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White House Down: Method Studios Wreaks CG Havoc

COW Library : TV & Movie Appreciation : Ollie Rankin : White House Down: Method Studios Wreaks CG Havoc
CreativeCOW presents White House Down: Method Studios Wreaks CG Havoc -- TV & Movie Appreciation Editorial

Ollie RankinOllie Rankin
Visual Effects Supervisor, Method Studios
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Ollie Rankin - Visual Effects Supervisor, Method Studios
Ollie Rankin
Visual Effects Supervisor, Method Studios
Method Studios VFX supervisor Ollie Rankin specializes in photo-real destruction, crowds, motion capture, and character and creature pipelines. As one of the first VFX artist to work with digital crowd simulation, he did Crowd work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Kingdom of Heaven, Fred Claus and Troy. His other credits include the Matrix Revolutions and Red Dawn as well as working with director Clint Eastwood as a CG Supervisor on Invictus and again, as Visual Effects Supervisor on J. Edgar.

Graduating with Honors from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, Rankin majored in Computer Science. Rankin has brought his VFX skills to Tokyo, San Francisco, London, and now Vancouver to work on different projects.

Method Studios Vancouver created 185 shots on White House Down, including CG helicopters, digital doubles, fully digital and extended partial environments with the White House and Capitol Dome, lots of trees; effects included missile trails, explosions, fire, smoke, building destruction, trees blowing and being shredded, ground impact destruction, water interaction. Oh, and they also did some bluescreen comps.

The film's total number of shots was 900 shots; other houses that worked on the film included Uncharted Territory, Prime Focus World, Hybride Technologies, LUXX Studios, Image Engine, Scanline VFX, with additional VFX by Crazy Horse Effects, Trixter, Crafty Apes, Factory VFX, Fuse FX.

In this article, Method VFX supervisor Ollie Rankin, who worked with Method VFX Producer Christopher Anderson, talks to Creative COW about how Method's crew of 80 artists handled some of the movie's most challenging VFX.

 

We hadn't worked with [visual effects supervisor] Volker Engel before, but we were quite keen to get some of the work on White House Down. I think the work we did on G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was relevant to the style of work required on White House Down, and we were fortunate enough that some connections in the wider Deluxe family of companies came through and did the handshake between the various parties.

Although we were not responsible for the greatest volume of shots, we did have the most complex shots and also provided the bulk of the 3D asset creation. Volker and Marc Weigert [co-producer/visual effects supervisor] have their own in-house facility, Uncharted Territory, and a lot of the concept drawings and previs came from there. We got involved at the point they needed the CG White House and Black Hawk helicopters.


(c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc
Initially, they built the pristine, undamaged White House back in September, when they were first working on the trailer, and had to create the damaged South Portico later.


The first asset we needed to get working on was the White House; all the other vendors were going to need our White House asset and several would also need the Black Hawk, the White House grounds and trees and so on.

Another reason why it made sense for us to build these assets is that in our shots they are featured up close so they would be subject to a lot of attention. We built the White House based on a great deal of research and reference photography; there's a surprising amount of information out there about that building.


(c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc
The attack on the White House begins to show with CG damage inside.


Initially we built the pristine, undamaged White House back in September, when we were first working on the trailer. The bulk of the shots that Method undertook take place after a sequence -- done by Prime Focus -- in which a tank round has damaged the South Portico of the White House. So we had to build the damaged South Portico.


(c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc
A tighter shot of the CG damage to the South Portico of the White House.


We did all the modeling in Maya and texture painting in Mari, using WETA's elegant expansion of the traditional UV texture space, known as a UDIMs. Not to be confused with UDIMMs, or memory chips, UDIMs are a way of associating different textures with various objects that share the same surface properties, making it possible to greatly reduce the number of surface shaders in the scene.


