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June 28
2022

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

DELIVERING THE SPECTACULAR FOR TREASURE-HUNT SAGA UNCHARTED

By CHRIS McGOWAN

Images courtesy of DNEG and Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Tom Holland as treasure hunter Nathan Drake negotiates a daisy-chain of crates falling from a C-17 cargo plane in a complex mix of practical and visual effects from DNEG.

Tom Holland as treasure hunter Nathan Drake negotiates a daisy-chain of crates falling from a C-17 cargo plane in a complex mix of practical and visual effects from DNEG.

Tom Holland as treasure hunter Nathan Drake negotiates a daisy-chain of crates falling from a C-17 cargo plane in a complex mix of practical and visual effects from DNEG.

Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese explorer who led a Spanish expedition of five ships in 1519 to seek a western route to the Moluccas (Spice Islands). Magellan perished along the way and only one ship made it back, in 1522, but it was the first craft to circumnavigate the world. Flash forward five hundred years, and Ruben Fleischer’s Uncharted spins a fictional tale about a present-day search for two lost treasure-laden ships from Magellan’s fleet. The Sony Pictures movie is a prequel of sorts to the tremendously popular Uncharted video game series, developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. The film’s treasure hunters included Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) and Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), along with Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali) and Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas).

The On-Set and Overall VFX Supervisor was Chas Jarrett. DNEG was the primary VFX vendor, completing 739 shots over 23 sequences, with teams led by Visual Effects Supervisor Sebastian von Overheidt (DNEG Vancouver) and Visual Effects Supervisor Benoit de Longlee (DNEG Montreal). Other contributing VFX vendors included The Third Floor, RISE Visual Effects Studios, Soho VFX and Savage Visual Effects.

Crates falling from the C-17 cargo plane was part of a continuous 90-second 'oner' sequence that mixed greenscreen, wire rigs, robot arms and digi-doubles.

Crates falling from the C-17 cargo plane was part of a continuous 90-second 'oner' sequence that mixed greenscreen, wire rigs, robot arms and digi-doubles.

Crates falling from the C-17 cargo plane was part of a continuous 90-second ‘oner’ sequence that mixed bluescreen, wire rigs, robot arms and digi-doubles.

Holland reaches out while a KUKA robot arm holds a crate and large fans supply the wind for the shoot. Live-action filming for the sequence took place at Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam, Germany, outside Berlin.

Holland reaches out while a KUKA robot arm holds a crate and large fans supply the wind for the shoot. Live-action filming for the sequence took place at Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam, Germany, outside Berlin.

Holland reaches out while a KUKA robot arm holds a crate and large fans supply the wind for the shoot. Live-action filming for the sequence took place at Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam, Germany, outside Berlin.

DNEG was tasked with handling various jaw-dropping sequences, including a 90-second shot in which Nate and Chloe – along with cargo crates and a Mercedes Gullwing car – fall out of a C-17 cargo plane while flying over the South China Sea. Von Overheidt considered the shot “a fun challenge. We called this sequence ‘the oner’ because it’s constructed as one continuous 90-second shot.”

“[For the falling out of a C-17 cargo plane scene] we had several practical elements with the actors hanging on wires and interacting with a stand-in car prop. We combined the practical elements with long stretches of full-CG moments. Some sections required either close-up digi-doubles to hold up, or even a transition between plate and digi-double right in camera with nowhere to hide. Mix that with the disorienting camera, and you have quite a complex puzzle to solve.”
—Sebastian von Overheidt, Visual Effects Supervisor, DNEG

Von Overheidt adds, “We had several practical elements with the actors hanging on wires and interacting with a stand-in car prop. We combined the practical elements with long stretches of full-CG moments. Some sections required either close-up digi-doubles to hold up, or even a transition between plate and digi-double right in camera with nowhere to hide. Mix that with the disorienting camera, and you have quite a complex puzzle to solve.”

To begin creating the sequence, von Overheidt reveals, “We received LiDAR scans and HDR photography of each individual cargo crate and all the other props like the Mercedes Gullwing, as well as a full scan of the C-17 interior, which was built as a set. From there we built the entire daisy-chain of crates and the C-17 interior. At the same time, we also worked on a fully digital version of the Gullwing and the C-17 exterior model with some custom modifications compared to a standard model. Ruben had asked us to create a billionaire’s version of the well-known plane.”

The exterior model of the C-17 cargo plane was built with some custom modifications befitting a super-billionaire’s souped-up version of the plane.

The exterior model of the C-17 cargo plane was built with some custom modifications befitting a super-billionaire’s souped-up version of the plane.

