Day VFX artists Use Weapons of max Destruction

Twentieth Century Fox’s The Day After Tomorrow promises to be one of the biggest visual-effects films of the summer and Discreet is boasting its involvement as the provider of 3D digital animation, modeling and rendering tool 3ds max.

In the film, a new ice age has been thousands of years in the making. In reality, the effects team at Dreamscape Imagery Inc. had just three months to create climatic chaos on a global scale. Dreamscape Imagery is the visual effects arm of Los Angeles production company Uncharted Territory LLC, which was formed by Academy Award-winning Independence Day effects supervisor Volker Engel and business partner Marc Weigert. Uncharted Territory recently used digital technology to produce the independent effects flick Coronado, and promises to deliver more than 600 effects shots in its next production.

To create convincing elements like frost, snow and ice, and seamless digital extras and set extensions, artists at Dreamscape frequently tapped into such 3ds max toolsets as procedural texture mapping, modifiers and particle flow systems. In addition to making the shots possible, the system also facilitated file sharing between the studio and the five other visual effects houses on the production.

According to Dreamscape, major challenges included encroaching frost. Once mapped photorealistically to surfaces using the 3ds max’s UV Unwrap tool, the frost was animated and tweaked procedurally via OpenGL to meet Emmerich’s specifications on the fly. Finishing touches were applied with SplutterFish’s Brazil Rendering System.

"Our job was to make it look like New York had just been pummeled by the largest snowstorm ever to hit Earth," Dreamscape technical lead Adam Watkins explains. "Using the Push, Noise, and Melt modifiers, as well as numerous Selection modifiers in the 3ds max Modifier Stack, we devised a technique to shrink-wrap ice to the sides of the buildings. In this way, any changes we made to experiment with the look were automatically affected downstream without extra adjustment work."

No disaster flick would be complete without hordes of people running for their lives. To populate crowd scenes with thousands of digital extras, Dreamscape created variations by mapping unique clothing and accessories to 50 CG humans and animated each according to their physiology using a combination of motion capture data and the character studio Mixer tool.

Other 3ds max users who contributed to the many challenging effects shots in The Day After Tomorrow are ILM, Hydraulx, Ring of Fire Studios, The Orphanage, Zoic Studios and Digital Domain. Read more about the film’s effects work in the June issue of Animation Magazine.