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Digital Domain Supervisor Mathew Buttler and Scott Meadows Head of Visualization and Virtual Production talked to us about the making of Ready Player One

Mathew Buttler_VFX Supervisor_ Digital Domain

(I remember being amazed and excited by the fact Matt and his team got to work hand to hand with Steven Spielberg, so I wanted to know in depth how was this experience for them and how did they do certain things )

So, after working about 300 shots with God + the Previz of the whole movie?? Wanted to ask you:

Which Spielberg movie you like the most? 

Matt: I refuse to answer that question but I am partial to Jaws, Jurassic Park, Raiders and Close Encounters....

Do you remember any VFX sequence/ sequences you can pointed as something you said, WOW, in Spielberg´s filmography?

Matt: Jurassic Park was a huge influence on getting me into VFX.   "wow, physically and photographically 'real' visual effects... I must do this"

What was your second though beside, Don’t Mess Up!  when they assigned you this Job?

Matt: "stay above water!"

then I wanted so much for Steven to be proud of the work we were doing.  

Scott Meadows_Head of visualization and virtual production_Digital Domain

About the super work of Previz what was the status during motion capture?, taking in consideration the huge amount of assets of some scenes.

In other words you get to recreate from the Previz, all the environment in order the actors and Spielberg be able to see ¨The whole picture¨? 

Scott: We spent a lot of time during the previz phase focusing on the flow of the story and the pacing.  With all of Steven's experience with previz and film making it was very easy to collaborate and sketch ideas out rather than getting lost in the details.  This allowed us to continue to work quickly and try lots of different story ideas so that by the time we got to the motion capture stage we had a very good blueprint of the film.  Once Steven was happy with the previz sequences we then handed all our Maya scenes to our Virtual Production team.  Our Virtual Art Deparment (V.A.D.) then started to design the worlds based on our previz.  At this time the production designer worked very closely with the V.A.D. to start laying out the worlds in the game engine to start developing the final look.  The goal being to have a more refined version of the previz inside the game engine which we used to visualize the shots during Virtual Production.  This was critical for all of the full-cg shots inside the Oasis because it allowed Steven and the actors to visualize the world they were performing in by using VR headsets as well as reference monitors during performance.  The game engine took things to the next level with more advanced lighting and better image quality to further design the film.  

I heard Spielberg used VR Glasses to Direct CG sequences? 

Matt: He did when directing mocap.  Didn't for the "real world content but you would have to ask ILM if he did for the Oasis VFX

Did he use the Virtual Camera of DD Mocap facility too?

Matt: Absolutely.   A new camera was designed and build for Steven's use.  We still have it.

How many actors were able to be on the Mocap set at the same time?

Scott: During the mocap shoots the first step was to capture the actors performance first, then assemble the performances into master scenes by our Virtual Production Lab.  Depending on the scene there were up to 10 characters being captured simultaneously.  For scenes with more than 10 characters we would mocap smaller groups of actors and then assemble the files in Motionbuilder.  All of the performance takes were filmed with reference cameras as well as through a master camera in the game engine.  This footage was sent to editorial where Steven made his performances selects which he would then shoot cameras on.  This requires all the selected performance takes to be stitched together in order to have a continuous master scene.  This was a tremendous amount of work because Steven likes to shoot continuous shots or "Oner's".  Once the master scenes were assembled we then brought them back out onto the capture stage, fed it back into the game engine so that Steven could then shoot the scenes using our virtual camera.  He would should dozens of takes for each scene which would then go to editorial.  The editors would then cut the sequence and review with Steven until he was happy and then the shots would get turned back over to our mocap team to process the data.

Did all the actors use VR Glasses to see the environment ?

Matt: Yes, Steven would show them first so they had an idea of what they were doing.

Knowing DD was in charge of the following sequences :

The Stacks

The War Room

Loyalty Center

Explosion in the Stacks

X1 BootSuit – haptic suit 

Hologram Sequence

Digital Replacement of Wade

Additional ancillary work

Flying drones, car chase

Which is your favorite so far ? and Why?

and which sequence turn to be the biggest challenge for you as a Supervisor ?

Matt: For both questions above, 

The hologram sequence

I am very proud of how it turned out and I'm very happy to say it was Steven's favorite effect in the movie too!

It was very complicated and difficult to show in stages.   You kind of have to jump in and hope he likes it!   We did talk hypothetically about it with Steven and Adam Stockhausen (Prod. designer) and together we created a system that was derivative enough to say "hologram" yet fresh enough to be different and justified.   Wade's hologram was constantly breaking down (like digital transmission loss) but continuously rebuilding via the computer.   Light energy particles inherited Wade's dynamic influence and then would be discretely "welded" back into position by the laser projection from the computer while not distracting too much from the important dialog.

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