Hybride had 85 people working on Sin City, most of them permanent, and uses Softimage|XSI for 3D and effects as well as some Alias Maya seats. Staunch Discreet customers, Hybride has "nine Infernos - all those workstations were used for Sin City," Leduc says, "also six Flames, two Smokes."
Leduc adds, "The 3D guys basically designed and defined a look and style that would then be refined by the compositors."
"There are watery environments that are impressive," Boerner says of "Hard Goodbye." "There's a scene by Hybride where Marv drives a car off a pier and goes into the water; and he swims away from the car and into a sewer pipe. We shot that stuff on a dry greenscreen stage and tried to make it look like it's really underwater - it just looks really beautiful."
Leduc says the Hybride team appreciated upgrading to Sony's SRW format: "Spy Kids 3D was done in HDCAM 4:2:2 recording format; Sin City was done in SR 4:4:4 RGB 10-bit. It's a huge difference. Quality-wise, it's easier to pull out keys. Because of the black and white and the gray scale, everything was done in 10-bit and higher. The 3D stuff was done in 16-bit and scaled down to 12-bit for the Inferno. After that, the final comp was scaled down again to 10-bit to go on SR tape. All Sin City facilities delivered 4:4:4 SR tapes to Troublemaker."
THE BIG FAT KILL
In this story, a band of heavily-armed prostitutes engages a group of crooked undercover cops in a turf war. But there's also a vicious struggle in a CG bathroom, a beheading and exploding hand grenades in a skirmish at a tar pit. Typical Frank Miller. This segment is lousy with big-name movie stars - antihero Clive Owen, bad cop Benicio Del Toro, Rosario Dawson as the Uzi-toting lead prostitute, and Brittany Murphy as an at-risk cocktail waitress.
At CafÃ© FX (www.cafefx.com/), a division of Computer CafÃ© with offices in Santa Maria and Santa Monica, CA, visual effects producer Ed Irastorza says the shop had to staff up quickly for about 600 shots, training freelancers from shops like Weta, ILM and Tippett Studios to create Sin City's noir fantasy world of crushed blacks and peaking whites. This was CafÃ© FX's biggest show to date.
Irastorza says CafÃ© FX used Apple Final Cut to slip their finished shots into Rodriguez's HDCAM SR master. The shop uses Eyeon's Digital Fusion for compositing and many of its effects, including color manipulation, and Irastorza says CafÃ© FX did as much color timing as they could in-house to help limit Rodriguez's eventual time in DI.
Take Clive Owen's red sneakers. They were red on set, says Everett Burrell, a CafÃ© FX digital effects co-supervisor, and Digital Fusion easily restored that red for the final B&W master. "The Sin City 'look' was a very special set of curves in Fusion that had to be adjusted on a shot-by-shot basis," says Burrell, "that got us 60 to 70 percent there" before final QC to ensure that all the blacks and all the whites were consistent.
More color appears in a scene actually guest-directed by Rodriguez pal Quentin Tarantino. Owen is driving a trunk-load of bodies, with Del Toro flopped in the front seat - the only place his body fit. During the ride, we see an eerie wheel of color rotating behind our characters - a Tarantino homage to Dario Argento's 1970s camp scarefest, Suspiria.
CafÃ© FX's big digital double scene involves Owen's character in a gun battle on a CG set reminiscent of the La Brea Tar Pits complete with statues of dinosaurs. A hand grenade blows up his vintage T-bird and sends him flying into a pit of tar. CafÃ© FX created the whole tar pit environment from scratch. "This was organic, there was grass and bushes and trees," Burrell says, "and all the dinosaurs were made by us." Alex Friderici was the "tar pit lead" - he designed the set in NewTek LightWave and the dinosaurs were built in LightWave by Grzegorz Jonkajtis. The segment's outrageous explosions were created by Szymon Masiak in Afterburn and 3D Studio Max.
Next, Owen and his pals are literally hurtling back to town in another car. "We tried to capture that moment," says Burrell. "Alex just took it to a whole new level." CafÃ© FX had to match move the racing car's virtual headlights, wipers and even the rain droplets that hit the windows. Digital Fusion made the beads of rain scurry away.
