About ten minutes from the heart of San Francisco lies the sprawling Letterman Digital Arts Center in the former Presidio U.S. Army post. It is here -- not Dagobah -- where you will encounter Jedi Master Yoda, standing proudly atop a water fountain at the main entrance of Industrial Light and Magic. From an entire Galaxy Far, Far Away to the digital dinos of Jurassic Park who stomped the path for the twenty years of computer generated characters that followed, ILM has long been synonymous with awesome. In fact, we as an audience have become so accustomed to such spectacular imagery conjured up by these wizards that it's easy to forget the amount of time, care and detail that goes into creating just a few seconds of screen time in our weekly summer blockbusters. Universal Pictures' Battleship , which splashes onto Blu-ray and DVD on Aug 28, is no exception. We were invited into the inner sanctum of ILM to discuss the development of Battleship's visual effects and get a first look at a few supplemental features that Universal has up its sleeves for its home video editions.
Upon entering ILM, we were led through halls adorned with classic film posters from George Lucas' personal collection along with models, miniatures and matte paintings. It was as though we were being greeted by old friends -- childhood pals from our earliest movie memories -- from E.T. to Slimer to one of the main alien "Regents" from Battleship himself! Once inside ILM's posh screening room, we were treated to a first look at "The Visual Effects of Battleship."
The segment went beyond the typical fluff pieces that tend to provide filler for "special editions" and dove deep into the passion behind the effects, showcasing the individual artists who, at times, may work on a two-minute sequence for the better part of two years. In the clip, the VFX team set up the film's epic 1500 visual effects shots as well as provided a few glimpses of the techniques used in bringing the film's aliens to life via motion capture. Learning about the staggering amount effects involved in the production will shed a new light on the film for even the most cynically minded, especially in the cases of the effects that don't call too much attention to themselves -- such as when the actual USS Missouri (permanently docked in reality) sets sail on the high waters once again. When the clip was finished, we were riding high on eye candy and it was time to meet the men behind The Magic.
ILM Composting Supervisor Marsall Krasser provided an in-depth breakdown of Battleship's signature shot -- the sinking of the USS John Paul Jones (which the ILM crew refers to as the "You Sunk My Battleship" sequence), which adds a considerable portion of the 422 million particles rendered for the film and took two years to achieve. It's always great to see a giant effects film through the eyes of the gurus who created them, for example, listening to Krasser refer to the Alien ships by their Beatles nicknames put a new spin on the battle sequences in the film to say the least. Although not referred to as such in the film, we learned that "Ringo" is the mothership, "John," "Paul" and "George" are the deadly "Stingers," and the Regent's fifth vessel -- the communication ship -- was dubbed "Elvis" by the ILM gang.
Next, we sat down to speak with animation supervisor Glen McIntosh and CG Supervisor Willi Geiger, who spoke about their job of "getting inside the director's head" in order to fulfill the filmmaker's vision and "rewriting everything they knew" in the process.
Next we chatted with ILM Visual Effects Supervisors Grady Cofer and Pablo Helman, who told us about the technical hurdles that ILM faced on Battleship and how they were overcome, with the VFX team "raising their game" to complete the daunting number of 1500 effect shots in record time.
"It's a big number but it almost doesn't tell the complete story," explains Cofer. "The percentage of shots in the 1500 that we consider very difficult on this movie was very high so we needed to have technical soultions to help us achieve those shots faster than we usually do."
1500 Visual Effects Shots. 2300 edits. 360 artists rendering 422 million particles. The numbers go on and on, but no matter how you break all the impressive stats down, they all add up to one big bang of summer eye candy. Sure, come August 28th, you'll be able to watch Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna sink those ships when Battleship sets sail on Blu-ray and DVD, but after you roll the included bonus features, you'll quickly learn who the real star is... that same Magic company that began in A Galaxy Far, Far Away.
For more on the coolest stuff out on Blu-Ray, check out our look at the 25th anniversary of Jaws.