OXFORD, UK -- Celebrated director Werner Herzog has broken new ground by using 2d3’s automatic camera tracker boujou to create visual effects for the upcoming historical drama Invincible. Renowned for his uncompromising approach to filmmaking and a strict through-the-camera approach to realism, Herzog has never before used visual effects in a movie.
Set in Berlin in the early 1930s, Invincible stars Tim Roth as a Nazi hypnotist and clairvoyant who presents Jewish circus performer Zishe Breitbart as Siegfried, an Aryan superman. Played by real-life strongest man Jouko Ahola, Breitbart is convinced that he has been chosen by God to save Judaism from Hitler, but becomes an icon for the rising Nazi movement.
Alan Marques, Visual Effects Supervisor for Artem Digital on Invincible, explained Herzog’s special approach to realism and the use of visual effects: "Werner strives to shoot things that are really happening in front of the camera. He doesn’t use effects if they will get in the way of a realistic performance. For example, Juoko really was the world’s strongest man when we were shooting, and the huge weights he had to lift were real: these were not effects shots." Where Herzog did decide to incorporate visual effects, they were used to create scenes that could not have been shot conventionally.
"The location for one of the most important scenes was in a historic palace in Koln, Germany," Marques continued. "We didn’t have room to build the set we needed, and we would not have been allowed to damage the interior, so it had to be an effects shot." The set, known as ‘The Circle of the Occult’, represents the secret meeting room where inner-circle Nazis conducted séances. The design called for the walls of the circular room to be constructed as a giant aquarium filled with jellyfish, with just a single entrance doorway.
Despite Herzog’s strict approach to realistic filmmaking in his work prior to Invincible, Marques says that the director knew exactly what he wanted from the effects technology: "Werner is a very organised operator and he knew just where the effects shots were needed. The shot count for the film remained fixed throughout and he was very involved with the process as we put the effects shots together. He was terrific to work with."
Planning the shots within the constraints imposed by the previous generation of tracking technology, Marques asked Herzog to abandon his preferred handheld camera style for the sequence where the camera moves through the entrance tunnel into the Circle of the Occult for the first time.
"We planned it as a dolly shot instead and built the frames of the aquarium tanks on set to act as reference points for the tracking software we were using at the time," Marques continued. "Unfortunately for us, Werner split it into four different shots which presented us with a much more difficult challenge: one of the shots had a pan at the head of the dolly, the lighting was low-key and moody and almost all of the set was obscured by actors standing in the room or entering through the tunnel. Effectively we had nothing to track on, and we could only get one moderately accurate track from the four shots with the software we were using. They were long shots too – up to one and a quarter minutes."
By this time, Marques had seen boujou in action and decided to try it: "We realised that it was the only way we would be able to get the effects completed. Even though the actors were obscuring more than ninety percent of the set and the light was really low, boujou was able to track the scene correctly. We had no obvious features, no markers or other on-set tracking aids: boujou just picked up tiny details like the veining on the marble archway and locked onto that."
"That was very, very impressive," Marques added. "Even if things had gone according to our original plan with the shooting, it would have taken us weeks of work to track the shots with our previous software. As it turned out, we had to deal with a bunch of ‘impossible’ shots – but once we had added some rough mattes, boujou just solved them overnight, unaided by us."
Having derived an accurate camera track, Marques completed the aquarium effect using jellyfish footage shot in Monterey, Calif.
Marques thinks the rules of engagement for effects shots have changed: "Visual effects supervisors can allow directors to be much more creative now. If we’d been working with boujou at the start of Invincible, we could have allowed Werner to do the shot with a handheld camera. Handheld doesn’t present a tracking problem any more, and neither does low light. We’d still advise a director to keep actors from obscuring nearly all the set, but even that was something we were able to overcome with boujou."
boujou (boo-zhoo) is the industry’s first fully automated camera calibration and tracking system. Targeted at film and television effects, games development, architectural and industrial design applications, boujou allows artists for the first time to derive complex camera tracks and calibration data from film or video material, without the need for manual tracking input.
Camera tracking and calibration is an essential part of today’s production process when directors and post-production specialists seek to combine filmed and computer-generated material for complex effects scenes.
Since its launch in March 2001, boujou has been used in many high-profile television and movie productions including Band of Brothers, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Tomb Raider, and Lord of the Rings.
boujou’s capabilities include complete automation of the matchmoving process, the ability to track challenging shots featuring little or no obvious geometry, and predictive capability that enables tracking to continue even when tracked features are temporarily obscured. Because it identifies and tracks hundreds of features in every frame, boujou produces an extremely accurate camera calibration.
Unlike conventional camera tracking products which require the user to decide on and manually position tracking points throughout the scene, boujou’s technology uses advanced vision science techniques to automatically track features in 3D from frame to frame. The software creates many more tracks than would be possible using manual methods, and the large amount of data created means that tracking anomalies are analysed and eliminated more efficiently. Once the three-dimensional data has been derived from the footage, it can be used in 3D animation packages like Alias|Wavefront’s Maya, and 3DStudio Max, and in compositing packages such as Flame and Shake.
boujou runs under Windows NT and Windows 2000 on standard PC hardware.
2d3 Ltd. is a member of OMG plc group of companies together with Vicon, developers of the world's most advanced motion capture systems. OMG is listed on the London Stock Exchange.
For more information, go to www.2d3.com or www.omg3d.com.