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THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

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Stieg Larsson's international best-seller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was already a cultural phenomenon before getting the green light as a big budget studio feature.  To meet the towering expectations of its global fan base, Paramount Studios and producer Scott Rudin enlisted some of the best filmmaking talent in the world.  In a perfect marriage of director and material, David Fincher returns to his roots as the world's preeminent purveyor of gritty crime drama and concentrates his talents on the immensely popular thriller.

Not content to simply Americanize the richly Scandinavian setting for the story, Fincher and his crew embraced the mood so clearly illustrated in Larsson's book and kept the story firmly rooted in the cold and dreary outskirts of Sweden.  Production looked to Method Studios to help realize a series of digital environments that wouldn't betray Larsson's vision.

INVISIBLE LANDSCAPES


Early in the film, journalist Mikhail Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) accepts an assignment to investigate the disappearance of a young woman some forty years prior on a rural island off the coast of Sweden.  The sequence transports us from the metropolitan surroundings of Stockholm to the Vanger estate on the fictional island of Herestad.  Method contributed to a key shot in this sequence by creating an all-CG fly through of Blomkvists's train as it traverses the Swedish countryside.  The shot is rendered with exceptional photographic detail and seamlessly blends with shots from location within the sequence.  Blink and you might miss it.

Working from Fincher’s concept boards and storyboards, VFX Supervisor and lead matte painter Wei Zheng created a series of highly detailed matte paintings that were projected onto 3D geometry of the mountainside.  To blend the edges of the matte painting projections, Method populated the landscape with a combination of 2D trees projected onto cards and 3D trees that were procedurally animated to help randomize placement and density.  With the terrain in place, Method created a commuter train in Maya and rendered it in V-Ray.  Final integration of the train into the environment included volumetric snow built in Houdini as well as adding specular highlights on the snow and frozen lake to enhance the shot’s sense of scale.

STOCKHOLM IN STAGES


Fincher’s dedication to keeping the story grounded in Sweden extended beyond creating photorealistic digital landscapes.  Production collaborated with Method to create background replacements in over 100+ interior shots, establishing settings for the Milton Security building, the Swedish Harbor, and the city streets of downtown Stockholm.  While production provided most of the material needed to recreate Stockholm, Method VFX Supervisor Sean Faden and his team proved resourceful in filling in some of the gaps.  Says Faden, “One of our compositors is Swedish.  He took a lot of his own pictures and brought them back to Method.  He even sent his sister out to capture some more specific imagery that we needed to enhance our comps.  It worked great.”

Setting the Milton Security building proved to be a bigger challenge.  According to Faden, “Wei created a great matte painting to serve as a basis for the harbor outside the building.  Fincher wanted us to add some life to it, so we added moving buses, boats, shimmering water and flags in CG.  Same rule applied for the nighttime sequence – Fincher wanted to see some lights moving in the exterior.  We spent some time with this because it’s not simply adding big blobs of light outside the windows and moving them around.  When you focus on the image, you start to perceive what the lights represent; if they’re cars, how fast are they moving and in what direction?”  He continues, “The casual observer might never notice this level of detail, and that’s exactly the point.”

REUNITED


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo marks a renewed collaboration between Fincher and Method supervisors Sean Faden and Wei Zheng.  Faden, who has six projects with Fincher dating back to his animation work on the harrowing plane crash scene in Fight Club, sees Dragon Tattoo as a compliment to his other crime dramas Seven and Zodiac.  Adds Faden, “This one was definitely more about subtlety.”


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Keywords

  • Environments
  • FX
  • Compositing
  • Hard surface
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