Without a doubt, the most fascinating design aspect of "The Hunger Games" is the futuristic control room, where the gamemakers not only keep tabs on all the Tributes but also stack the deck against Katniss whenever possible.
While the look of this survival-of-the-fittest, reality-TV nightmare evokes Hitler's Third Reich, the control room is actually the most futuristic component of the movie. This was crucial to director Gary Ross and VFX supervisor Sheena Duggal, who had only 23 weeks to pull off 1,200 total VFX shots on a very tight budget. But when Lionsgate enthusiastically supported a temp version of the movie early on, they increased the VFX budget, allowing Duggal to spread the wealth among a dozen more companies.
"There was such tremendous pressure on us that we were constantly looking for creative ways to make up for the lack of time and money," Duggal says. "And then we had to work really hard to come up with extra solutions and then sell these out."
She needed all her skills to pull off the look and functionality of the control room.
"Gary and I realized that there was an opportunity to use the control room to help tell the story [beyond the book] without having to describe and explain things," Duggal continues. "We were ahead of Katniss and you can go to the control room and see a map of where she was in relation to the other Tributes, so it was a way for us to show that the gamemakers were in control and they could actually change any aspect of what was happening in the arena at any time [with fire balls or creature mutations]."
First, Duggal studied future EY and screen technologies and moved the hologram in a fresh direction by bringing it to the desktop. This allowed the gamekeepers to have complete manipulation and to visualize it in a cool way. "Gary wanted a dystopian/utopian society with roots in the Third Reich and the German World Trade Fair, but Gary was also specific about wanting the integration of form and to see grandeur in the city. But I wanted to bring things that would take us into the future," she adds.
To help Duggal achieve this, she took a chance on a young concept artist named Reid Sothen rather than going with, say, Ben Procter, who designed the holograms for "Tron Legacy" and "Avatar." Then she hired Hybride of Montreal to do the animation and VFX. Best known for Zack Snyder's "300," Hybride was acquired several years ago by Montreal game designer Ubisoft. Therefore, Hybride had the right game-like aesthetic for the control room. In fact, the control room is part of a virtual city tour of the Panem Capitol developed by Microsoft for Internet Explorer 9 (with some of the assets provided by Hybride).
"We came up a bunch of concept designs and I passed those on to Hybride because what I wanted to do prior to actually shooting the control room was to create animation that had some information about the performances of the actors," Duggal says. "So Hybride created these animations that allowed us to inform the actors even though we didn't know what the content was going to be at that time. And when we got into post, Gary had some very specific ideas about what the graphic content on those desktops should look like, so they worked with us in creating those holograms and their functionality. We went through the whole movie with them and what's happening in the story and during the games."
Hybride used a combination of 3D and 2D and turned the main hologram into a 3D model that represents the arena; then using the mesh from that in Flame they created some 2.5D effects. The concept is that the graphics are made up of data that's organic and alive, which then comes alive in the arena in the form of the fire or the mutts.
Judging by the phenomenal success of "The Hunger Games," it's a good bet that Duggal will be back to work on the two sequels adapted from Suzanne Collins' popular Scholastic book trilogy: "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay."