Monday, March 24, 2008

Cinefex Cloverfield Photos

Special Effects magazine Cinefex has a huge 11 page article on Cloverfield titled "Ground Zero", featuring numerous photos of the Cloverfield monster, and a scene-by-scene explanation of the special effects that went into making the movie.

Here are the photos, with their a scene-by-scene explanation of the special effects that went into making the movie.
New York City comes under attack from a giant monster of mysterious origins in Cloverfield. As conceived by producer J.J. Abrams, the film put a new spin on a genre staple by envisioning all action as seen through the lens of a bystander's handheld camcorder. Visual effects supervisors Kevin Blank, Eric Leven and Michael Ellis accompanied a guerrilla-style shoot in Los Angeles and briefly in New York, working alongside production designer Martin Whist and special effects coordinator David Waine. Tippett Studio then furnished animated creatures while Double Negative handled environment enhancements, including digitally decapitating the Statue of Liberty.

The ground shakes as an enormous fleeting shape passes behind the Woolworth Building and demolishes it, sending a cloud of dust and debris toward terrified onlookers. Director Matt Reeves, director of photography Michael Bonvillain and the visual effects teams studied amateur camcorder footage of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City as a visual reference for the film, relying on similarly frenzied camera motion and glimpses of the city's marauding protagonist to evoke an impression of cataclysmic events. The shooting style presented enormous tracking challenges to the visual effects team.

The production shot the Woolworth Building collapse on the Paramount Studios New York Street backlot set, where members of the visual effects crew placed tracking markers and greenscreens at either end. Double Negative surveyed the set with theodolites to create 3D surveys of the environment, and also shot high-resolution digital photographic surveys of the backlot set and New York City locations. Digital artists used that data to build CG set extensions, and used 3D geometry to create a fluid dynamic simulation of the debris cloud. Compositors layered all the CG elements behind the live-action crowd.

As thunderous footfalls pass, the story's protagonists take refuge in a convenience store and then emerge - camera still running - onto the street, demolished in the creature's wake. The production staged the scene as a series of long, carefully choreographed takes darting into the store and then back out onto the redressed street. Double Negative generated invisible digital transitions between takes, using subtle morphs and tracking elements from one shot to the next. In addition to practical flattened vehicles on set, the ruined street featured digital set extensions and synthetic smoldering wreckage.

Venturing uptown in search of a lost friend, Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) and Lily Ford (Jessica Lucas) halt in shock as they discover the north tower of the Time Warner Center half-collapsed and leaning against its neighboring tower. The visual effects crew shot airborne helicopter plates of Time Warner Center, but security restrictions limited access to the surrounding area. Double Negative digitally removed the existing tower from plates and reconstructed the environment using digital stills of the area, then layered in smoke and atmospheric effects.

From atop the collapsed Time Warner tower, Rob, Lily, and cameraman Hudson Platt (T.J. Miller) see the 350-foot-tall monster approaching, lit by incendiary flashes of U.S. Army ordnance. To preserve the mysterious nature of the unnamed and largely unexplained creature, Tippett Studio revealed it only sparingly and in poses designed to disguise its anatomy as it navigated the skyscraper canyons of Manhattan. Environmental lighting elements - such as roving searchlights, strobing tracer fire and flames - were reflected in the creature's pallid skin.

As Hud's handheld camera pans up from street level, the creature lurches into view above Grand Central Station, angered by a ground-level artillery assault. Starting with a live-action plate shot on location in New York, Tippett Studio animated the monster's reactions to gunfire hits, and its subsequent crashing through a glass-fronted building. Tippett Studio digitally simulated the creature's interactions with the building environment, rigging 3D models with interior furniture that could smash apart dynamically and rain debris across the creature's body.

The next morning, after dropping his camcorder in Central Park, Hud swings the retrieved camera skyward and is momentarily transfixed by the sight of the creature staring direaly back at him, considering its prey. Tippett Studio founder Phil Tippett suggested the moment to J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves, extending what had hitherto been planned as another fleeting shot into a show-stopping closeup of the creature, revealed through a soiled camcorder lens. Tippett Studio generated the 40-second shot entirely digitally, showcasing the creature's bizarre physiognomy, which included alien ocular mechanisms and pulsating bladders on either side of its head.

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  1. Fanfreakin'tastic!!!!!! I've been hoping for some stills of the monster and these are GREAT!

    Thanks for the post, Dennis, and for keeping things up after the hype has died an untimely death.

  2. That was a great article was some pretty sweet pictures. :)

  3. God I just love that monster haha. Great article cant wait for the DVD. Almost here! Thanks Dennis for posting this :D

  4. Funny to stumble on this online a couple of years later. To the fellow who complimented the Cloverfield Clues blogger on the article above -- the text was copied from the Cinefex article, but these are just the image captions. I should know, I wrote them!

    If you are interested in more information about "Cloverfield," and you would like to support our magazine, the full article can be found in Cinefex 113:

    And we went on to cover JJ's "Star Trek" movie in even greater depth, here: