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Contagion

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Method Studios, through its LA and Vancouver facilities, completed 40 shots for a number of key sequences in Contagion. Much of the work involved the creation of a CG bat that plays a key role in the origination of the epidemic.

The scene is viewed as a flashback that occurs as characters in the film piece together how the virus, which had never been seen in humans previously, made that fateful jump. We see a bat fly into a barn and drop its food into a pig pen. That food is then consumed by one of the pigs, which is served as a pork delicacy to a business traveler in Hong Kong (Gwyneth Paltrow), who then becomes the unfortunate case zero of the virus among humans.

IT ALL STARTED WITH A BAT


Method's Tom Smith searched reference materials and reviewed bat specimens in search of inspiration for the CG creature that would be developed for the film. Realism was important and Smith looked for animals that would exist not far from Hong Kong and that were small enough to realistically fly into the barn. He came up with a particular type of fruit bat with a seven-inch wingspan that worked. Studying this particular variety, Smith was able to focus on the very thin, almost translucent, wings and its bone structure. 

The Method team built the CG bat in MAYA and made use of reference footage to capture a bats way of moving, generally more abrupt and sudden than a bird's. The animators also endeavored to give their CG bat a kind of "sickly" look--not too pronounced, but enough to signal to the audience that something's not quite right. The team rendered the bat out in Mental Ray--a tool Smith likes to use, especially when creating extremely fine detail such as the bat's fur.

The scene consists of only six shots but being such a critical moment in the film and serving as the key to its main mystery, it had to be completely photorealistic to maintain the audience's belief.


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