CaféFX Masters and Commands Realism

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World brought a number of challenges to director Peter Weir, who collaborated with CaféFX to reinvent locations. Based on Patrick O’Brian’s Napoleonic-era novel, the film follows the crew of the H.M.S. Surprise around the globe, and is the first feature to shoot on the Gallapagos Islands. But with some of the Gallapagos scenes shot on Baja, a problem was to make the two locations match.

Compositing supervisor Kevin Prudenville explains, "Essentially, our job was to seamlessly composite several digital matte paintings into the scenes filmed in Baja. Dealing with parallax between the foreground, midground and backgrounds proved to be a real challenge. The live-action elements were very dramatic, and it took intense tracking and rotoscoping to achieve a realistic look. We used a combination of Discreet flame, Adobe After Effects and Digital Fusion to create good keys on the various actors’ hair and the objects they were carrying, and to ensure that the matte paintings were precisely balanced within the scene."

In another instance, what was to be a replaced sky and the addition of a matte painting evolved into an entirely new synthesized location. Jonathan Stone, visual-effects producer at CaféFX’s Los Angeles office, elaborates: "The only live action in that scene is the actor himself. In order to capture the essential details of the scene, we had to nail the tracking. We also replaced the fishing net he was carrying with a remarkably detailed CG version, and added some CG dust for realism."

CaféFX is a division of ComputerCafé, founded in 1993 and headquartered in Santa Maria with a studio in Santa Monica, Calif. Originally intended to produce broadcast promotions and television-ID packages, it has gone on to work with companies from all parts of the motion-picture and television world.

While significant, the Café crew’s contributions are only part of the film’s massive digital deployment. Stone gives credit where credit is due, noting, "Ben Grossmann and Paul Graff worked under the supervision of compositing supervisor Kevin Prudenville, with matte painters Robert Stromberg, visual studio effects producer Brook Breton, and Julia Frey, producer at Digital Backlot, to produce the project. Together, we created some 22 complex shots, some running as long as nine seconds. In all, the project took about 10 weeks to complete and was quite a challenging job." He concludes, "Peter Weir was a wonderful collaborator. We were very involved in the screenings, and he was obviously very happy to have our artists there. He clearly wanted face-to-face contact with the people who were creating these scenes. That was greatly appreciated by everybody at CaféFX."

Master and Commander also features EFX work by Asylum Effects, ILM, Weta Workshop and Pacific Title & Art Studio, under the supervision of Pablo Helman (Star Wars: Episode 2–Attack of the Clones, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines). The film opens across North America today.