Rising Sun Pictures brings the tunnel down in Tomb Raider
Rising Sun Pictures worked on the VFX of the recent Tomb Raider reboot, most of the work being brought together in the third act of the movie. Meshed together with work from ScanlineVFX, The Third Floor, Iloura and a host of others, the main body of work for RSP involved the underground tunnel scenes, elements of the puzzle room sequence and the final tomb collapse sequences. Using a balanced combination of Maya and Houdini in animation, plate layout and the compositing/lighting of CG elements, Rising Sun Pictures’ first challenge was creating the establishing shots of the island.
During Lara’s approach to the tunnel sequence in the Tomb Raider movie, a shot establishes and follows her as she runs through the jungle. Established as a view of a thick canopy as seen from a few hundred feet in the air, the camera swoops down into the thick. The dive into the jungle consisted of first an aerial view of a forest, then matched with CG trees and branches as seen from above. “We replaced the forest tops with CG replacements, full CG branches, twigs, vines and leaves, right down until you look down and see Lara running,” says Hubert Maston, VFX Supervisor with Rising Sun Pictures in Adelaide Australia. “We see the accompanying CG plates, which is a digital double of Lara running, as seen from that same steep overhead angle.”
They made that transition as the shot dives through the branches, and very soon after, the change from the CG Lara to the plate footage of her running takes place. “She is always on screen. What Roar Uthaug (director) wanted was for the viewer to watch for Lara running through the jungle from the highest point, seeing her through the trees and then pulling down to join her in the chase,” says Maston. “The main challenges were the transitions to the plates of the forest, matching the digital Lara running to the real Lara.” The best way to describe what RSP used in the final composite was, ‘God rays’.”
“There was a lot of atmospherics in the final plate,” he says. “Adding fog, branches and light cutting through the vision made it possible to cut between CG elements and the next plate. It’s a classic trick of adding foreground transitions and using God rays.”
Rising Sun Pictures worked on the look development, the modeling and animation of the exterior door of the tunnel. This is where Lara Croft is up on the ladder in the sun, decoding the blocks which eventually leads to the collapse of the door and the beginning of the underground chase through to the coffin room. When the door collapses, Maston’s team of artists had to find a mechanism to build this and make it look correct, real and justified. “One thing I like to do is to make things look possible basically, even if it is completely ‘impossible’, ” says Maston, “if something collapses like it does, why does it behave like it does, and if it needs restaging, then I will understand how it needs to look. That might be rocks, it might be tiles of a floor, or the boulders that make up the door to the Tomb. As long as I understand how these assets behave in real life, I can recreate them in CG and have them behave realistically.”
The tunnel collapse at the end of the movie was also a major element of RSP’s work on Tomb Raider. As a visual, the cave-in needed to be seen as just a couple of steps behind, chasing her. And further into the sequence, the rocks, dust and general chaos closes in on her. “It just gets worse and worse and worse,” says Maston. “Roar is all about character and he always wants to see Alicia’s face in order to tell the story. Other than this, there are the shots from the back, which tell the story of where she is trying to get to. Going towards that light and out of the tunnel she is in.” In all of that collapsing carnage, the RSP crew managed to build a couple of wide shots to establish her situation. The pacing of this sequence was the most interesting aspect. Having to rush forward, being the only way to make it through the puzzle.
“We were better off with a smaller crew where everyone is focusing in on one sequence and making it the best they can,” says Maston. Using a combined mastery of Maya for modeling, layout and animation, with Houdini for compositing and lighting, Rising Sun Pictures produced an action-packed, believable package of effects to tell the story of this rebooted video game.