- Warner Bros
- Zack Snyder
- Method Studios
- Los Angeles
This fantasy, starring Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley and Carla Gugino, was director Zack Snyder's follow-up to his hugely popular and wildly inventive 300. Epic in scope, the film—based on the popular graphic novel—exists in an alternate world that partly reflects historic moments the audience recognizes but with major imaginative exceptions based on the existence of the superheroes. The film was graded at Method Studios’ sister facility Company 3 by frequent Zack Snyder collaborator, Stefan Sonnenfeld. Snyder was acknowledged at the 2009 ShoWest convention with the coveted Director of the Year Award.
WHERE HISTORY MEETS FANTASY
For the opening scene that sends audiences right into the Watchmen universe, Snyder wanted to re-create the assassination of President Kennedy as his motorcade moved along Dallas' Dealey Plaza—a historic moment burned in America's collective memory—but with the twist that in this Watchman reality the character The Comedian was actually a second assassin stationed in the nearby grassy knoll.
Overall visual effects supervisor Des Jardin oversaw the shooting of some basic plates of actors in a motorcade driving through a parking lot. The rest was up to Bryan Hirota's team at Method Studios (then CIS Hollywood).
RECREATING ANOTHER TIME AND PLACE
The 8mm footage of the assassination captured by Abraham Zapruder has become an iconic record of the event. Snyder wanted a shot of the scene in which Zapruder and his camera could be clearly seen. The audience then observes the results of the bullet hits to Kennedy and the camera pans around to follow the limo speeding away. Unlike the original Zapruder footage, we see superhero The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in the grassy knoll hiding behind a picket fence.
Method started out with digitized frames of the Zapruder film, then cleaned them up and stabilized the shaking from the handheld camerawork to get a sense of the scene and study what kind of cars were there and where people were standing as the doomed President's limo drove by. They also collected hundreds of photos of Dealey Plaza. A Google Earth street view confirmed that aside from an expected change in the size of the trees, the area looked in 2009 very similar to the way it looked in 1963.
Hirota's team discovered that between Google Earth and the massive amounts of information collected by official investigations of the assassination and an amalgam of conspiracy theorists, there was incredibly detailed data to base their virtual Dealey Plaza on.
Based on this preparation, Method created an animatic in MAYA to give Snyder and Jardin a sense of how a final scene of the real motorcade elements and virtual environment would look.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
After Snyder and Jardin provided their input, Hirota's team began creating the scene using a combination of Silhouette software to roto the live-action elements out of the parking lot environment, Photoshop for some background matte painting work and a great deal of 3D work. This was necessary for much of the environment because of the dynamic camera moves involved.