BLACK HAWKS DOWN OVER THE WHITE HOUSE
We worked on a sequence in which three Black Hawk helicopters fly over the White House and all of them are shot down by the terrorists. Director Roland Emmerich and the production-side VFX team conceived of nearly every possible permutation of a helicopter being shot down in the White House grounds, before deciding on the three different events. Completing these difficult shots enabled us to really push the boundaries of our fluid, rigid body and soft body simulation pipelines.

The sequence begins after the terrorists come into the White House, neutralize the security detail on the roof and position themselves on the roof with snipers and rocket launchers. The National Guard, which has tried and failed to retake the White House earlier on, send in a squadron of three Black Hawk helicopters. To avoid detection, the helicopters fly low, barely above stopped traffic on the streets of DC, hiding among the buildings as they approach the White House from the North. The terrorists spot them and shoot the first rocket; the helicopters take evasive action and circle around, but one by one, the helicopters are hit and go down.


(c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc
The sequence begins after the terrorists come into the White House, neutralize the security detail on the roof and position themselves on the roof with snipers and rocket launchers.


Meanwhile, Channing Tatum's character Cale has come on the roof and is also fighting the terrorists. The scene ends with Cale in hand-to-hand combat with the terrorist leader, Stenz, who still manages to fire the missile launcher and take out the last Black Hawk.


(c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc
Combined plates of the actors against bluescreen.


The biggest challenge of this sequence was just how much of it was fully CG. We did every shot in that sequence from the moment of the first missile launch. The bulk of the work was around the CG helicopters, but we also did quite a lot of blue screen work on the hand-to-hand combat and machine guns being fired from the helicopter and the roof of the White House.

Compared to the helicopters we did on G.I. Joe: Retaliation, in White House Down, the helicopters are quite large in frame and it's also broad daylight, so the helicopters undergo quite a bit of scrutiny. Although there are some cutaways of a partial helicopter on a gimbal on stage, whenever you see a full helicopter, it was always CG.


(c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc
Although there are some cutaways of a partial helicopter on a gimbal on stage, whenever you see a full helicopter, it was always CG.


In most cases, the entire background was also CG since you can't get permission to film that close to the White House. They built a partial rooftop set so all the hand-to-hand combat took place there. But everything off that set is all CG including the White House gardens, CG trees, and a matte-painted background.


(c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc
When a missile hits the first helicopter, the copter is burning, billowing smoke, and spinning out of control over the White House


Several shots in the crashing of the three helicopters were very elaborate in the number of interacting components that went into them, and they were a big step up for our team in terms of complexity. When a missile hits the first helicopter, the copter is burning, billowing smoke, and spinning out of control over the White House. It crashes through the flagpole and then into a tree and, as it breaks up, it explodes and the blades are grinding up the ground and breaking trees. All these different elements had to interact, which made it our single most involved shot.

There were about 150 rendered elements in that shot, and each element had multiple layers. The White House in the background with the surrounding grounds and trees probably took up 5 to 10 layers. Of those, each one was separated out so they had diffuse lighting, specular lighting, reflected components, all divided out so the compositor could balance them. On top of them were foreground layers.

The helicopter was hand-animated but it required a special rig because it needed to break up progressively as it hit the ground; when the tail rotor hits the tree, it breaks off, creating additional debris.

The way we approached this was to design the animation using a very low-res representation of the helicopter and got one of our top modelers to model in all the crumbled, shattered metal detail. Our rigger then built the rig that allowed all those transitions from an undamaged copter to a damaged one, and the animator redid the animation using that updated rig. The helicopter went to lighting, but at the same time, it needed to drive all the effects that went on. To do so, we cached it using Alembic, an open source format that allowed us to load in Maya and Houdini and even Nuke if we needed to.


(c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc (c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc
View from the helicopter and on the right image, elements set into the background.

Using the Alembic format to cache the helicopter animation meant that we could develop the methodology required for the rotor blades chopping up the tree, which took a lot of time. We had recreated the tree from our generic White House grounds tree library in Houdini, using wire deformers to drive dynamic animation in the branches. Then, with a proprietary set-up, we triggered rigid body destruction from the impact of the fuselage and the rotors. As the helicopter flies towards the tree, there's also rotor wind emanating from it, and the ground is also being churned up by the blades.

