Paramount Pictures’ G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, a live-action film adaptation of the 1960’s action figure’s evolution into a team of elite soldiers in Marvel Comics is so CG rich, it took 10 visual-effects houses to make it. One of the contributors was CIS Hollywood (www.cishollywood.com), part of the award-winning CIS Visual Effects Group, which also has a studio in Vancouver. While they have worked on effects-packed shows in the past, this was definitely one of the biggest projects CIS Hollywood has tackled, says Diana Miao, who served as look development supervisor overseeing modeling, texturing and lighting. “There were hundreds of shots that included CG environments, set extensions, vehicles, props, and we also did a lot of digital doubles where we had to take a live-action character and create a CG version of them,” she explains.
CIS worked on the film for nearly a year. During that time, about 30 different artists did everything from modeling and texturing to lighting and compositing. Using MAXON’s BodyPaint 3D, Ben Dishart, CIS Hollywood’s lead texture artist, did the bulk of the texturing work while also acting as texture supervisor. “This was a fantastic project for us because there was so much painting and so many assets to work on,” says Dishart, who was trained as a technical illustrator and has been using CINEMA 4D since 2004.
Because each of the 10 visual-effects houses worked on different parts of the film, continuity of the look wasn’t a grave concern, Dishart says, adding that overall VFX supervisor Boyd Shermis was responsible for making sure all of the shots had the correct G.I. Joe aesthetic before presenting them to the director for final approval. The only exception was when they had to share assets for a scene or a character. “For example, we sent our Baroness (played by Sienna Miller) models to Digital Domain and they sent us their Howler (plane), but mostly we all made our own stuff,” Dishart continues.
Ben Dishart, CIS Hollywood’s lead texture painter used MAXON’s BodyPaint 3D to texture the landing platform at G.I. Joe headquarters.
CIS artists (who work on the Mac platform for Bodypaint and Photoshop) used reference photos and concept artwork to create their 3D models with Autodesk’s Maya. Once the models were finished, Dishart would begin texturing them going back and forth between BodyPaint 3D and Photoshop as he worked. “After importing the model into BodyPaint 3D, I would select the view I wanted to work on and then send it over to Photoshop, where I took detail from reference photos and cloned it onto the model,” he explains. The team also made a large number of props for the film. “For simpler props, we typically completed them in BodyPaint by projecting on images and cleaning out the overlap,” Dishart explains.
The trickiest part of making this gas can was the label, Dishart says. “We had to make sure the text was legible as it curves around so we projected photos from different angles and pieced them together.”
Next, he saved his work into BodyPaint 3D so he could project it onto the geometry and change to the next view before repeating the process to cover the entire model. “There was never a question about using any other 3D paint package because BodyPaint 3D is the only one with the capability to paint on the overlapping geometry and across the UVs of multiple objects,” Dishart explains. “I also like that it’s really easy to use.”
While Digital Domain worked on the scenes in Paris and MPC’s London studio handled the underwater battles, CIS created G.I. Joe’s headquarters, located somewhere in the Sahara desert in an underground complex called “the Pit”. One of the most detailed parts of the headquarters scenes was the landing platform, which included a giant hydraulic lift used by planes doing vertical takeoffs and landings. Rendering was done with Pixar’s RenderMan with some frames of the landing platform taking up to two hours to complete.
CIS artists used BodyPaint 3D’s brush tool to create layers of dirt and grease on the villains’ Mole Pod vehicle, which drills through the wall of G.I. Joe’s headquarters.
To give the Mole Pod the look he wanted, Dishart painted a greyscale dirt mask that could be used to layer in various details at a later point. “So I wasn’t actually painting the dirt,” he explains. “I was painting where the dirt should be.”
After receiving the model, Dishart used Maya to do the UV layout. Textures for all of the large, flat surfaces were done in Photoshop and BodyPaint 3D was used to create the dirt and grease layers on the hydraulic parts. “It was great because with BodyPaint, it’s so easy to just tumble the model around and paint directly on the surfaces,” says Dishart, who also used BodyPaint to project the stripes on the pad so they lined up between the different pieces of geometry. Blue lights and vents around the platform’s edge were added as layers in Photoshop.
In addition to G.I. Joe’s headquarters, CIS also did several vehicles for the film. Of those, the Mole Pod, which was used by the evil Cobra organization to drill through the wall of the underground headquarters, was particularly fun to work on because Dishart and the other artists had a lot of freedom to develop the look they wanted. “The idea was that the pod itself was metal (with a composite, carbon-steel drill bit), but it was covered with mud and dirt from drilling,” Dishart explains. “So we used BodyPaint’s brush tool to paint in a lot of different layers to build up that dirty look on top of clean, scratched metal.”
Adding to the complexity of the scenes where the Mole Pod drills through the wall was the fact that the set of the Pit was real, so the Mole Pod and some of the damaged parts of the wall had to be composited in. “We used reference photos to get the color palette and lighting right so the whole environment had a coherent look,” Dishart recalls.
The key to painting realistic dirt layers, says Dishart, was making sure the metal was exposed in ways that made sense for the way the vehicle moved, such as sharp corners and the teeth on the drill.
Working on the actors’ digital doubles was also challenging, Dishart says. “Because you’re basically replicating a real-life actor in 3D so you want every detail to be a perfect match.” To do this, CIS Hollywood’s artists used reference photos of the actors in costume that were taken on set and projected directly onto the geometry of the model in BodyPaint 3D.
“There are always going to be places like under the arms and between the fingers that you just can’t get to and BodyPaint is perfect for that,” Dishart explains before pointing out that BodyPaint 3D is also helpful with layer management. “For characters like Storm Shadow (played by Korean actor Lee Byung-hun) we had a lot of objects and layers in the scene at the same time so it was great to be able to keep them all organized before bringing them into Photoshop and Maya.”
Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Contact her at her website: www.slowdog.com