HOLLYWOOD - Favorite Academy Awards host Billy Crystal made his triumphal return to Oscar night this past Sunday as only he can â€“ by outlandishly insinuating himself into a large number of well known scenes from nominated films including blockbusters like "Lord of the Rings" to small films like "Lost in Translation" to a "nude" scene in the romantic comedy "Something's Gotta Give."
The list of movies Crystal wanted to be composited into for his raucous five-minute Oscar-opener required 50 visual effects shots and director/executive producer Troy Miller and production company Dakota Pictures had looked at large, long-established LA effects houses before settling on Gunslinger Digital.
Company principals Robert Dahlin and Jay Odom supervised a three-day 35mm greenscreen shoot, and while Miller and cinematographer Clyde Smith have collaborated on previous Billy Crystal Oscar segments in past years, this was by far the most ambitious version yet.
"We created a â€˜Forest Gump' effect where we essentially erased an actor from the movie and replaced him with our Billy," says Dahlin. The artists at Gunslinger employed numerous techniques to make Crystal's presence in these shots seem organic. All of the shots required green screen key-in and color correction to seamlessly blend into the shots from the film. The artists painstakingly adjusted Crystal in each shot, tweaking the black levels, massaging the midtones, and matching the highlights so that each visual effect looked like it was straight from the movies. Many shots that were chosen had complex camera movements in them, all of which were tracked and applied to Crystal, who was shot mostly with the camera locked off on set. To finish up, Gunslinger analyzed the film grain from each movie and duplicated it in each shot in the new film, even scratches from the original were reflected in the final Oscar segment. Many shots in Miller's piece required extensive matte paintings to augment the landscape from the films being spoofed. The best example is a homage to "Lord of the Rings." There is a shot in the movie where Legolas slides off the end of a falling elephant's trunk. Gunslinger painstakingly replaced the jumping Legolas with Crystal, who then looks onward and upwardâ€¦ we see his point of view: a shot of the castle stronghold from the movie, augmented by Gunslinger to look like it is part of the Hollywood landscape. The LOTR stronghold becomes the Kodak Theater, site of the awards night, complete with a 3D Oscar statue built in Maya. Gunslinger also used Adobe's After Effects and Photoshop on the project.
"Gunslinger made it possible with their seamless integration and flawless design sense," says producer Miller. "The team there is unsurpassed in qualit