“[Tom Holland] indeed got thrown around quite a bit. All the crates on the exterior were mounted on top of KUKA robot arms so that they could move on a full gimbal in a programmed sequence. They were also modified with extra padding or using softer materials, so that Tom Holland and the stuntmen could jump in between them, holding onto the netting of crates. It gave a great realistic-looking reaction for most of the shots, so we got away with a lot of head replacements on the shots with Holland’s stuntman. In quite a few shots we still went for a full digital-double solution because we wanted the performance even more violent or the camera to be more dynamic than what was shot.”
—Sebastian von Overheidt, Visual Effects Supervisor, DNEG

Once camera, object and body tracking were done, Layout Supervisor Kristin Pratt and DFX Supervisor Gregor Lakner and their teams blocked the entire sequence out, “which is also the crucial step where we’d analyze each shot and figure out what CG extensions need to be added,” von Overheidt says. This also involved finding solutions for any discrepancies between the 3D-scanned crates and the ones used on set. “Our job was to piece this all together while finding the best transitions into CG and amp up the action and movement.” There were also some entirely full CG shots. He adds, “The environment was stitched based on multi-camera array footage shot at around 7,500 feet and then augmented to look a bit more desolate in terms of islands. All the clouds and wind FX and debris are CG.”

Lighting in the open sky was a challenge. “The plates were shot on a soundstage with stationary lighting, but our characters fall tumbling through an environment with only one light-source, the sun,” von Overheidt explains. “DFX Supervisor Daniel Elophe and the team broke this mammoth puzzle down into manageable sub-sections which were assembled to one long shot in compositing at the end.” The team around Lighting Supervisors Sonny Sy and Chris Rickard and Compositing Supervisor Francesco Dell’Anna kept track of changing light directions and found creative solutions to make it all work with the plates, while allowing for a free choreography of the camera and the animation, done by Layout Lead Steve Guo and Senior Animator Patrick Kalyn. “The result works really well and we ended up getting the best of both,” von Overheidt says, “seeing the sun rotating on high-action free-fall moments while coming back into a more character-focused lighting when there is dialogue and we’re locked into practical photography.”

Greenscreens assisted with the construction of a 500-year-old Magellan ship. The ships were highly detailed and complex assets built for every form of action called for in the making of Uncharted.

Greenscreens assisted with the construction of a 500-year-old Magellan ship. The ships were highly detailed and complex assets built for every form of action called for in the making of Uncharted.

Greenscreens assisted with the construction of a 500-year-old Magellan ship. The ships were highly detailed and complex assets built for every form of action called for in the making of Uncharted.

Tom Holland got his share of shaking and stirring thanks to a robot arm. Von Overheidt comments, “He indeed got thrown around quite a bit. All the crates on the exterior were mounted on top of KUKA robot arms so that they could move on a full gimbal in a programmed sequence. They were also modified with extra padding or using softer materials, so that Tom and the stuntmen could jump in between them, holding onto the netting of crates.” They were thrown around randomly by the robot arms to get the sense of snaking of the daisy-chain. Von Overheidt adds, “It gave a great realistic-looking reaction for most of the shots, so we got away with a lot of head replacements on the shots with Holland’s stuntman. In quite a few shots we still went for a full digital-double solution because we wanted the performance even more violent or the camera to be more dynamic than what was shot.”

To build Magellan’s two ships, sets were split into different stages, LiDAR scanned, pieced together and combined with the overall design.

To build Magellan’s two ships, sets were split into different stages, LiDAR scanned, pieced together and combined with the overall design.

To build Magellan’s two ships, sets were split into different stages, LiDAR scanned, pieced together and combined with the overall design.

To build Magellan’s two ships, sets were split into different stages, LiDAR scanned, pieced together and combined with the overall design.

The scenes with Magellan’s ships (the Trinidad and the Concepción) and the huge helicopters carrying them required extensive VFX, but the scene wasn’t created entirely full CG. Von Overheidt notes, “There was actually a lot of great footage shot on big sets. This sequence really had everything in it. The scenes were shot on several stages resembling different parts of the ships, which we were extending with CG. The helicopters we had designed are based on some classic cargo helicopters, but even beefier.”

In the case of the Concepción, the set was split into four different stages – the stern, the main deck including helm, the bow and the crow’s nest with a partial mast, according to von Overheidt. “Our CG Supervisor Ummi Gudjonsson and Build Supervisors Chris Cook and Rohan Vaz started by assembling the various on-set stages for which we had received LiDAR scans, piecing them together, lining them up to each other and combining them with the overall design of the ship.”

Von Overheidt continues, “The same process went into the Trinidad and any other set, like the helicopters. Throughout the boat battle sequence we picked about a dozen hero shots based on the criteria [of] which ones would reveal the most problems, and we would constantly check whether our model of the ships lined up to those shots. The tricky part is that practical sets aren’t perfect. They may not be symmetrical, or the same section may have different dimensions across the different sets. In addition to that initial step, it then requires careful planning and a lot of work to get to the detail level of a good practical set. The ships were highly detailed, and complex assets were built for every form of action, including total destruction. Both ships were fully-rigged sailing ships with ropes, cloth banners, sails, flexing masts and yardarms, flapping doors, all the cannons, etc. [There were] a lot of moving parts which helped to bring across some of the crazy movements and crashes the ships would do in the sequence.”

