Cinesite Creates AMEE

3D Robot





Cinesite created and integrated an entirely 3D animated robot named AMEE (Autonomous Mapping Exploration and Evasion) into approximately 120 shots for the Warner Bros. release Red Planet.

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The sci-fi film is presented by Warner Bros. Pictures in association with Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment, a Mark Canton production, and is directed by Antony Hoffman and produced by Mark Canton, Bruce Berman and Jorge Saralegui.

The premise of the film is that it's 2050. The Earth is dying and colonizing Mars is the only alternative to obliteration. Mission Commander Kate Bowman is the pilot and commander of the most important mission of the 21st century: saving the human race.

Bowman and her crew have made the journey to investigate what went wrong with the malfunctioning Mars Terraforming Project and to repair it. What happens when they get there is far more terrifying than anyone could have guessed: a crash-landing leaves them without scientific, communication or escape equipment and causes their military mapping and exploration robot (AMEE) to malfunction into an enemy, relentlessly dedicated to breaking the team down.

Defying orders from Houston, Bowman refuses to leave the crew stranded and instead attempts to guide them back from above. But as the landing team explores the harsh new planet desperately seeking a way out, they make the most terrifying and baffling discovery of all: Mars may be barren but it's not uninhabited.

red planet logo Visual Effects Supervisor Jeff Okun tapped Cinesite to create and integrate the animated robot into critical shots, including approximately 80 shots of AMEE interacting with live-action characters and other elements of the film, and 40 more from AMEE's viewpoint. His instructions were to make AMEE believable, interacting with humans in a credible way. He also wanted her to be somewhat empathetic.

Cinesite Visual Effects Supervisor Tom Smith describes AMEE as agile and athletic, with smooth and fluid movements. One of his main challenges was to infuse the robot with life and personality. He assembled a team consisting of some 40 CG artists with specialized skills and talents, including Animation Director Steve Markowski and CGI Supervisor Serge Sretschinsky.

The character animators rendered AMEE's general appearance, but there were also many technical details. For instance, the animators had to decide how her joints moved and how her weight was distributed when she walked. Smith also worked with Okun and the second unit crew, whose responsibilities included shooting background plates that would be composited with character animation of AMEE. They filmed plates on locations in Australia, occasionally with green background screens.

red planet 1The crew emulated the styles of lighting and camera movement that cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, BSC, established in live-action scenes. Smith's team used motion tracking software to provide a roadmap for camera movement and angles for the character animation and compositing teams at Cinesite. All of the visual nuances had to blend, so it seemed like AMEE was in the live-action shots.

The film of the background plates was scanned and converted to digital format at Cinesite. At that point, the facility digitally corrected colors to match Suschitzky's live-action footage in surrounding scenes. Smith contends that audiences notice even subtle differences in contrast, colors and camera movement, if only subliminally. "In one scene AMEE is fighting with the astronauts," says Smith. "When we shot the plate, a stuntman was attached to a cable. He was vigorously jerked backwards when AMEE kicks him. The animated character had to be drawn so she delivers a powerful kick at exactly the right time, place and force when the CG and film are composited. It's a very collaborative process."

In another scene, the astronauts take refuge in a cave during a violent ice storm. The wind is blowing 160 miles per hour. Some of that effect was created while the plate was being filmed, with wind machines blowing an environmentally safe substance designed to look like ice, but that wasn't sufficient. The digital artists created and composited eight shots to fit into the existing sequence. They used a particle generator to create flying chips of ice with snow building up on the ground. They also created footsteps in the digital snow where AMEE was going to be inserted into the scene.

"All of this requires both a solid grasp of technology and a sense of photo-realism," Smith says. "We had people who specialize in texturing give AMEE a little more character, and others who did lighting. The goal was to make her look like she belonged in each shot. If there was a fire in a shot, we wanted the angle and color of the flames to look right when they reflected off of AMEE. Jeff (Okun) was involved every step of the way. We showed him every shot and were able to respond in an interactive environment for fine tuning."

"AMEE is a state-of-the-art CG character," says Cinesite President and COO Ruth Scovill. "Cinesite is proud to have the creative talent who can execute the available technology to make this 3D robot come to life. We strive to provide seamless integration of visual effects into the filmmakers' storytelling process. AMEE has some of the best CG metal I've seen to date."

Cinesite is a wholly owned subsidiary of Eastman Kodak Company, and part of the Entertainment Imaging division. For more information, visit the website at,