From beginning to end, the sequence took six months. It began as a couple of different R&D tasks that has an artist dedicated to each one. In the last 2 or 3 weeks, we had a dedicated team of 15 artists working on this one shot.

 

CREATING CG TREES
Trees were something else that took a lot of effort, and we underestimated that in the beginning. We went into the show knowing the White House would feature prominently and would be difficult to match photorealistically. We knew the helicopter and all the dynamic effects would be difficult. But we thought of the trees as a peripheral.

At a certain point, as we were building up our library of trees, we realized they're actually quite difficult to do in a believable way. And even though the focus of all these shots is the helicopter or the White House or an explosion, half or more of the screen space is actually filled with trees. They're always there and they deserved a lot more attention than we initially thought they would.

The other tricky thing about trees is that they're always moving. Even with the gentlest breeze, the leaves are fluttering and the branches are swaying. It's amazing how subtle that movement can be. But if the trees are static, your eye immediately knows they're CG.

We developed strategies for moving the trees. One is a technique within Nuke that used procedural warping to make the leaves and highlights flutter. That was incredibly successful when the trees were in the background and defocused. But as soon as the tree came into focus, you could see the gag.


(c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc
CG crowds at the Washington Monument.


(c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc
As the helicopter flies towards the tree, there's also rotor wind emanating from it, and the ground is also being churned up by the blade.


We built most of the trees using a program called SpeedTree, a proprietary 3rd party tool. It had some limitations because it's a procedural way of generating trees, using random parameters to determine the distribution of branches and how straight they are and where the leaves form. That's great for a random forest but in the case of the trees surrounding the White House, there are a number of iconic, recognizable trees. SpeedTree gave us a good starting point, and then we had to work very hard to match those trees as close as we could to the real ones.

The filmmakers were able to shoot some aerial photography from a distance, so there are times when the scene cuts between the actual White House grounds and our CG version, so we needed to be accurate. SpeedTree comes with a mechanism for simulating gentle breeze and, with a few iterations, we were able to get our entire library of White House grounds trees to move.

If a helicopter flies near the tree, however, the tree and its leaves need to be moving more violently from the downdraft. We used a different strategy for that. We found that the paint effects plug-in in Maya produces some very convincing tree/branch movement provided you don't see the trunk of the tree. In shots where you only saw the branches or tips of the tree, we used this paint effects approach. In shots with the whole tree, we developed a similar approach in Houdini similar to what we used in tree destruction, in which we used wire deformers, and the wind would cause the wires to flail back and forth.

As it worked out, we didn't have a silver bullet for trees, but we ended up with a Swiss army knife of solutions and we learned exactly which solutions to apply for each tree.


BLOWING UP THE CAPITOL DOME
We also blew up the Capitol Dome. This sequence had nowhere near the number of shots as the sequence with the Black Hawk helicopters, but the complexity of each of the shots was very high. This scene takes place much earlier in the movie; it's a diversionary tactic as the terrorists place a bomb in a cleaning cart in the middle of the Rotunda and it blows up.


(c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc
The explosion expands out from the middle of the Capitol Dome, engulfs all the CG people and rises up, filling the entire cavity.


Three main shots tell the story of this explosion and we had a number of ancillary shots around it. One shot inside the Rotunda as the explosion goes off is a fully CG shot. We are looking down from the apex of the Dome as the explosion expands out from the middle, engulfs all the CG people and rises up, filling the entire cavity.

We cut immediately to an aerial shot, which was filmed from a helicopter. Our CG explosion blows out the windows and smoke billows out of each. The last shot in that group is a couple of hours later when all the fires have caused enough structural damage that the Dome completely collapses. These three main shots each had a team dedicated to them because each shot had quite unique needs.


© 2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.


