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Phosphene creates VFX for 'Tower Heist'

November 7, 2011
Phosphene creates VFX for 'Tower Heist'
NEW YORK — Design and visual-effects company Phosphene (www.phosphenefx.com) created numerous CG environments for Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment’s new action-comedy Tower Heist, starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy.

Creative director/VFX supervisor John Bair headed up the Phosphene team, which augmented and manipulated the physical environment in approximately 70 shots for the film, including creating an elegant swimming pool and deck on the roof of a Manhattan tower, and creating the interior of a three-cab, 60-story elevator shaft. 

For the exterior of The Tower, which in real life is Trump International Hotel & Tower at Columbus Circle, Phosphene created a luxurious outdoor environment for the film’s billionaire, Arthur Shaw. The studio removed the array of satellite dishes and equipment on the existing building, and then added an expansive swimming pool that features a $100 bill design. One shot with the pool is used in the film’s open. A tight shot of a $100 bill zooms out to reveal the design on the pool’s bottom. As the camera continues to pull up, it is revealed that the pool is on top of a residential tower. Pulling back further, the rooftop disappears into a vast aerial view of Manhattan at night. Phosphene shot the swimmer featured in the pool on set. The building’s rooftop was filmed from a helicopter. The pool and its water are CG and were married to the live action imagery in post to create the open.

The elevator shaft scenes also demanded considerable work from the studio, as characters traveled up and down the 60-story shaft riding atop an elevator cab. Additionally, they climbed ladders and over the grid work in the shaft, all of which required either a complete CG environment or an extension of the environment. 

Phosphene used Nuke, 3DS Max with a V-ray rendering engine, and After Effects CS5, along withPCs running Windows 7 64-bit in the execution of the project. The Phosphene team included VFX EP Vivian Connolly and VFX producer Renuka Ballal, as well as VFX associate producer Lea Prainsack, lead CG artist Vance Miller, and lead compositors Thomas Panayiotou and JD Yepes. Representing Heist Productions, LLC were director Brett Ratner, VFX supervisor Mark Russell, VFX producer Ginger Theisen, and VFX coordinators Jessica Wilson-Silas and Bryan Wengroff. Company 3 in NYC was responsible for the digital intermediate, and Deluxe handled the lab processing.