- New Line Cinema
- Steven Quale
- VFX Supervisors (Method Studios)
- Nordin Rahhali, Simon Carr, Bruce Woloshyn
- VFX Producers (Method Studios)
- Andy Foster, Melody Woodford, Jinnie Pak
- Method Studios
- London, Los Angeles, Vancouver
Disaster movie fans will relish the chance to get up close and personal with the star of Into The Storm – a category five tornado. Method was brought onboard to create photoreal CG environments of the massive mile wide tornado and the destruction that accompanies it. The shots supervised by Nordin Rahhali take place at the climax of the feature when the tornado’s path of destruction devastates a school and traps the film’s main characters who must seek shelter in an unfinished storm drain. This gigantic F5 tornado eventually goes directly over them until they end up in the eye of the tornado, a seemingly tranquil middle to an extremely violent outer edge.
Method rose to many challenges on this project. The main one was developing all the necessary components to create a photoreal super storm environment. This included flying debris, mist, rain and clouds; trees that get uprooted, a construction yard with equipment, a school being blown away, a school bus, a storm chasing vehicle, a semi-truck and trailer being rag-dolled and smashing into a CG environment and large matte painting extensions. All of these, along with the tornado itself, were successfully developed and delivered in a timeframe of only four months.
Method had a number of fully CG shots that needed to be completely realistic and cut directly to plates with actors on a set. Nordin comments, “There were so many elements to this storm that were needed to make the shots feel real, so we decided to create tentpole shots that served two main purposes: one that they would allow the team to concentrate the development effort on a select few shots that would cover the majority of what was needed; and secondly, once the right look was achieved and approved by the director Steven Quale, the shots would serve to stand as a benchmark that everything else needed to match too.”
Reference of real tornados, storms and hurricanes played an important part in helping the development of each system while also giving the artists something real to match. One of the most difficult systems to create was trees and grasses. Method needed to populate a forest with regionally correct trees which needed to be simulated to achieve a realistic motion in a high wind scenario. The team also created a mist, rain and small debris system to build up over the sequence to show an increase in wind intensity. These systems needed to have fast turnaround and look absolutely real. Using reference as their guide, each shot was given a wind intensity grade to more quickly get shots to a match in continuity with each other.
The team broke the tornado itself into the following pieces: the tornado core, which was the thicker interior, cloud-like center; the outer shell, which was a wispier outer layer; the supercell, which was the massive cloud that the tornado connects to at the top which slowly spins; the ground contact layer where all the dust and debris was being pulled into the body of the tornado; and lastly the tendrils, which were mini-tornados birthed off the main body that would show up occasionally. These were all built to complement the final look and were carefully balanced together. The tornado was so massive that the VFX artists spent a good deal of time balancing the movement of all the components to get across the sheer scale of the storm.
EYE OF THE STORM
In one scene, the tornado’s leading edge passes, and the main characters are now in the eye of the storm. “This was done entirely as CG, and started off with concept art to try to set the look of what a theoretical center of a tornado might be” says Nordin. “The director loved the idea of having an additional smaller tornado at the center of the mile wide one, so the team worked that into the concept frame until he was happy with it. By adding elements that were relatable such as cars, buses, semi-trucks, trees etc. all flying around on the inside, we were able to make the size comprehendible. The tornado then read as one of epic proportions.”
He concludes, “This show was turned around extremely quickly for something with such a high degree of difficulty. In order to accomplish this, we worked out of three different Method locations but acted as one company thanks to the way Method is structured. Method’s team of global artists and technicians share the same desire to put the absolute best images possible on the big screen, and I think that passion came across in the finished result.”