(c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc


For the interior shot, we initially thought the digi-double people would be a huge component of that shot, but as it ended up, the people were mostly engulfed in the explosion by the time we cut to it so digi-doubles were not as important as we thought. The shot became almost entirely about the explosion.


(c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc (c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc
The interior shot of the Capitol Dome before the explosion with CG extensions on the right image.

Shots of explosions are always tricky. When you do explosions, if you shoot them practically, you either expose down so you can see the details and everything is dark, or you let it blow out and see everything else. Directors always want the best of both worlds, so there's a bit of an exposure trick going on.

We hand-animated the CG people instead of using a rigid body simulation of them being thrown back by the shock wave. We created the Rotunda in full CG -- that is, everything except the statues. We realized it would be quite a lot of effort to model 12 statues all the way around the perimeter of that room. Not all of the statues are visible in the shot, and they're top down, so a CG version would be a huge undertaking for a small amount of screen time. Instead, we used a matte painting approach for that, under normal lighting and being lit from the explosion, and the compositor was able to apply the explosion light to those matte paintings.


(c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc (c)2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc
The scene before and after. Click on images to pop out larger views.

The explosion itself was one of the hero shots for our in-house 3D pyro toolkit that we built initially for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. We expanded upon it significantly to incorporate the new features of Houdini v. 12.5.


CONCLUSION
I've noticed a trend in the last three to four years in the prevalence of fully CG shots in movies like this. As the industry gets better at making photoreal objects, as we pay more attention to the shading properties and rendering and lighting of these scenes, it's going to happen more and more.

Obviously things like helicopter crashes and missiles will be done in CG because it's by far cheaper since you can redo them multiple times. If you blow up a practical helicopter once and don't like the shot, it becomes very expensive, very fast. Miniatures also had some artifacts that were a giveaway; the way the focus, light and small particulates would behave would key you into the fact it was a miniature.

In the last few years, the giveaway cues of CG have become so subtle and minute that practically no one uses miniatures. Perfectly straight lines and smooth edges are traditional classic giveaways of CG and, as CG practitioners over-compensate to fix that, sometimes you'll recognize CG because it's too imperfect. I think we'll continue to finesse back and forth in smaller and smaller increments. But the all-CG shot has clearly come into its own.






Images from White House Down are ©2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

Comments

Re: White House Down: Method Studios Wreaks CG Havoc
by Clay Couch
I don't understand why the script has to suffer simply because we have tons of VFX? Maybe it is because to many people are involved with making the film and the over all vision from the director gets lost in a bazillion transistors somewhere on a workstation in hollywood, i dunno. It seems Debra was correct in that statement, atleast I think so. Maybe the process needs to be refined so the story isn't lost, in the million compositions that come together to make VFX masterpieces, if you can call them that.

Clay Couch
Studio Macula LLC
3D animator/compositor
Re: White House Down: Method Studios Wreaks CG Havoc
by Edan Cohen
Yes, District 9 was fantastic. One of the things that made District 9 so great was the lack of any famous actors. It is incredibly refreshing watching a bunch of no-names acting out an entertaining script. Once you introduce a star, like Matt Damon, for example, the film is already compromised. Judging by the trailer, it seems as if Elysium has a lot of heavy-handed, formulaic Hollywood-esque beats. I guess that's the price of doing business with the big boys' pocketbook. I will reserve judgement until I see the film though.
@Edan Cohen
by Debra Kaufman
I think at least we can count on Blomkamp to use VFX well. The problem with most VFX-heavy movies is a lack of a developed storyline/script. The premise and script for District 9 was fantastic. I'm hopeful that this means Blomkamp understand this. Everyone who works in VFX has had the experience of doing amazingly good work for amazingly bad movies. I'm hopeful that Elysium will be good...
Re: White House Down: Method Studios Wreaks CG Havoc
by Scott Roberts
[Edan Cohen] "Once you introduce a star, like Matt Damon, for example, the film is already compromised."