“There was actually a lot of great footage shot on big sets [for the scenes with Magellan’s ships and helicopters carrying them.] This sequence really had everything in it. The scenes were shot on several stages resembling different parts of the ships, which we were extending with CG. The helicopters we had designed are based on some classic cargo helicopters, but even beefier.”
—Sebastian von Overheidt, Visual Effects Supervisor

Between the two ships and helicopters, around 20 mercenaries, Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), Hugo (Pingi Moli) and the Scotsman (Steven Waddington) all become part of different fights which were augmented with head replacements or full digi-doubles. Von Overheidt explains, “The journey of the flight was across [some] 330 shots, so we built a massive environment that we used to block out the sequence. Ruben wanted an action-packed sequence. Especially, the shots where we see the boats and helicopters moving through the Karst landscape had to be dynamic and exciting, and we wanted to feel their weight and impact on the helicopter’s flight dynamics.”

Von Overheidt adds, “Now, real-world physics obviously weren’t a priority on this sequence to begin with, but we still aimed towards that feel for a plausible animation and also staging the camera in a way that it would guide the audience through the disorienting action and make the ships look massive at the same time. We basically had to stick to real-world physics while also constantly breaking it at the same time. The entire sequence was a close collaboration between our layout team and the animation team led by Animation Supervisor Jason Fittipaldi and Animation Lead Konstantin Hubmann, and [On-Set and Overall] VFX Supervisor Chas Jarrett, himself whose roots are in animation.

The CGI helicopters were based on classic cargo helicopters but made beefier. They had unusually heavy loads to carry – Magellan’s ships – across the South China Sea, with footage shot in Thailand serving as the South China Sea.

The CGI helicopters were based on classic cargo helicopters but made beefier. They had unusually heavy loads to carry – Magellan’s ships – across the South China Sea, with footage shot in Thailand serving as the South China Sea.

The CGI helicopters were based on classic cargo helicopters but made beefier. They had unusually heavy loads to carry – Magellan’s ships – across the South China Sea, with footage shot in Thailand serving as the South China Sea.

“Generally speaking, working with big practical sets is great for visual effects because you have real references to match to – the real material, the real lighting and how the camera captures it. Even if you end up replacing parts of it anyway, it’s a great start. Actors feel more comfortable interacting with a real environment as well. The trade-off is that matching into complex practical sets can be quite the puzzle for visual effects.”
—Sebastian von Overheidt, Visual Effects Supervisor, DNEG

Magellan’s ships, carried by helicopters, waged battle in the air.

Magellan’s ships, carried by helicopters, waged battle in the air.

Magellan’s ships, carried by helicopters, waged battle in the air.

“For the South China Sea environment, we had received extensive footage from a practical shoot in Thailand. Film Production mounted a multi-camera array under a helicopter and flew through the landscape also shooting at different lighting conditions during the day,” von Overheidt says. The original plan was to use this material as practical backgrounds and only extend plates or create specific shots full CG. “As we were creating a digital version of the environment, we soon realized that our team, led by Environment Supervisor Gianluca Pizzaia and Environment Lead Matt Ivanov, was able to create one big environment which would cover the entire flight path throughout the sequence. And straight out of rendering it looked pretty much photorealistic. We presented our results to Ruben, who got excited about it. Everyone was confident that this would be the way to do it. It gave us and Ruben so much more freedom to find great cameras and shot composition that we decided to go full CG on the environment all the way through.”

Von Overheidt continues, “It allowed us to move the camera anywhere we wanted and fully customize the environment to our needs. It made the whole process a lot more efficient as well. Throughout the third act, there is also a progression in lighting from afternoon to sunset. Compositing Supervisor Kunal Chindarkar and Compositing Lead Ben Outerbridge made sure we transitioned seamlessly into these different lighting conditions and moods as we reached the final shot of the Conception sinking and Nate and Sully flying into the sunset.”

Asked if the filmmakers let the look of the Uncharted video games influence the visuals of the movie, von Overheidt comments, “Not from a visual effects perspective, no. I can’t speak for the Production Art Department though. I used to game quite a bit but never played Uncharted before, so when I joined the show, it was actually the first time I checked it out, mainly to understand the characters and some of the main levels. My main influence for creating images comes from photography and graphic design. I get most of my inspiration from actually being outdoors. We had some great artwork from the production team and the Thailand footage to look at. We would also often look at references for all kinds of scenes, like crazy skydiving stunts or video footage of heavy-lifting helicopters.”

Looking at the melding of the big-scale practical and digital in Uncharted, von Overheidt concludes, “Generally speaking, working with big practical sets is great for visual effects because you have real references to match to – the real material, the real lighting and how the camera captures it. Even if you end up replacing parts of it anyway, it’s a great start. Actors feel more comfortable interacting with a real environment as well. The trade-off is that matching into complex practical sets can be quite the puzzle for visual effects.”

With the help of greenscreen, Pingi Moli (Hugo), Tati Gabrielle (Braddock) and Steve Waddington (The Scotsman) appear to walk down the ramp of the C-17's cargo bay onto a busy operations base.

With the help of greenscreen, Pingi Moli (Hugo), Tati Gabrielle (Braddock) and Steve Waddington (The Scotsman) appear to walk down the ramp of the C-17's cargo bay onto a busy operations base.

With the help of bluescreen, Pingi Moli (Hugo), Tati Gabrielle (Braddock) and Steve Waddington (The Scotsman) appear to walk down the ramp of the C-17’s cargo bay onto a busy operations base.


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