Eyetronics Lends EFX Insurance to Bulletproof Monk

Over the last year or so, it has become a standard practice in action films to scan and create digital models of actors and objects for effects shots that cannot be filmed. An even newer development is the use scans to anticipate the unexpected in post-production.

Visual effects supervisors for MGM’s Bulletproof Monk used Eyetronics’ 3D scanning services (www.eyetronics.com) to ensure that all of their bases were covered when creating effects for the film. Eyetronics scanned four of the primary actors in the movie and provided three 3D models for visual effects sequences.

A lighter side of martial arts

Bulletproof Monk is being described as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets The Matrix, but with a lighter side. The film tells the story of the Monk, played by Chow Yun-Fat, a Zen-calm martial arts master whose duty has been to protect a powerful ancient scroll that holds the key to unlimited power.

Now faced with finding the scroll’s next guardian, the Monk’s quest brings him to America. According to an ancient prophecy, the Monk’s successor is a charming, street-tough young man named Kar, played by Seann William Scott. As the Monk instructs Kar in the ways of a protector, the unlikely duo become partners in shielding the scroll from Strucker, a relentless power-monger played by Karel Roden, who has been chasing it for 60 years. Amidst a flurry of high-flying acrobatics, martial arts action, and quick-witted humor, this comic odd couple has to work together to keep the scroll safe.

An ounce of prevention

John Sullivan, Bulletproof Monk‘s visual effects supervisor, went into the film knowing first-hand the value of having digital replicas of actors. When coordinating visual effects for another movie last year, a studio he was working with decided to tone down the violence in a scene that showed close-ups of a main character’s face covered in bloody make-up. Sullivan’s team had to remove the make-up from the character’s face in post-production. But painting out the make-up left very little of the actor’s face in tact.

“We would have had to model the actor’s face from scratch and match-move and light the model over the actor’s bloody face,” says Sullivan. “We ended up leaving what looked like grease smears on the actor’s face, which wasn’t the best visual solution. Because of that, I decided to scan the faces of principal characters in future movies so we can have a bit of insurance and possibly avoid a similar situation.”

A quick and painless process

Sullivan had heard about the Eyetronics scanning service from other visual effects professionals, and he liked the portability of the company’s scanning technology.

For Bulletproof Monk, he needed facial scans of Yun-Fat and Roden. In the past, that would have meant hiring service bureaus with large, stationary scanners. The actors and the entire supporting crew from hair and make-up to wardrobe and lighting personnel would have to travel to the scanning company’s facilities, usually in New York or Los Angeles.

Sullivan’s 3D artists evaluated numerous scanning options to determine which would best support their needs. They chose Eyetronics, in large part because the company’s technicians could bring their equipment to the film’s set and do the scans between takes.

“Scanning four actors took about an hour,” says Sullivan. “The entire process was pretty quick and painless. Not only did Eyetronics’ models meet our technical needs, but since their system is portable, we were able to save time and money by not having to leave the set in Toronto.”

The fountain of youth

Eyetronics first used its ShapeCam system to scan Roden in old age make-up. ShapeCam is a hand-held scanning system that consists of a digital camera and specially designed flash devices mounted on a lightweight frame. It allows Eyetronics technicians to freely move around persons or objects, capturing dimensional and texture information by simply taking pictures.

Eyetronics used ShapeCam to capture several angles of Roden. Sullivan also wanted a scan of Roden without the make-up, so while it was being removed, Eyetronics scanned Yun-Fat, Scott and Victoria Smurfit, who plays Nina in the film. MGM decided in post-production that only the models of Roden and Yun-Fat were needed.

The scans of Roden and Yun-Fat were processed at Eyetronics headquarters, where they were made into 3D models with both wire frame and texture information. Animators at a subcontracted effects house imported the models of Roden into 3ds max and Maya to create the final scene in which Strucker transforms from an old man to his younger self.

Reshoots without film

The model of Yun-Fat was used for insurance throughout production, as well as for visual effects in a scene in which Monk flips over and lands on his feet on top of a car. After the scene was shot, the director decided he wanted it filmed from another angle. Neither actors nor stunt doubles could be used to film the scene because of the possibility of aerial wires becoming entangled with the camera in its new position.

“We could have done the shot with stunt doubles in front of a blue screen,” says Sullivan “But even then, we would have had to map Chow’s face over the double. Since we were faced with creating effects for the scene no matter what, we chose to go full CG with the entire scene.”

Eyetronics’ model of Yun-Fat’s face was imported into Maya at Boy Wonder Visual Effects, where the final scene was created and rendered.

Sullivan sees Eyetronics’ technology and methods as great assets in the world of post-production. “Modeling the human face from scratch would not have been logical for this movie,” he says. “It was important that our scanning solution have mobility, ease-of-use on location and speed. Eyetronics was able to meet all of these expectations and provided great models for our visual effects animators to work with.”

Erin Hatfield ([email protected]) is a freelance writer specializing in computer graphics and other technology topics. She works at Cramblitt & Company in Cary, N.C.