Checkpoint: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Posted Monday, November 3, 2008, 10:23 PM

So there's more to Checkpoint's effects than a few bullet hits. I've been working on the opening shot of the crane shot over a bridge wall, past the British soldier and down to show the railway gun, for the past week, pretty much non-stop. It's finally getting close to being complete enough to render at full resolution, and I've just put together a rough version for timing purposes and approval by the Director, my mate Rob.

The number of elements in this shot is really quite daunting, and if I'd known what was involved I wouldn't have been half as enthusiastic about it when I posited it originally. These are the elements in the single shot:

  • Original filmed element of soldier crouching in front of wall, tracked and stabilised
  • Matte painting, projected onto 3D geometry, of:
    • Real railway line location
    • Pine trees replacing gumtrees
    • French village houses
    • Distant horizon of French coast
  • 3D model of trains, including:
    • Locomotive
    • Coal Tender
    • Railway gun
    • Caboose
    • Second train
    • Railway track
  • 3D model of bridge wall
  • Probably a 3D model of the soldier for accurate parallax
  • Additional atmospherics, such as shadows, steam, smoke, birds, and German soldiers
  • Depth of field and atmosphere fog
  • A sweeping crane shot of it all

It's really complex to put those elements together at all, let alone seamlessly and realistically. I mean, crikey! It's very satisfying if I manage to do it, though.

And to top it all off, there's the titles sequence of a C47 Skytrain, aka a DC3 aeroplane, launching off an airfield and flying to France, that needs to be done, which means I have to build an accurate 3D model of the plane. Have you seen the level of detail, the number of fiddly bits that is on a 1940s transport plane? Vents, pipes, bolts, cables, engine parts, windows, doors, landing gear, antennae, registration N-numbers, and dirt and paint and grime and other imperfections.

Holy crap!

I had considered cheating by using photographs of real planes for the close-ups, and animating them with 2D parallax and 3D propellors. So I made a relatively high detailed model of the props for a test, and enjoyed it so much I realised that I could make the whole plane if I approach it one section at a time, in small easily manageable steps. So I've done the cowling of the engines, and the propellors as mentioned. Next stage, the fuselage.

If I can pull this off, and if I could actually get paid for it somehow, I'll be a millionaire by the time I'm 45.

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