- Walt Disney Pictures
- Jon Turtletaub
- VFX Supervisor (Method Studios)
- Olivier Dumont
- VFX Producer (Method Studios)
- Aurelia Abate
- Method Studios
- Los Angeles
The Jerry Bruckheimer brand has become synonymous with big, effects-driven spectacle, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is no exception. Released in 2010, the film features Nicolas Cage as a modern day wizard who teams up with a young sorcerer-in-training to save the world from the forces of evil. With over 1200 visual effects shots to Sorcerer’s credit, the legendary producer (along with director Jon Turtletaub and VFX supervisor John Nelson) called upon Method Studios to help realize a climactic moment for the film.
In the midst of an enormous battle late in the movie, the character Veronica is possessed by the sorceress Morgana and used as a vessel to summon evil sorcerers from the dead in an ritual known as ‘the Rising.’ As expected, the sequence is packed with large-scale visual effects and Nelson sought out Method's artists to help bring it to life. A team of Houdini FX specialists was assembled to create a series of shots that portray an ominous dark cloud snaking throughout a series of locales and awakening the evil spirits. "Jon (Turtletaub) wanted us to find a way for the smoke to be realistic in its rendering but magical in its behavior," says Method VFX Supervisor Olivier Dumont, "a lot of development was needed in order to get something that looked real but also unusual."
The limited schedule presented a unique challenge for working on a big-budget studio feature. Method's involvement on the show was a very fast seven weeks and work had to be shown to Bruckheimer and Disney within three weeks of commencement. Presenting material at a highly polished level in such a short amount of time required a close collaboration between Method, Nelson, and director Jon Turtletaub. "John was working with us on site almost every day and Turtletaub was in every fourth day," says Method CG Supervisor Andy Boyd, "they were able to give feedback immediately so we could push the work forward as quickly as possible." Boyd also attributes the show's success to Method's flexible, artist-driven pipeline; "We wrote our own software tools specific to the needs of the show. We could turn around creative changes and new concept within a day, if needed." Adds Dumont, "(Method) could outmatch other facilities since it was able to find quick ways to do things that would have taken an eternity in a big studio pipeline."
Adding to the challenge of the climactic ‘Rising’ sequence was the fact that its base plates were comprised solely of stock footage, which meant that the traditional starting points in CG (such as camera information, location photography, and survey data) were non-existent. This required Method to get creative in its approach. "We had to find different tricks and aesthetics for each shot to match the mood of the stock footage," says Dumont. Although the sequence called for the same type of effect, the shots were so varied in tone and scale that each required its own unique set up. Dumont elaborates: "We rebuilt most of the environments in 3D to ensure that the smoke would integrate and interact realistically with the footage, which was crucial to Jon's vision." With all work being done in Houdini and rendering in Mantra, Boyd and Dumont could establish a procedural workflow that enabled creative changes to be distributed across all shots instantaneously.
IN A PINCH
Despite the creative and practical difficulties inherent in Sorcerer’s execution, Dumont and the Method team were able to develop an approach that was perfectly suited to meet the challenge. The condensed schedule required the team to draw upon the facility's depth of experience with award-winning commercial vfx and adapt their pipeline to suit the needs of a big-budget Bruckheimer production. The results were self-evident; the sequence fit right in as part of the larger climactic scene at the end of the film.