I don't think I'd count out a movie like Elysium just because Matt Damon is in it. I don't think it's "compromised" in any way. District 9 is great, but it also has a heavy handed script, and everything just got elevated through great special FX and a unique setting for a sci-fi film. It was just a well made little film; unique for its time and place in cinema. It was made for $30 million by the way, Elysium was only made for $90 million. By contrast a REAL big studio film like The Lone Ranger was made for around $250 million. And I'm *guessing* the script for The Lone Ranger isn't *quite* as good as Elysium's.

And as another contrast, Prometheus, which is probably considered the least mainstream HUGE MAINSTREAM science fiction film that ever mainstreamed its way into mainstream theaters, cost $130 million, didn't have any A-list stars (maybe Fassbender? I mean, Charlize Theron is barely in the movie) and was still pretty flawed. I don't think actors or budgets really matter in these type of movies, it's all about the story and the execution and the creativity. Unless you're just like "I hate Hollywood, I hate famous things, I only like indie films [drinks pinot noir with pinkie raised]" I think you should just be excited that the dude who made District 9 is making another movie that also looks pretty good, and go from there.

And for even MORE contrast, 2009's Moon was only made for $5 million, AND featured a big name in Sam Rockwell. And it was really good.

Besides, District 9 got lucky with the fact that Sharlto Copley was such a dynamic force. The rest of the cast was, uh, not that memorable... Or great at acting... Copley just rules. And he had to have a breakout somewhere, right? I seem to recall this movie named like Good Will Hunting or something along those lines? And it stared some no-name kid named Mark Diamond or something like that? I wonder what ever happened to him?

And in relation to your first post, I'm guessing you didn't go see White House Down, because it's actually a pretty fun summer movie. And that's coming from a guy who has seen Martha Marcy May Marlene THREE times now. [throws down 16mm film canister, disappears in the cloud of smoke]
Re: White House Down: Method Studios Wreaks CG Havoc
by Debra Kaufman
very funny! I agree that mainstream actors don't matter -- only when it comes to the $$ people ponying up the budget. They're the ones who insist on a bankable star. But I don't think a no-name cast (if the actors are good) can hurt a good script. I really liked District 9 - it wasn't formulaic, it really kept my attention. I thought the script and acting were quite serviceable. So I am still looking forward to Elysium and don't mind at all that Matt Damon is in it. I'm just hoping for some more good storytelling...that's really all I want.
Re: White House Down: Method Studios Wreaks CG Havoc
by Edan Cohen
I think any time you accept money from a major studio your vision is compromised. There is an article in the previous NY Times Magazine about how blockbusters are made by committee. If the studio forces Matt Damon into your film, so be it.

Yes, I am guilty of not seeing White House Down, but I have a quota on how many ridiculous plots and explosions I can handle in one summer. Big budget epics are cool, like 2001 and Apocalypse Now - they say something about the human condition and their budgets give them an epic scale that is necessary.

White House Down is just nonsense geared at 13 year olds. I don't begrudge its existence, I do begrudge the amount of money and brainpower that was wasted in bringing it to screen. Budgets for action films should be $5 million max.

Sometimes when I am watching a giant turd like White House Down, I have to take a step back and remind myself that adults, not children, did all the work on the film. It's so surreal to imagine an adult writing crap dialog & an adult running around with a gun & an adult having to sit for weeks editing a 13-year-olds fantasy.

Jaws was an action film for adults. Prometheus, while flawed, was a sci-fi/action film for adults. I appreciated that.

I know I will be hung for this, but I didn't like Good Will Hunting and never understood the adulation for that film. I've never understood the adulation for Matt Damon.

I don't think everything in Hollywood is bad -- most of my favorite films were made in Hollywood from 1968-1980. Today, however, the studios are incapable or too scared to release anything intellectually or emotionally stimulating. It's sad, because the VFX work being done today is otherworldly -- it's the only true artistry happening in H'wood and it's stuck in the worst films.
Re: White House Down: Method Studios Wreaks CG Havoc
by Scott Roberts
Yeah but if you reduce it down to guns and explosions = juvenile, then of course you're going to hate all modern action films. Do you hate the original Die Hard? It's the same formula. In fact it basically INVENTED the formula.

