06 March 2008

INSIDE "10,000 BC"

After staging an alien invasion in "Independence Day," freezing New York with a modern ice age in "The Day After Tomorrow" and terrorizing it in "Godzilla," director Roland Emmerich has turned his attention to the prehistoric past for his latest cinematic spectacle -- and it was truly a mammoth undertaking. "10,000 BC" brings extinct saber-tooth tigers, woolly mammoths and ferocious "terror birds" to life with cutting-edge computer graphics. Creating these creatures posed significant challenges for the filmmakers, who also contended with fickle weather conditions on location in Africa and New Zealand.


The film, co-written by Emmerich and Harald Kloser, tells the story of D'Leh (Steven Strait), a young mammoth hunter who leads a small army in pursuit of the slave raiders who have kidnapped members of his tribe -- including the woman he loves, Evolet (Camilla Belle). The quest leads him into battle with a powerful, technically advanced civilization.T­­he initial inspiration for the film was a documentary on mammoth hunters.


More than two years of planning, design, testing and rendering went into the creation of the mammoths and the other CG animals in "10,000 BC," which contains nearly 700 digital effects shots. And this was before the animators really began work. Real mammoths could grow to 18 feet tall, and each animated beast was covered in "billions of hairs," says Emmerich. "They had to react to each other in a fashion that is very, very complicated."

In April 2005, visual effects supervisor Karen Goulekas -- who had worked with Emmerich on "Godzilla" and "The Day After Tomorrow" -- came aboard. Her first order of business, a year before filming commenced, was to figure out what the animals would look like.

"I went there with two HD cameras, one to shoot the side view and one to shoot the front view as the animal moved," she says. "You sync the two together and you can do rotomation and key frame over the images of the actual animal. It's like a poor man's motion capture."

The mammoth design resembles an elephant, of course, in terms of features and skin texture. The mammoths didn't pose a problem in terms of facial movements (aside from eye blinks, ear flicks and open mouths) -- but there are many mammoths in the movie, all covered in long, individual hairs.


Besides the creature work by MPC and Double Negative, there was additional CG for crowds, backgrounds, flying arrows, sky shots and a Nile River sequence.

For a scene that involved a saber-tooth tiger trapped in a pit, Goulekas had special effects supervisor Dom Tuohy build a blue-foam facsimile and place it under branches and logs. For a terror birds sequence, "We had guys in blue suits with sticks and real-size terror bird heads on them that the actors could smash with their spears as they were fighting," she says. "Of course, later it was all [digitally] painted out."


Roland Emmerich originally planned to shoot the movie almost entirely in Africa but ran into some red tape there. On a scouting trip to New Zealand, however, he discovered the perfect location and decided to shoot more of the film there. But it wasn't exactly easy. "The mountains of New Zealand are much colder, and we had not planned costumes for that," he says. "We had our people running around half-naked. They were freezing."

One of his ingenious ideas involved the proto-Egyptian city that the crew erected in the Namibian desert, along with a 16-foot-high model replica the size of a soccer field. Helicopter shots of the city were replicated on the model with a Spydercam (a remote-control camera), and CG people and mammoths were added later. "You usually don't want to have models outside because all kinds of things can happen … but it worked out fine," Emmerich says.

Emmerich relished these and all the challenges of making "10,000 BC," believing that big, complicated blockbusters are what he was meant to do. "Little movies -- so many people can do that. It's not a challenge for me," he says. "I like to dream of big things. And they get bigger because I get better at it."

Official trailer(high quality):

To learn more about "10,000 BC" and movie special effects, take a look at the links below:


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