it was my only option and it actually became the best option!"
The Matte department at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) used Vue again for several shots of the Paramount Pictures and LucasFilm blockbuster, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull".
We had the great privilege to talk with Yanick Dusseault, Art Director and Concept Artist for "Indiana Jones 4":
E-on: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What's your background experience in the movie industry?
Yanick Dusseault: I've worked mostly as a matte painter and concept artist. I started in 1992 in Montreal. I made my way to California in 1995 and worked at post production companies in Los Angeles. I then moved to New Zealand for four years to work at Weta Digital Studios on the "Lord of the Rings" movies.
I came back at ILM for Star Wars. I had the choice between "King Kong" and "Star Wars". It was a difficult choice – it worked out for the best.
I have been mostly at ILM since, working on movies such as "Mission: Impossible III", "Eragon", "Live Free or Die Hard"...
When did you see Vue for the first time?
YD: The company was gearing up on "Pirates 2", and the guys were working with Vue. They showed me some of their progress and I was definitely very, very interested in the 3D landscapes they could create with Vue (which wasn't available before then).
Pictures had always been a source for us, for matte painters. We just didn't have any tools for landscaping other than just your standard 3D package that didn't have a whole lot of power for large nature scenes.
So that was my first peek at it, but I didn't touch it until the Indiana Jones project.
Why did you decide to use Vue rather than photo references?
YD: I did some research and asked around to see what had been done before in order to cover the shots we had to do for this one sequence. For a while this sequence seemed daunting. I had to create this very, very large high view of the Amazon forest. So I looked into photo reprints and there were very few aerial shots of the Amazon or anything resembling it. The whole sequence required many shots and that's when I looked into Vue. I got the PLE version online and started to play with that.
It took me a good three weeks to become familiar with Vue. Vue is very quick to create any environment, but since it had to be a specific type of look and terrain, it took about a month for me to figure out what approach in Vue would be best for me to cover that whole sequence.
What was the creation process like? Did you start with a specific Idea (given by the art director), and have to stick to it, or did Vue let you go further than planned?
YD: I was also the "concept artist" - working directly with the supervisor Pablo. I had done a bunch of concepts early on so I had some freedom. But the final call was Pablo Helman's. The only direction that I really got was that we needed this vast Amazon forest from 1000 feet up and there needed to be a river at the bottom. And that was it. That was the guideline and from there I was free to do what I wanted.
Did you use Vue in combination with any other 3D app?
YD: Since I was doing the background environment, it was mostly Vue. To get a very precise landscape layout for use throughout the sequence, the layout was done in XSI and we used Vue to populate the vegetation. We did mold much of the geometry in Vue, then took it into XSI to lay it out. We finally exported everything back to Vue, and used the Vue shaders (mainly EcoSystem materials).
I had some very quick results within the first month. I found the trees I was looking for. We used trees and plants right out of the box and made the ecosystem without any modifications to the plants. We didn't modify any of the textures except for coloring a bit.
We were able to render very large images with all multi pass layers separated directly in Vue (which is good as it avoids any stitching work afterwards). The shadows and highlights were done separately in post. We finally added phototextures to the rocks and that's it.
Thinking on a sequence level with limited render power I had to figure out the best approach for this. It took me some time to narrow down the lighting settings.
Talking about limited render power, how many machines did you use for the render? How long did the scenes take to render?
YD: Rendering was on a per shot basis. We laid out the camera path and determine entire camera coverage throughout the entire shot.
We then created an extra camera to cover this with a much wider angle and a large aspect ratio. Rendering one frame at a time. We used hi res renders so that it could cover the entire camera coverage.
The images were 4000-5000 pixels wide. We used only 5 machines and it usually took 24 hours per image. This was a bit of a bet - hoping everything was rendering correctly and that I didn't forget anything in the render passes.
The renders were heavy. In the beginning, I wasn't sure how much Vue could handle because this was quite a large environment with a lot of trees in there and a very high polycount.
Vue really saved me on this. It seemed like it was my only option and it actually became the best option.
How would you have done it the "traditional way"?
YD: I would have called for a photoshoot. We had some material, but not for that specific angle - a certain height we had to convey and the specific environment. I needed a 180 degree view of the whole place and there was nothing out there that could help me do this. Another option was for me to paint it by hand which would have taken forever and wouldn't have looked as good.
We are mostly digital now but the Director and DP (Director of Photography) were more traditional. The first Indiana Jones Trilogy established the need to have this old school look; it fits with the story and the style of this movie. So we had to retain the traditional look, yet we could do it digitally, which was a greater challenge.
What was the hardest thing to achieve with Vue? And how did you manage to do it?
YD: What the product gave me was great. However technical things like importing cameras from XSI gave me some trouble. I tried many different ways to no avail, yet at some point it would just work. With Maya, it was much easier.
Once I understood the correct procedure to bring in the camera path, it was just the matter of setting up the ecosystem and set up the layer renders and launch the render. It took me a while to get it going, but once I had it the results were great.
Are there any features you wouldn't be without?
YD: The magic is in the trees! 3D trees have been around for a long time, but lighting trees on such a large scale was practically impossible. They are always very heavy and you can use them for foreground and midground stuff. But creating entire vistas was a first in my playbook. That's just been wonderful with Vue.
With Vue I can get exactly what I want and it's definitely a first for me. 3D landscaping they call it; it's just wonderful! This software is really powerful and it's a great plus for the whole industry.
Will you be using Vue for your personal artwork?
YD: I like to keep my art traditional (digital painting with Photoshop, etc.) in a sense because it requires me to work harder.
But for any production work and especially environment production and landscape, I will switch to Vue right away now!
Nowadays, environments are left out to the digimatte department and it's up to us to find the solutions for that. We found out that Vue is the only 3D landscaping software out there that can be used in production!
What's Cooking at ILM?
What are the next movies/ release you'll be working on?
YD: My next project will be "Transformer 2". I'm the art director on it.
Official Movie Trailer and Synopsis
During the Cold War, Soviet agents watch Professor Henry Jones when a young man brings him a coded message from an aged, demented colleague, Henry Oxley. Led by the brilliant Irina Spalko, the Soviets tail Jones and the young man, Mutt, to Peru. With Oxley's code, they find a legendary skull made of a single piece of quartz. If Jones can deliver the skull to its rightful place, all may be well; but if Irina takes it to its origin, she'll gain powers that could endanger the West. Aging professor and young buck join forces with a woman from Jones's past to face the dangers of the jungle, Russia, and the supernatural.
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