Comparing a big budget film like White House Down to Apocalypse Now (which wasn't even big budget, it only cost $30 million, or whatever that would be now for inflation) you're always going to side with Apocalypse Now. I mean, *of course* I'm going to say Apocalypse Now is better. That's an amazing classic. White House Down is a dumb (yet fun) summer flick that came out 5 days ago.

Besides, comparing films of today to arguably the best era in cinema history (1968-1980... hey I had a film class about those exact years once! Coincidence!) to films of today is very unfair. But if you compare *that* era's "White House Down" to this era's White House Down, I think the similarities would be pretty close. In fact, I'd rather watch White House down than The Towering Inferno (1974), or Poseidon Adventure (1972). Both of which I've seen, and was unimpressed with, and are a more accurate comparison of the era to White House Down than Apocalypse Now or (!!!) 2001. The day that we start comparing 2001 to a Roland Emmerich film is the day we compare Beethoven's 5th to a Green Day song. It's ridiculous to even start that debate.

Yes, Apocalypse Now has more character and emotion and atmosphere than White House Down, but that's also because it's a three hour long DRAMA film ABOUT the human condition.

And what's wrong with aiming tons of money at teenagers? They like going to movies too. And it's weird how there were barely any teenagers in the theater when I went to see White House Down last week. It was filled with, like, ADULTS or something...? I guess this is the perfect opportunity to slide in a joke about how low in intelligence we are for seeing a "film designed for 13 year olds", but I could also say that your thought process is too far "adult" to enjoy the simplicity of a dumb action movie, and I feel bad for you that you can't just relax and enjoy the ride. Also, Prometheus, a sci-fi film for adults, probably had more plot holes and sloppy storytelling habits than White House Down did. At what point does pseudo-intellectual "adult" drivel eventually just loop back around into juvenile territory? It has to happen at some point.

And just for clarification again, I'm someone who's seen Jaws 20+ times and has a framed Taxi Driver poster in my bathroom. Dude, I get it, the 1970s were awesome. I know this. Modern movies can be good and fun too. Even the ones with explosions.

All this time I'm defending White House Down, a movie I gave a 7.5 out of 10 to, just because I still feel like it doesn't deserve to be called a giant turd. Especially from someone who hasn't seen it and is generalizing it on an overall perception probably based on a vague loathing of the worst examples they've seen from the genre. That's like a 6-year-old hating all vegetables because they didn't like the way broccoli tasted. Dude, carrots are awesome. Just eat them.

Also, the following movies from the last five years were major Hollywood studio releases (that I was able to see at a regular AMC theater) with big name stars that ALSO had intellectually/emotionally stimulating material:

Django Unchained
The Social Network
Inception
Up in the Air
Zero Dark Thirty
Hugo
Argo
Side Effects
Inglorious Basterds
Life of Pi
True Grit
Silver Linings Playbook
The Fighter
The Wrestler
The Informant
Moneyball
Looper
The Ides of March
127 Hours
Moonrise Kingdom
Shutter Island
The Master
There Will Be Blood
The Descendants
50/50
Funny People
Harry Potter
Where the Wild Things Are
The Place Beyond the Pines
Toy Story 3
Re: White House Down: Method Studios Wreaks CG Havoc
by Edan Cohen
Why are you so oddly defensive about Hollywood films, especially White House Down? Why do you care if I hate it?

You make a lot of generalizations about me and my viewing habits. I have seen a ton of movies in my life - from countless mindless blockbusters to pretentious, boring indie films. I love horror films, especially the thrill of seeing it with a large, loud audience. Going to movies should be a fun experience, not like going to a temple. I've seen 90% of the films on your list and -- I know you will hate me for this -- I find most of them flawed. Some were just laughable turkeys like Looper and some were trying way too hard, like Silver Linings Playbook. I can't put my finger on it, but Hollywood currently lacks the ability to make a truly great film (IN MY OPINION).

