Framestore CFC Delivers Children of Men

Posted In | News Categories: Films, Visual Effects | Geographic Region: All, Europe | Site Categories: Films, Visual Effects
For CHILDREN OF MEN (opening Christmas Day through Universal Pictures), director Alfonso Cuarón approached Framestore CFC to handle the film's most challenging single vfx element: a CG baby, which is first seen actually being delivered.

It is 2027, when no child has been born for 18 years and science is at loss to explain the reason. Set in a dystopian England, fractious with violence and warring nationalistic sects, CHILDREN OF MEN follows an unlikely champion of Earth's survival: Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a disillusioned ex-activist turned minor bureaucrat. After the unexpected discovery of Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), a lone pregnant woman, Theo is forced to face his own demons and protect the planet's last remaining hope in a desperate journey to deliver her to safety.

Photoreal CG humans are undoubtedly one of the very hardest things to achieve. Starting with dinosaurs, digital artists and technicians have slowly moved up the food chain and, one by one, landmarks have fallen. Insects, reptiles, mammals, fur-bearing creatures, humanoids (such as Gollum) have all have been ticked off the list in the last decade. But the holy grail of human beings that you cannot tell from the real thing has remained elusive. Our perceptions are so finely tuned with regards to our own species that the slightest mistimed movement or miscalibration of skin shade instantly breaks the spell.

Add to this the pressures of introducing a CG baby into a scene which would be shot as an extended, three-and-a-half minute single take, filmed with a hand-held camera, lit by a hand-carried hurricane lamp, with the baby in close up from delivery onwards, and you had one of the most demanding vfx briefs of 2006.

Framestore’s vfx supervisor, Tim Webber, said: "Coming as a key plot point of the film, and at this point of heightened emotion, it was critical that the shot felt 100% real. We could not afford for anyone to be taken out of the film at this point. It was a high target, with a kicking and screaming baby. But the reactions we are getting, with even seasoned vfx professionals asking whether the baby is CG or not, suggest that we've hit our target."

One of the first things established was Cuarón's faith in the Framestore team. "Alfonso made it clear," says animation supervisor, Michael Eames, "That the logistics of the sequence, the 'how,' was entirely up to us. That was a great feeling — if a little scary." Eames attended the shoot, alongside Webber and CG supervisor Andy Kind. Recalled Webber, "The shoot took just one long day to capture. It was quick because we were only shooting two takes, having decided that the best way to get Kee into place for the birth was to join two sequences invisibly when she is briefly off camera. They enter the room and the camera pans back to the doorway as Theo ushers the owner out. When we pan back she is lying on the mattress with her (prosthetic) legs in the delivery position."

Soon after work had begun on the delivery sequence, Cuarón, in a further vote of confidence in the Framestore team, decided to go back to a number of shots featuring an animatronic baby that are seen later on in the film, and replace the animatronic with the CG version. Altogether, Framestore delivered 32 shots for CHILDREN OF MEN, with 20 of them featuring the baby.

"We were quite lucky," added Kind. "We had a good few months lead in to the work, for R&D, and we developed the look quite early on. The skin was the biggest single challenge facing us, I think, and we were helped considerably in this respect by a number of good RenderMan tools that had just appeared; for example, for some of the subsurface scattering techniques we used."

The rig and animation were accomplished in Maya, the rendering in RenderMan, the tracking in Matchmover and boujou, the paintwork chiefly in Commotion and the compositing in Shake.

London-based Framestore CFC (www.framestore-cfc.com) is one of the leading visual effects companies working on effects for feature films and commercials. Recent film work includes X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, SUPERMAN RETURNS, V FOR VENDETTA and HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE.






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