(Cambridge, MA. April 11, 2006) The setting: deep space. The cast: hunky heroes in tight tunics, lip-glossed damsels in distress, and faceless bad guys in helmets and inexplicable shin guards. The premise: a rag-tag colony of intergalactic fugitives, and their battle-scarred spaceship, waging war against forces of evil as they pursue the myth of a home planet.
In the late 70's, Battlestar Galactica was a character-driven television success, crafted in the likeness of Star Wars. In 2003, the SCI FI Channel introduced their re-imagined version of Battlestar Galactica--with a socially evolved cast facing complex tactical threats and moral challenges. Now in production on the third original season, Battlestar Galactica is the highest rated program in the SCI FI Channel's history.
A significant part of this success can be attributed to Zoic Studios, the primary vendor for animation, effects, and compositing on Battlestar Galactica. Zoic is a 80+ person outfit, focusing primarily on long-form television series and film work. Out of their Culver City studio, Lead Compositor Lane Jolly is at the helm of the Battlestar Galactica compositing fleet. His arsenal includes After Effects and Shake, but a key weapon is Autodesk's Combustion 4, fully loaded with GenArts Sapphire Plug-ins--a collection of over 175 image processing and synthesis effects which fully integrate into the Combustion UI. On a show where the challenge to create realistic, visually impressive battle scenes arises in almost every episode, Lane says that Sapphire effects are an important, time-saving component of the integrated Zoic pipeline. "We're always trying to figure out a way to put the viewer 'in the battle,'" says Lane, "Sapphire Plug-ins do just that with an amazing array of parameters--giving me the options I need to create the 'fantasy reality' look I'm always going for."
In episode 2.12, "Resurrection Ship Part 2", the battlestars Pegasus and Galactica face off with two enemy Cylon baseships, in an epic conflict that will ultimately turn the tide of the ongoing war. The battle culminates with the total obliteration of the Cylon's Resurrection ship; and in the midst of the final assault, Apollo--the Commander of the Pegasus--is ejected into space when his stealth ship is hit. The scope of the destruction is subsequently viewed through Commander Apollo's eyes, as he floats helplessly in space, awaiting rescue or death.
Lane illustrates how he used Sapphire's RackDefocus and FeedbackBubble effects to convey the intensity and realism of this major battle sequence.
"For this scene in particular, we wanted to achieve a really cavernous, warlike look in the wide shots, where the extent of the battle is evident. So we created a massive haze/smoke layer that floated and shifted overhead. Then I composited all of the fire and explosion elements together and piped their combined luminance values into Sapphire's RackDefocus. This blew out the luminance values and enlarged the explosions, while keeping their positions on the screen. Then I used that as a matte to light the smoke layer. Ultimately, the light from the explosions intermittently illuminated the base of the haze--creating a realistic combat visual."
"When an object is blowing up," Lane explains, "the image gets big, fast. RackDefocus actually duplicates pixels, so I can amplify this effect and make the explosion get bigger even faster. The other nice thing about RackDefocus is the brightness parameter, which allows me to blow out the brightness of an input image while significantly blurring it--whereas if I was using a regular color corrector and blur effect I wouldn't be able to brighten it up enough. The pixel values wouldn't be there because the bright areas get too spread out. This makes RackDefocus a huge time saver."
Lane also uses FeedbackBubble to stretch out the smoke layer in these types of scenes. He discovered that this effect acts almost like a particle system, in that it takes pixels, holds them on the screen for longer, and then splits them--blowing them off like particles emitted from a texture. So when the smoke footage runs out he can apply FeedbackBubble to get what he describes as "a longer lasting, smoky fade-out look."
Lane goes on to explain how he uses Sapphire Shake and Distort effects in battle scenes. "Shake adds a credible 'camera shake' effect, and is one of the best shake effects I've seen. It's highly animatable, and has a built-in motion blur parameter--which works great when ships collide or get hit. Sapphire Distort creates an image distortion effect, which is effective at conveying gravity or heat coming off an engine or gun."
As Apollo drifts alone in space, forsaken by his fleet, he witnesses the battle's magnitude from a distance--light from the explosions bathing his somber expression and reflecting off his mask. Lane describes how he used Sapphire's Blur and Glow effects to soften the crispness of the original HD footage.
"This footage was shot in HD on a green screen, and was ultra sharp. So right off the bat I added Blur to muddy the edges. This took the luminance of the color values and washed them back into the shadows to soften the footage overall. Then I took all the shots' highlights and added Glow, again to soften the edges a bit."
"In general," he continues, "being able to turn off the source opacity within Sapphire's Glow effect is a really handy feature. Often times with rendered footage of fire you don't get an alpha channel, so you have to create one based on the image's luminance. Adding Glow to that original layer can adversely affect the image colors--they get pushed and broken because I have to actually mess with the pre-multiplication of the color. In this scenario the Glow is overreacting because the fire isn’t pre-multiplied by the alpha channel. However, if I put a Sapphire Glow on its own layer and screen it over the fire layer, I can then turn the source opacity off so the source image's light is obscured. It's essentially avoiding the time-consuming pre-multiplication of adding the Glow on the original layer. By being able to turn off the source opacity the edges of the image are pulled in, the black is pulled out, mixing it with the background better--and no one can tell I skipped a step."
Lane notes that another key benefit of Sapphire is the ability to add a matte layer within many of the effects, such as Glint and Glow.
"Say I want to add a glow around a ship to give it an ominous sheen--to make it look like a large piece of metal floating in space--I can take that element as a whole and instead of having to key it and make a new layer, I can just make one little color corrector matte right onto the ship and then pipe in the Glow, and it will only affect the area that I've matted. This saves me the step of having to make a new layer and operator. I can then tweak the threshold parameter to indicate how much of the matte I want to be using, which gives me total control of the overall look and feel."
Lane has been using Sapphire for over a year, and has found that the intuitive UI and time-saving parameters have helped make the Zoic pipeline more efficient. "I can single-handedly get things done that would take numerous operators to finish without Sapphire."
With Sapphire Plug-ins, Zoic Studio's Lane Jolly is equipped with the multi-faceted visual effects he needs to create believable shots on Battlestar Galactica--a show where, as Lane puts it, the only "real" elements are the stars.
About GenArts, Inc.
Founded in 1996 in Cambridge, Mass., GenArts, Inc. is a premier provider of digital visual effects plug-ins for the film, broadcast and video industries. Their product, Sapphire Plug-ins, equips digital artists with a collection of over 175 state-of-the-art image processing and synthesis effects such as: Glows, EdgeRays, LensFlare, Lightning, FilmEffect, Warps and Textures. They seamlessly integrate into a number of editing and compositing systems such as: Adobe® After Effects® and Premiere® Pro; Apple® Final Cut Pro®, Shake® and Motion®; Avid® AVX Products; Autodesk’s® Discreet® Systems and Combustion®; Eyeon® Fusion®; Sony® XPRI®; and Quantel® generationQ.
Sapphire Plug-ins have become an industry standard for high-end visual effects creation by providing unrivaled image quality, a unique organic look, and ease of use. They have been used extensively in an array of television programs, music videos and feature films, including: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Star Wars – Episode I, II and III, Spider-Man 1, 2 and 3, Sin City, The Matrix trilogy, Titanic, Lost, American Idol and CSI. Additional GenArts product information can be found at www.genarts.com.