CaféFX Swims with Shark Boy and Lava Girl

When does 150 visual effects shots become 300? When working on a stereoscopic 3D movie, according to CaféFX, one of the vfx studios that lent its talents to director Robert Rodriguez’s latest fantasy kid flick, The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3D. The film opens in theaters today.

"The thing about 3-D is you have to do everything twice,” explains CaféFX digital effects supervisor Everett Burrell. “What you see in your left eye differs slightly from the right, so our 150 shots were instantly doubled to 300."

Burrell says he and his team knew what to expect, having worked with Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studio on Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and "The Big Fat Kill" portion of Sin City. But while those films used some physical locations, Shark Boy was completely shot against blue screens. "It was wide open and we had just eight weeks to fill it all in," he notes. "Thankfully, great care was taken in setting up the 3D shots. Although it was a challenge to eyeball the stereo aspects and ensure the background was sunk back far enough, and things meant to pop out did so at the correct distance.”

Much of the action in Shark Boy takes place on the imaginary Planet Drool, where CaféFX built such attractions as Mt. Neverest, an amusement like no other, and Dream Graveyard, a place where every toy ever forgotten in a closet goes to die. This is where the heroes meet Tobor, a CG robot that joins their quest. Then there’s The Land of Milk and Cookies, a world every kid would love to visit.

CaféFX built these worlds from the ground up using Digital Fusion, Lightwave, XSI and Maya. “We dove in and created Sin City virtually without a map and I think for this one we had even less of a path to follow,” says Burrell. “But one of the great things about working with Robert is that he trusts and values the opinions of those doing the visual effects, and understands it’s a collaborative process (especially, on this film, which had eight or nine effects houses involved). That trust, allowed us to run wild and know that he would be receptive to where we were going.”

CaféFX, part of the Santa Maria, Calif.-based ComputerCafe Group, maintains a studio in Santa Monica, Calif. Other recent credits include The Aviator, Flight of the Phoenix, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. For more information, go to