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September 2014
Issue: July 1, 2005

EMBRACING DIGITAL EFFECTS

By: By Randi Altman
George Romero, writer/director of such zombie cult classics as "Night of the Living Dead" and "Dawn of the Dead," is back with his current "Land of the Dead," and this time he's gone digital? photoreal, but digital nonetheless.

Originally hired to do 66 visual effects shots on "Land of the Dead," Toronto's Spin Productions ended up supplying 250. It all started with the previs, via Softimage|XSI, and explaining to Romero how using digital technology could enhance his film, but VFX supervisor Jeff Campbell had to emphasize that they would "keep it real" in terms of effects. "George is such an old-school director, we basically had to sell him the idea that this would be all photoreal visual effects, and nothing fancy. This was the first time George ever used digital effects in his movies," explains Campbell, "so he was a little hesitant at first, but he liked the idea that I like to keep things real. I like to shoot elements rather than do a lot of 3D. And if I can get things in-camera, I will. By the end of the movie he was very comfortable with the terminology and the tools we had."

"Land of the Dead," like its predecessors, features zombie crowd scenes - because, apparently, zombies like to travel in packs. The problem was they only had about 85 "real" zombies to work with. "For the previs, we would stage the shots in the computer with the 85 zombies to show what it would look like," says Campbell. "And it also showed us what we were dealing with. We actually filled the whole [digital] set and used different lenses. George was able to swap out lenses and do different camera moves in the computer before we even went to shoot. It's a great time and money saver, because we knew exactly what we were going to need on the day of the shoot. It?s funny, how 85 zombies with specific camera angles can look like 500."

Campbell, who was also lead Inferno artist on the film, says that most of the shots of the zombie crowds were done by shooting groups of zombies and compositing them together digitally in Inferno. The previs was helpful because it showed "how many groups we would need and how far apart to space them. On the lower angles you can space them further apart to get more zombie coverage, but on the higher angles we had to tighten up the groups more. By having a virtual set in XSI we are able to accurately set these shots up with a virtual camera."

The film was shot on 35mm, 3- and 4-perf, in and around Toronto, and Campbell was on the set throughout the shoot.