Regarding working with Sony's 4:4:4 RGB HDCAM SR format, Burrell says, "It's better than 4:2:2 and, if you have to adjust the edit, all the [compositing] work doesn't get thrown out like in the old film days when they'd rescan the negative. That's over - we can use the work we already did." Irastorza adds, "It looks better ultimately and more film-like than video."
THAT YELLOW BASTARD
This bifurcated segment starts off Sin City and comes back to end the movie. In addition to Bruce Willis and numerous bad guys it features a virtual dock with a CG moon on CG water, the villain losing his head, multitudinous Photoshop 3D-projected matte paintings, both real and CG cars, and CG snowfall augmented in some shots with baking soda sprinkled on a miniature set.
"We did over 600 shots," says Ryan Tudhope, a veteran visual effects supervisor at The Orphanage in San Francisco (www.theorphanage.com/). "It was definitely a show about logistics in that way." The Orphanage had 30 environments to create for the segment.
And there were intensely challenging individual shots. Car chases using real cars in virtual environments, it turns out, are not easy. "A lot of times Robert would have multiple plates - he'd shoot two elements that were separate and [The Orphanage's] Tim Dobbert would have to do match moves to link them up," says Tudhope.
Shiny cars were not part of Frank Miller's gritty vision and their reflectivity needed to be calmed down.
"In our sequence it was snowing all the time so there was a lot of particle dynamics, snow spray, things like that interacting," Tudhope says. At one point in the chase, Bruce Willis turns and shoots his pursuer. "Then there's a full CG car shot where the car goes off the edge of the road. It tumbles and flips around in the snow field a couple of times," he says. The Orphanage uses Maya for modeling cars - sometimes a Ferrari, sometimes a classic gangster car as per Miller.
Nancy is the damsel-in-distress in "That Yellow Bastard." Played by Jessica Alba, she's a dancer in the local club, which was one of the three real sets in the film.
Outside, it's snowing...3D snow. "We set up the snow as a 3D particle system and rendered all the snow in one pass," Tudhope says. "Our renderers [Side Effects Houdini and Splutterfish Brazil] were capable of rendering depth-of-field based on camera settings that you give." The Orphanage prides itself in its ability to integrate different CG systems like Maya and Max.
Then there are the "stringy" comic book blood splats. "For a lot of the quicker gun hits we'd use a 2D particle solution," he says. One shot has Orphanage footage of colorized egg nog splattering. It's composited to Willis's real fist punching in a bad guy's head.
The Orphanage created 10-bit Cineon DPX files, which were compatible with Rodriguez's 4:4:4 HD SR format. "In terms of a CG pipeline it was great," Tudhope says, "we had more information in the blue channel than we normally do, it was a cleaner looking image, the edge artifacting was reduced quite a bit." Orphange editors use Final Cut Pro HD.
Jason Howard of SpectSoft worked with Carl Walters, head of editorial and post at The Orphanage, to get into the project into the new SR workflow using SpectSoft's RaveHD Linux-based digital disk drive recorder and an AJA Xena HD22 dual-link board. The RaveHD would bring Troublemaker's SR files online for visual effects work. Howard's box also helped later in QC and in printing the finished shots back to tape.
"We run all our dailies in HD - we watch them on an HD monitor. Before, you'd have to film something out in order to see the resolution and all the details," says Tudhope.
Due to the movie's hyper-contrasty visual style, the Orphanage made sure their CG pipeline preserved information in the highlights and in the blacks. "Our pipeline had high dynamic range, so making it really contrasty was the last step. And we 'cranked it up to 11' at the end. You get much richer images that way."
Quantel equipment also made a big contribution to the Sin City look - including the color of this mostly B/W movie. "We started our online and color correction on the eQ at 501 Post in Austin with editor Jim Reed," says Troublemaker's Boerner, "because Robert's schedule had him tied to Austin for the final dubs and I needed to get the shots in the ball park first because of the unique look of the film. We then archived the media and transferred it to the iQ at Post Logic, where Matthew Johnson finished the online and John Persichetti color corrected shots in da Vinci. Then we sent HDCAM SR tapes to Efilm, where they loaded up the DI into film color space and we made the final color correction with Natasha Leonett." The color timing was supervised by TroubleMaker's 2D supervisor, Eric Pham.