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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Exclusive Interview: UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING's James McQuaide, Exec Producer & Visual Effects Supervisor

Hey guys - have a special treat for you this week! I want to show you why UNDERWORLD AWAKENING has placed so highly on my most anticipated list of 2012 and we'll do that by giving you several cool technical and behind-the-scenes interviews with the crew behind this project. I hope to underscore just how creative and exciting these guys are.

All of these interviews took place either in the underground garage set, the gorgeous Vancouver waterfront, the University of British Columbia or at one of the catering locations. I want to thank Sony Screen Gems for setting this all up and in particular Gloria Davies who coordinated the whole thing. Thanks Gloria!

We'll be starting with James McQuaide, Executive Producer and Visual Effects Supervisor. We were sitting at a small cafe on Vancouver's busy waterfront so please excuse any wind or background noise!

James is well known for his visual effects. Check out this list of some of his awesome films: UNDERWORLD, CRANK, UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION, CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE, UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS, GAMER, THE LINCOLN LAWYER and of course UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING. The guy knows what he is doing and it shows. Clearly he is a key ingredient to the UNDERWORLD franchise.

James and I clicked immediately as we have many things in common, not the least of which is the technology behind blockbuster movies! So have a listen to the interview...



0:32 - James introduces us to an exciting technology known as LIDAR!
4:50 - On why they went with shooting native 3D. 28 weeks of post production to deliver 800 effects shots.
5:40 - What shots needed to be done in 2D and converted. For example the Vancouver rush hour street scenes where the lycans are out in the open and running amok. The 2D rain had to be taken out for the shot and reinserted in 3D. How LIDAR helped in these circumstances after taking those scans every 20 feet of the 3 or 4 blocks of streetscape.
9:00 - Placing LIDAR 3D, geometric, RGB scene information on top of the 2D optical scenes and assisting in 3D conversion.
10:50 - Using Microsoft's Kinect technology (similar to LIDAR only it uses infrared) to present Kate's psychic connection
13:55 - On the script was being creatively rewritten on the fly but the pre-vis was almost shot frame by frame and was the driving force.
15:20 - Myth debunked: LIDAR is not expensive and does not need an outside facility.
15:55 - On not bringing in a third party 3D solutions company and shooting native all in house with an experienced stereographer (Kasimir Lehto).
17:30 - Using Red Epic cameras (bought six & renting two) and 3ality Technica 3D rigs (own 3 or 4 Atoms). No issues using the Reds or 3ality Technica rigs. Remarkably easy to use systems. Lakeshore Entertainment owns two Red Ones as well.
21:40 - The production had internal dailies (turnaround time 1 hour from a single card) using the Red Rocket (enables 4K and 5K decoding in realtime). It was done through Outpost stations with a couple of Red Rocket cards in it. All of this was viewable with two on set 65" 3D televisions in a segregated black tent.
25:10 - On the possibility of "hourlies" or a collection of hourlies as opposed to "dailies".
25:45 - On Red Epics 5K resolution and a higher framerate for the finale of the film. The two Red Epics are genlocked at 72 frames per second. Then they got a build from Red that allows 120 frames per second at 5K! Compression then goes from 5:1 to 12:1 or 13:1.
28:00 - Introducing 3D to others in the crew / talent. They used the Sony 3D Professional Workshop that eliminates much of the fear behind the format.
29:10 - Admiration for AVATAR and how good 3D is easily forgotten by the audience while watching it.
31:25 - They may have released at a higher framerate if Peter Jackson or James Cameron had of announced their intended rate by the start date of the UNDERWORLD production.
32:10 - On testing some footage at the Vancouver Science Center IMAX theater and the possibility of a 5K 3D image.

What LIDAR seems to be able to do is dramatically improve post production conversion of 2D to 3D scenes (be it for 1 scene or a whole movie) so that the guesswork is eliminated from spacial and color considerations. This is one of the main reasons why it is important to have the director present for conversions before LIDAR! The director would have to recall why he shot it a certain way and most of the time it included spacial and color considerations. With LIDAR, you get a confident representation of the scene - even better than the director's memory. It adds reality to conversions that can sometimes stretch the truth a great deal.

And of course with the 3D Red Epics at 5K & 120 frames per second (at times) and the stability & versatility of the 3ality Technica 3D rigs, you have one heckuva cool, technically shot film.

Can you see why I am so excited about how this film was shot and how it will look?

I was able to see all of this technology in action and in great detail. I saw what they were shooting pre-vis wise and then the scenes in action. Very cool stuff indeed.

Thanks so much for your time James and I'm looking forward to the next time we talk!

Stay tuned for more interviews coming up - including the film's stereographer Kasimir Lehto!

UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING opens January 20. Check. It. OUT.

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Jim Dorey
Editor-in-Chief
jim (at) marketsaw (dot) com

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