Company: Mediastation
www.mediastation.co.uk
Project: 'Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of The Worlds LIVE!' concert tour
Challenges
  • Produce two hours of background computer imagery for a multimedia live concert tour recreating the infamous "War of the Worlds" story, including environmental particle effects, to dramatize high impact scenes and successfully blend CG and actors filmed against blue screen with live stage performances and musicians.
  • Generate and quickly render out particle effects for final projection onto a 100-foot wide screen at a resolution of 2700 x 576.
  • Create a CG facial model of the late actor Richard Burton's head, lip synched to his original album narration of "The War of the Worlds".
Solution
  • Use inexpensive software solutions like particleIllusion 3.0 and wondertouch Pro Emitter Libraries to quickly pre-vis scenes and to create realistic smoke, explosions, collapsing houses, cannon fire, water splashes, ship wakes, and more, to capture a realistic look of devastation and destruction before final compositing.
Benefits summary
  • Effects artists were able to turn around high resolution 3D animation and motion graphics elements and render at breakneck speed.
Toolkit
  • particleIllusion 3.0 on Windows XP Pro
  • particleIllusion Pro Emitter Libraries: "Eclectic 1&2
  • Autodesk Maya
  • Autodesk 3D Studio Max
  • Adobe Photoshop

Mediastation

(Mar 2008)

Mediastation UK Fires up particleIllusion to Create Motion Graphics and Atmospheric Effects for Live Multimedia Concert Tours

Creating 3D devastation and destruction are recent themes that have endeared the creative team at Mediastation to wondertouch particleIllusion for the production of award-winning, super-charged animation, digital visual effects and motion graphics work for film, video, concert tours, commercials and multimedia presentations.

Based in Surrey in the U.K., Mediastation adopted wondertouch particleIllusion 3.0 on Windows into the production pipeline in 2003 after one of the effects team members downloaded a demo version of the software and noticed how much more quickly smoke plumes and trails could be generated than in the 3D package in use at that time. Since then, particleIllusion has become a staple production tool at the facility and is used primarily for pre-vis, motion graphics and compositing purposes. The Mediastation creative team is also using several of wondertouch's Professional Emitter libraries.

"We find the wealth of particleIllusion presets and the ability to easily customize them, fast previews, and speedy render times are important features that meet our content creation needs at Mediastation", says Andy Davenport, VFX Supervisor at Mediastation. "particleIllusion is also easy to learn, and we can get an inexperienced artist up-to-speed without a steep learning curve so that they are creating effects elements very quickly."


Recent projects at Mediastation that have leveraged particleIllusion extensively include the production of the immensely popular, 'Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of The Worlds LIVE!' concert tour; and ex-Pink Floyd member Roger Waters "The Dark Side of The Moon Live" worldwide concert tour, which began in 2006 and makes continued tour stops throughout 2008 in U.S. and Europe. Mediastation is also credited with producing the "first-ever" global advertisement in 3D cinema to promote the arrival of the Red Bull Air Race World Series in London and is also known for a range of cutting edge educational learning software produced in collaboration with its partner company, Manic Monkey.

The 'Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of The Worlds LIVE!' concert tour is a staged musical and multimedia production of the classic album of the same name; a retelling of the 1898 science fiction story by HG Wells. The show features Jeff Wayne conducting the 10-piece Black Smoke Band and a 40-piece string orchestra, on-stage performers re-enacting scenes from the story, a 3 ton, 32-foot high Martian Fighting Machine and 100-foot wide screen projecting computer imagery.

particleIllusion was used extensively in the production of the 3D animation and motion graphics - more than two hours worth of content -- for the touring production which began in the UK in 2006, and continued to Australia, New Zealand and again to the U.K in 2007. [Readers' note: The DVD of the show immediately went Platinum and spent seven weeks at number one in the U.K. DVD charts, and was the top selling music DVD in the U.K in 2007. The tour is presently on hiatus and is scheduled to resume in 2009.]

Highlights of the production include a computer generated version of the late actor Richard Burton's head that was lip synched to his original album narration of "The War of the Worlds" in 1978. The presentation also features actors in period costume who were filmed in a blue screen studio and composited into many scenes, such as the crowds fleeing England on the steam boat and soldiers attacking the invaders with cannons.

"With a team of six artists and just twelve weeks to complete the graphics for the show, we had to work at breakneck speed to create the look of devastation and destruction amidst a Victorian England landscape," said Davenport. "particleIllusion was an enormous help creating effects such as smoke, explosions, collapsing houses, cannon fire, water splashes, ship wakes, foot stomps and the Martians green pod trails."

Projecting the finished concert tour graphics onto a 100-foot wide screen posed rendering challenges. "In order to project graphics onto the large screen required rendering images out at a resolution of 2700 x 576. Effects that would have taken days to render in a 3D animation package took mere minutes in particleIllusion," said Davenport. "The software was a real life saver and we couldn't have completed the job under deadline without it!"

In a pivotal concert tour sequence, three CG Martian fighting machines wade out to sea to prevent a steam boat carrying desperate survivors from escaping, including the hero's fiancÚ. Although they are prevented from doing so by the war ship 'Thunder Child', the ship itself is destroyed.

"particleIllusion was used to generate the wakes, spray, splashes, steam, smoke and cannon fire for both the Thunder Child and steamer. Additionally, multiple layers of particleIllusion elements were used for the ships' destruction, including some modified emitters from the Eclectic 01 & 02 Pro emitters collection, to simulate debris and deck panels flying into the air as the ship is hit by the Martians heat ray," Davenport explains.

On the heels of its success with "The War of the Worlds," Mediastation was approached to produce graphics for "The Dark Side of The Moon" world tour. Davenport explains that Mediastation relied on particleIllusion for a number of animated sequences that were played out on giant screens at the back of the stage. These included zooming into Earth from space down to a sports stadium, the stadium itself filled with people, a submarine attack and an exploding oil rig.

"particleIllusion usually slots into our pipeline between background plate creation and final compositing. Plates, both still and animated, are created using tools such as Autodesk Maya, Autodesk 3D Studio Max and Adobe Photoshop," says Davenport. "Preview renders are then taken into particleIllusion and used as backgrounds for emitter placement. Using the software's extensive presets library, it's quick and easy to set up, place and tweak multiple emitters for a scene."

For the destruction of the oil rig, a 3D model was textured, lit and rendered in Autodesk 3D Studio Max. The resulting render was taken into Adobe Photoshop for additional detailing and to add layers of twisted metal, explosion damage and burn marks. In particleIllusion, the oil rig render was placed in the background as a reference for placement of the various smoke, explosion and debris emitters. Deflectors were also used to give the illusion of debris hitting and bouncing off parts of the rig. Separate passes were rendered out for each element which were then taken into Adobe After Effects for compositing.

"In a world abundant with complex and quirky tools, it's a joy to use a reliable package like particleIllusion that offers a wide expanse of usable functionality in an easy to use environment, especially helpful when working with such tight deadlines," concluded Davenport.