/ 20 February 2010

Film technology to shine at Academy Awards

No matter which captivating film wins the Oscar for visual effects at next month’s Academy Awards ceremony, software savants at Autodesk will be taking a bow.

And if blockbuster Avatar or the compelling District 9 take top honour as Best Picture, engineers at the Northern California firm will be able to bask in knowing that their technology helped make it possible.

The two films are among 10 nominated for Best Picture at the 82nd Academy Awards taking place March 7 in Los Angeles.

The movies join Star Trek to make up the three nominees vying in a Visual Effects category at the Oscars.

Software built by Autodesk was used by studios behind each of the films, which seamlessly blend live acting and computer imagery to immerse viewers in enthralling fictional worlds complete with aliens and adventure.

“All three films are state-of-the-art in terms of technology used to create visual effects,” Maurice Patel of Autodesk media and entertainment division said on Friday while providing a behind-the-scenes look at parts the firm’s software played.

“We want to provide technology that allows artists around the world to express their creativity in different ways.”

Founded in 1982, Autodesk has grown into a multinational firm specialising in 2-D and 3-D software for designing nearly everything from skyscrapers and cars to Lego sets and granite sculptures.

Autodesk boasts nine million users of its software and racked up $2,3-billion in revenue last year.

“We essentially let people create experiences,” Patel said, noting that stunning effects are spilling into videogames.

“In the entertainment industry, it is about creating experiences that seem real but that are bigger than reality.”

James Cameron has told of having the idea for Avatar long before the technology existed to fulfill his vision of a 3-D film set in a colorful, lush planet inhabited by towering blue, nature-loving beings.

Autodesk technology made it possible for Cameron to aim a camera at actors wearing motion-capture suits in a studio but see them as characters in the fictional world of Pandora in the film.

Cameron directed action as if capturing live scenes instead of animators, later adding trees, creatures or other imagery around actors.

Making the impossible possible
“This is not an animated film, it is captured performance,” Cameron said at an Autodesk gathering in Las Vegas last year.

“The virtual camera was used to look around in the scene, then we’d bring in the actors and I’d use the virtual cameras to block the scene.”

Cameron’s team at Lightstorm Entertainment studio customised the filming technology on top of Autodesk software, according to Patel.

Avatar would not be possible if not for Autodesk; it made the impossible possible and for that Jim and I are eternally grateful,” Cameron’s producing partner Jon Landau said at the Las Vegas gathering.

Film titans Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson dabbled with the camera technology at the Lightstorm studio and decided to use it in the forthcoming Tintin movie, according to Landau.

Autodesk technology was also put to work weaving alien refugees into science fiction thriller District 9.

The firm’s software was also behind black holes, warp speeds, transporter beams, and other wonders in Star Trek, according to Industrial Light and Magic visual effects supervisor Gordy Cofer.

“We are seeing the degree to which technology and visual effects can aid in storytelling and help create better films,” Cofer said after showing the painstaking work behind stunning scenes in Star Trek.

Special effects techniques are putting focus on actors that can be directed by filmmakers peering into fictional worlds, according to Cofer.

“It is all going in the direction of real-time visualisation and performance capture,” Cofer said.

“The filmmaker is framing the action right there and it is the artists driving those tools. It is all kind of astounding.” – AFP