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How Centropolis FX Creates Visual Effects


Understanding Effects

CFX began life as a company in 1996 and today has over 100 employees dedicated to the creation of digital visual effects in a wide variety of Hollywood movies. The team consists of artists, technicians, producers and managers who work together to create scenes that are realistic, stunning and totally convincing to the audience.

The word digital in the phrase digital visual effects means that CFX primarily uses computer hardware and software to create its effects. The general term used in the industry for what CFX does is CG, short for computer-generated. For example, when talking to the artists you will hear them say things like, "That entire scene is CG," or "Those are all CG soldiers," or "The actors are real, but everything else is CG." Computer-generated effects make imaginary characters like Godzilla possible, and they also create almost every effect that used to be done using models. The advantages of CG effects are their realism, flexibility and relatively low cost (compared to the alternatives).

The team at CFX works with the movie's director both during filming (production) and then extensively after filming (post-production) to create the effects. Involvement during production helps the director make creative decisions so that the effects can be integrated into the film more easily, and also allows CFX to add different markers and other features to each scene to make post-production work easier. For example, in certain scenes the camera might be fitted with encoders that will allow for easier integration of the effects that CFX creates. During post-production, the director works extensively with CFX to make sure that the effects in each shot have exactly the right look for the film.

CFX uses a variety of tools and techniques to create visual effects. The different capabilities of the company include:

  • Scanning and printing - CFX has the equipment to scan film at extremely high resolution (up to 12,750,000 dots per frame), store it, manipulate it digitally and then write it back out to film at the same resolution. A Kodak Cineon film scanner
  • 3-D Character modeling and animation - The artists at CFX can create and realistically animate characters and then integrate them into scenes -- everything from Godzilla to a platoon of British soldiers can be added to a film. CFX can also create ships, water, background scenery, clouds, flags, buildings, vehicles, explosions and so on. These CG elements are totally realistic and are seamlessly integrated either into CG backdrops or filmed scenes. 3-D CG soldiers like these play a big part in "The Patriot"
  • 3-D camera tracking - In order to lay 3-D characters into a filmed scene, there must be a model of how the camera moves and zooms when the scene was shot. This model can be created by adding encoders to the camera, or it can be created after the fact. In either case, CFX creates a 3-D model of the scene and how the camera moves within it.
  • Rotoscoping - Rotoscoping is the process of outlining and "lifting" elements of a filmed scene off the frame so that other elements can be added to the frame either in front of or behind the rotoscoped elements. We will see several demonstrations in the sections below. A rotoscoped section of a scene
  • Painting - Painting involves the creation of imaginary scenery. It also involves what was once called "airbrushing" -- the process of adding or removing things from a scene.
  • 2-D Compositing - Compositing is the act of adding all of the different elements to a final scene. In the examples below we will see that many scenes have a dozen or more layers that are all added to create the final scene.

Combined together, these techniques allow a visual effects team to create nearly anything that the director can imagine. It is an amazing set of tools!