For Industrial Light & Magic, realizing the virtual reality of The OASIS from “Ready Player One” became an eerie trip down memory lane, as they recreated the “Back to the Future” DeLorean and the “Jurassic Park” T-Rex, among other iconic ’80s goodies.
And while it was extremely difficult building the virtual worlds of the OASIS and animating the avatars so they believably resembled their real-world counterparts (who were motion captured), the geekiest part was reconstructing the interior of The Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s horror fave, “The Shining.” It was a Steven Spielberg masterstroke, a virtual thrill ride, in which the High Five enter the Overlook in search of the Jade Key, with Aech (Lena Waithe) stumbling through the movie within the movie, having never seen “The Shining.”
“The Shining” Meta Experience
But Roger Guyett, ILM’s production visual effects supervisor (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) was skeptical at first, because it seemed so daunting. It had to look authentic. First, they scanned a digital version of the movie and began recreating CG versions of the sets (including the hallways, the ballroom, the Colorado Room with the infamous typewriter, Room 237, and the exterior hedge maze).
“We were all keen on integrating as much of the real movie into our version as best we could,” said Guyett. “There are direct lifts from the movie in terms of shot compositions.” And that meant not only replicating cinematographer John Alcott’s hard lighting style but also the look of the film stock.
However, the mix-and-match digital trickery also involved shooting real actors as doubles, such as the Grady twins and the lady in the bathroom. “The woman in the bath is not exactly the shot from the movie, but it’s extremely close,” Guyett added. So the first glimpse of her is from the movie, then she becomes the stand-in before transforming into the ax-wielding, CG zombie.
Recreating the gushing blood from the elevator was difficult, too. ILM’s sim team had to make it look exactly like “The Shining” blood in a tricky collaboration between effects and animation (led by David Shirk in London and Kim Ooi in Singapore).
“In that long shot where Aech is pushed back by the blood, the mocap was Lena on a chair moving forward and spinning,” Ooi said. “But when the capture came in, it did not work for the shot. The character hits a wall and goes underneath the blood and struggles, so we hand animated half of it.”
For the ballroom zombie dance, featuring around 50 characters, the choreography was compounded by attaining natural performances. “We wanted it to play more like a ride, where there’s a rig underneath them that goes up and down,” added Ooi. “But Steven wanted them to feel like they were really floating. That had to be worked out so it didn’t feel like they were on a platform. We had to take out the footwork and reanimate. The cloth on their legs was an additional factor in working out the smoothness of the dancing.”
Raising the Animated Stakes
Animated performance, though, was critical to Spielberg. After making “The Adventures of Tintin,” the director was well-versed in converting mo-cap data to fully flesh out animation. But just because these were avatars, Spielberg didn’t want them to appear overly artificial, especially the hero, Parzival (Tye Sheridan).
“Steven didn’t want to do human beings,” said Guyett, “but you want his avatar to be human enough, strong enough emotionally that you have empathy for him.”
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture
There’s also a lot of clever intercutting between the actors and their avatars, and Spielberg wanted the animators to capture their distinctive DNA. “You’re becoming somebody in that world so every choice you make is a reflection of your personality. And Steven wanted an integrity to the performance,” added Guyett.
A lot of work went into the design of Parzival (facial capture was done using Disney’s Medusa system). “The first pass didn’t work because of the lack of personality of Sheridan,” said Ooi. “For example, the shape of the eyes might seem flat and straight. We rounded it off so it would look the same in frontal and three-quarter views. And the mouth looked boxy because of the cheek structures. so we had to round out certain areas to make it look more organic.”
The Zero Gravity Distracted Globe
The animation came together in a different way for the wild, zero-gravity dance/fight sequence in the Distracted Globe club. It’s John Hughes meets “Saturday Night Fever.” Sheridan and co-star Olivia Cooke as Samantha/Art3mis performed on a mo-cap stage in Leavesden, England, and went up and down on wire rigs to simulate the zero gravity effect alongside trapeze artists.
“The mo-cap was difficult and people bumped into each other because the leverage wasn’t good, and you couldn’t do a full spin,” said Ooi. “So we used around 70% and hand-animated to handle the gaps and make it look comfortable and natural. You could go 360 and flip up and down, head looking sideways. It was three-dimensional.”
(ILM additionally upped its crowd system with the creation of Arcade, allowing a greater array of AI-based behavioral movements for dancing and fighting styles that were easily directable.)
Spielberg also wanted to experiment with the lighting to so that it looked cinematic as well as bombastic. He suggested a strobing effect and ILM created special animation rigs to sweep the lights through the lens. “We did waveform analysis of the [‘Stayin’ Alive’] music and we used that to drive the lighting,” said Grady Cofer, ILM’s visual effects supervisor based in London.
But since this was a zero gravity club, ILM brought the design of Art3mis’ dress to life. “The textures on her dress slowly move like a flocking system, and there’s a subtle light show that goes on,” added Cofer. “Her dress actually melts into light and becomes a big effects system. As she would swim around him, it would leave light trails that coiled around Parzival. In this virtual world, anything goes.”