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August 06
2019

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Making the Dashing Digital Train in DEADWOOD: THE MOVIE

By IAN FAILES

The opening train shot from Deadwood: The Movie.

Deadwood: The Movie, from director Daniel Minahan, is an extension of the HBO television series that ran from 2004 to 2006. Visual effects in the film were largely of the invisible kind, including a scene in which a train passes through a late-1800s South Dakota environment.

FuseFX realized the train completely digitally from practical footage, with several aspects of the landscape also built in CG. VFX Voice takes a visual look at how the train scene was achieved.

For the environment through which the train runs, FuseFX created mountains, trees and a wealth of foliage. “The landscape was carefully modeled in 3ds Max,” says FuseFX Visual Effects Supervisor Eric Hayden, “and the trees and foliage were created and animated using Forest Pack, which is incredibly helpful to create highly detailed and realistic landscapes.”

The train itself was based on a practical train used for shooting other scenes in the film. Houdini simulations were relied upon for smoke simulations, with various forms of small animations and small movements of train pieces added to the final shot. Says Hayden: “We studied hours of footage of vintage steam locomotives, especially footage of trains coming out of tunnels. We also looked at a lot of still images of trains and smoke from trains contemporary to the 1880s setting of the film.”

“Thousands of still reference photos were taken of the practical train and cars,” adds Hayden. “Furthermore, a drone flyover provided the data to create a photogrammetry-based model of the train as a reference model for the artists to use to finish out the model. The model was finished, textured and animated in 3ds Max.”

In this frame, a digital wireframe train appears with the now-rendered track and forest environment. It also shows FuseFX’s smoke simulation. “Creating the perfect texture of smoke is always the most challenging part,” notes Hayden.” The fun was dialing in the exact amount of pyroclastic density based on the reference images to help tell the story that technology is ripping through the landscape and disrupting the serenity of nature.”

For FuseFX, getting a chance to work on Deadwood: The Movie was an emotional moment for some in the studio, since FuseFX had been part of the original series. “It was like a reunion with family and friends after not seeing them for years,” outlines FuseFX founder and CEO David Altenau. “And then doing it in an old familiar meeting place, which was Melody Ranch, once again transformed into the town of Deadwood.”

“The visual effects work really took me back to the long process of defining the look of the environment, and figuring out how to integrate that into each shot. That’s where Eric Hayden picked up the baton. Eric’s enthusiasm and commitment to the project gave me great comfort to entrust him with making it work all over again.”

Watch a VFX breakdown of FuseFX’s work for Deadwood: The Movie, including shots from the train scene.

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