Engine Room Teases Da Vinci Code

When it comes to promoting a movie based on a book as popular as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, it’s a tall order to appease fans who have been eagerly awaiting the first images from this production. And while it offers no glimpses of star Tom Hanks in action, Intralink’s trailer, crafted by Engine Room, blends practical and digital elements to stir the imagination.

Engine Room had only four weeks to deliver the theatrical teaser, which takes audiences on an intriguing journey through what appears to be a vast system of canyons but turns out to be a microscopic view of the surface of Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa. "Anthony Goldschmidt of Intralink had the concept of using the Mona Lisa as metaphor for The Da Vinci Code’s premise of discovering hidden secrets through the art of the old masters," says Engine Room’s Dan Schmit, who served as director, DP and vfx supervisor on the project. "A journey below the surface of the Mona Lisa was a brilliant vehicle to suggest this and both the studio and the filmmakers knew it."

Exec producer Michael Caplan helmed all aspects of the production thru post, managing a team that included art director Richard Amend and CG supervisor Andrew Honacker. The crew of 3D artists led by Honacker employed Maya with Metal Ray renders for the CG elements and composited them with the live-action footage using Adobe Aftereffects. "We passed animation files back and forth between Maya and Kuper motion control software running a Graphlite from Pacific Motion," Schmit tells us.

"The piece was heavily pre-vized in a very rough form," Schmit adds. "This allowed everyone to lock-in on animation very early. With as much studio pressure as can be imagined, our challenge was to unlock what was hidden, but in order to do this we had to first define the environment visually. To do this we turned to the real, physical, non-digital world of painting."

Schmit explains that Amend’s deep knowledge of painting gave the art direction necessary authority, since the work at the center of the piece is arguably the most famous painting in the world. Amend’s artistic team sculpted two 35’x25’ canyon-like models, which were photographed with move data imported from Maya. "Predictably, the path was modified during filming and afterward the new animation file was exported back out Maya to aide in integrating the film footage back to the CG," says Schmit. "Perhaps the greatest benefit of having gone through this process was that it gave our CG team a clear creative direction to follow and build upon."

According to Schmit, the team was also tasked with recreating Davinci’s one-of-a-kind masterpiece. For the big reveal shot, they were able to work with a 4×5 transparency taken from the actual painting, but the detail didn’t hold up for the macro perspective. "To deal with this we actually had to repaint the Mona Lisa’s face, adding texture and detail wherever it was needed," notes Schmit. "This aspect of the process added a level of excitement to the project for everyone involved."

After painstaking completing their act of forgery, the folks at Engine Room were then asked to deconstruct the Mona Lisa, using CG to make it appear to be crumbling to pieces and blowing away in the breeze. Schmit says that in keeping with their resolve to respect all aspects of the original painting, they took the time to break the painting along its actual crack lines.

Engine Room is now working on a new theatrical logo for Lions Gate. That piece, designed by John Berlin of Deva Studios, is described as another virtual journey revealing hidden details through 3D animation and 2D matte painting. In addition, the shop has completed about 150 visual effects shots for Nick Cassavettes new film, Alpha Dog.

More information on Engine Room can be found at www.engineroomvfx.com. The Da Vinci Code teaser trailer can be downloaded at www.sonypictures.com/movies/thedavincicode/index.html.