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Double Negative and Batman Begins

A conversation with Double Negative's VFX supervisor Paul Franklin By Frank Moldstad

London-based visual effects house Double Negative created nearly 300 effects shots for Warner's hit summer movie Batman Begins, although the fact that there were that many fx shots may surprise many viewers. The facility's largest project ever, Batman Begins required a revamping of its entire pipeline and workflow. Not only did Double Negative do that, it wrote custom software as needed, including a renderer for creating more realistic geysers. Many of the new processes had BatNames, such as “Gothamisation,” for adding extra buildings and traffic to extend live action plates.

But perhaps the biggest accomplishment was integrating all the effects into the live action so that viewers wouldn't be conscious of them, which was done at the behest of director Chris Nolan. In the following interview, we discuss Double Negative's fx production process with Paul Franklin, the facility's VFX supervisor for the film.

Paul Franklin
It's impressive how the VFX in Batman Begins blend so seamlessly into the live action. How much harder is it to integrate the fx like that, rather than making them obvious?

Achieving a seamless blend needs great attention to detail.  You have to spend a lot of time gathering lots of reference of sets and locations and then really studying it carefully to make sure that your work is capturing all of the information that is present in the live action material.  It also requires an in-depth understanding of how images are captured on film and then being able to reproduce that process in the digital realm so that there is no difference between the computer generated material and the live action.  All of this means a considerable amount of extra effort is added to all of the work that you are already doing.  Chris Nolan, the director of Batman Begins,  wanted to raise the bar on all of the VFX work for Batman Begins and he checked everything repeatedly until he felt it was perfect.

You created a new working pipeline and infrastructure for this project. Why was that necessary and how does it work?

At Double Negative we believe that every project deserves special consideration and right from the outset we felt that this show required a customised response to achieve the desired quality level and to handle the scope and quantity of the work involved. We redesigned our 2D and 3D pipelines from the ground up, building on the experience that we have built up over 40 plus feature film projects.  The result was a flexible, non-destructive workflow that accommodated Chris's developing ideas throughout the project and which preserved all of the information that we gathered at every stage all the way through to delivery. This comprehensive methodology resulted in a huge amount of data that had to be manipulated quickly and efficiently -- to accommodate this we overhauled our infrastructure, installing new high-bandwidth, high-capacity servers and upgrading our renderfarm. We also put a major effort into developing a site wide approach to asset management and a full digital publishing system that is tightly integrated into our digital workflows.

Before grading and After (below): During preproduction Double Negative had to prove to Director Chris Nolan that they could create digital architecture indistinguishable from the real thing. Test material of Senate House in London was shot on film, a digital model was constructed and then lit in 3D to match the original. Double Negative knew that they had cracked it when most people chose the digital version as being the real one
Final Comp

Was it a specialized infrastructure for Batman Begins, or is this your new standard procedure?

Many of the ideas that we implemented for Batman Begins had been developing for a while here at Double Negative. Batman Begins gave us the time to put them into practise. We were very happy with the result that we achieved and also very pleased with the experience of working in this new way. At Double Negative  we believe that an overly bureaucratic, excessively compartmentalised approach kills creativity and is a frankly boring way to work -- we always feel that the pipeline should be there to liberate the artists, allowing them to move across the project smoothly rather than defining them as small components of a larger machine. The Batman Begins pipeline was very successful in promoting this open way of working and we have subsequently rolled it out across all of our new projects. The pipeline is in constant development and continues to evolve with the new shows as their requirements grow.

How would you break down the 300 shots Double Negative produced… what percent were animated, composited, etc?

All of the shots are composited to one degree or another. We finish all of our shots in compositing and it is the final stage of quality control before film out. Around 30% of the shots that we delivered for Batman Begins were pure CGI and did not involve any shot elements at all. The remaining shots involved compositing shot elements of some description with CGI enhancements or CGI environments -- the elements were roughly split between green screen live action and miniatures. 

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Related Keywords:Batman Begins, Double Negative, VFX, effects, post production

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