NUKE Helps Digital Domain Recreate Iwo Jima for "Flags" and "Letters"

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3D projection mapping, customization were key to creating photo-real environments

Last Updated: November 6, 2006 5:27 pm GMT
 
(Venice, CA. November 6, 2006) D2 Software, Inc. announced today that its NUKE high-end compositing software was used extensively by Digital Domain on Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers," currently in theaters, and the director's parallel film, "Letters from Iwo Jima," which tells the story of the same battle from the Japanese perspective and is scheduled for release February 9, 2007. Digital Domain compositors relied heavily on NUKE's 3D environment capabilities and extensible architecture to create photo-realistic landscapes, battle elements, and soldiers for nearly 760 VFX shots spanning both films.
 
"Flags" and "Letters" were shot concurrently, "Flags" primarily in Iceland because its black-sand beaches are similar to those of Iwo Jima. But that's where the visual similarity stopped. Digital Domain compositing supervisor Darren Poe noted, "We essentially re-created the whole island in NUKE using projection mapping onto 3D objects. Everything outside of where the actors stood is CG – the island, water, skies, and most of the boats, tanks, and soldiers.  It was a major rotoscoping challenge."  In addition to the massive roto work, for "Letters," which was shot largely in California, Digital Domain's compositing work also included turning all of the white sand beaches to black.
 
All compositing and roto was done in NUKE, and Digital Domain's engineers wrote a critical custom tool to apply motion blur based on predictions of the movement inherent in each plate, resulting in highly realistic-looking composites. "The advantage of doing the roto in NUKE was that we could use the 3D system along with our camera tracking information to put all of the roto shapes in the correct space. This allowed the splines to follow the movement of the camera and helped speed up the process."
 
Poe noted that a key scene of the soldiers ascending Mount Suribachi to plant the flag was particularly challenging. "It was shot on a mountain in Iceland. There were no bluescreens. We had to roto out all of the soldiers and completely replace the environment. There were hundreds of mattes. The beauty of NUKE is that we could tweak every one of them in context."  NUKE's highly extensible architecture made it possible for engineers to write the tool in TCL.
 
NUKE's support of Open EXR coupled with its full featured 3D system also optimized workflow for "Flags" and "Letters."  By standardizing naming conventions and building gizmos, the compositing team was able to render a water shot, for example, which had 50 layers of surf, lighting, underwater caustics, whitecaps, etc., all incorporated into an EXR file, and bring up just waves or highlights to adjust them individually in context.  The compositors also built gizmos to create explosions and ground strafing for battle scenes, which allowed them to select between 32 individual CG pyro elements that could be used in any combination to create unique events, and custom lighting and color correction tools that gave them a fine level of control over the CG ships, vehicles, and soldiers.
 
Poe, who specializes in photo-realistic VFX, noted, "The main difference between CG for a film like "I Robot" and something like "Flags" is that we're doing a huge amount of work with the goal of having no one know we were there. The crew shot in Iceland, had a couple of tanks and boats, and a small group of soldiers. In the final shot there are 500 tanks, thousands of soldiers and boats and the Iwo Jima landscape – all blended into the scene photo-realistically to achieve what you see in the actual newsreel footage of that battle. That was our goal and NUKE was the reason we were able to achieve it."
 
About NUKE
NUKE is the first commercially available, high-end compositing system designed by artists, for artists to solve production issues that all visual effects studios encounter. It began as the in-house compositing and effects application at Digital Domain, where it won an Academy Award® for Technical Achievement and has been used to generate effects for more than 45 feature films and hundreds of commercials and music videos. Since its commercial release, 40 leading effects houses worldwide -- including Weta Digital, DNA Productions, ReelFX, Mikros Image, Ascent Media Group, Method Studios, and others -- have made the production-proven NUKE compositor part of their pipelines. Available for the Linux, Irix, Windows, and Mac platforms, NUKE delivers unparalleled speed, an extensible 64-channel TCL-based architecture, and a powerful feature set that is unrivaled in the desktop market. For further information, please visit http://www.d2software.com

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