I don't like films from the 70s because I like the 70s. I don't think it's cool to like old things for the sake of them being old. It is just an undeniable fact that the films made back then were better. So, using them as a benchmark -- why can't we make stuff like that today?

Would I watch White House Down? Sure, I like dumb crap as much as the next guy. The main point of my argument is that we shouldn't be wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and brainpower to make it.
Re: White House Down: Method Studios Wreaks CG Havoc
by Scott Roberts
[Edan Cohen] "Why are you so oddly defensive about Hollywood films, especially White House Down? Why do you care if I hate it? "

I don't know how it got to be that I defended White House Down so much, as I just said in my last comment, I gave it like a C+. But a fun C+. BUT you gave it an F based on the commercials and your perception of everything you think it is. Just didn't seem fair. You like being in the theater during horror movies with the audience having fun? Who's to say that didn't happen during White House Down? Everyone seemed to leave the theater smiling and joking around while I was in the crowd leaving the building. I saw Mama earlier this year, which perfectly fits the description of a horror movie that's fun to see with a "large, loud audience". Dude, Mama was just as dumb as White House Down. And they were BOTH fun. Why did White House Down have a way more money put into it? I don't know, probably because explosions and helicopter effects cost more than ghost effects? The sets were bigger? The cast cost more? You tell me.

Then again, some films do warrant the "going to a temple" treatment. Some films aren't "fun". That doesn't mean they aren't good. If people want to scream during Paranormal Activity or laugh obnoxiously during This is the End, I'm cool with that. But if people are talking during a Soderbergh film, then it ruins the experience. Some movies have specifically intended quiet atmospheres, and chatty Brenda behind me laughing about how Channing Tatum looks like her nephew during Side Effects isn't part of the desired soundtrack.

I think I started replying to you because you said Elysium would be better without Matt Damon. Which seemed like a weird thing to say. It was a very "I Hate Hollywood For Some Reason" kind of answer. If that's not the case with you, then I apologize. But you seem pretty firm on the thought that the 1970s were a genuinely better time for film than any other, which is something I agree with to a degree. I mean, I LOVE that era. But every classic that was released back then that we now consider to be a classic is only considered that way because a ton of time as passed (with the exception of Star Wars, which definitely earned the status of instant classic at the time). The jury is still out on modern era films. Hey, people hated The Shining when it was theatrically released. Wait 15 years from now, and Drive will probably be considered a classic. A great example of the atmospheric pop culture rehashing of the early 2010's. Who knows?

The problem is, if you take all of the classics that make the 1970s what it is to us now, and you forget about all of the terrible, TERRIBLE films that no one cares to think of anymore from back then, then yes, the 70s seems like a blissful time of nonstop amazing filmmaking. But everytime you point out that The Godfather is better than Pitch Perfect, you could also point out that No Country for Old Men is better than Empire of the Ants. The 1970s were FILLED with tacky, campy, awful, dated films that are now looked back on with either humor or disgust. The cream has risen to the top after 40 years, and 40 years from now, I'm sure we'll have a nice collection of films to look at from what is what we now call the present. And I'm sure my Grandpa would argue that the 1940s and 50s were way better than the 70s for films. I guess it's all a matter of opinion really. Films right now may not seem important to you, but they could influence the next generation of films, which could be THE BEST EVER, and be important that way. But I left my crystal ball in my car, so I couldn't give you a definitive answer on how great this generation of films is compared to the generation of films that's been analyzed and adored for four decades. Ya know, people also study the late 80s and early 90s as a renaissance of amazing film (especially indie film), some would even argue that its a better movement than the 70s. I'm not one of them, but people do.

So I guess the ultimate answer to which ever question you asked is... I'm working weird hours this week, and I'm kind of bored, and kind of tired, and that's why I'm giving such wordy, rambling answers. So my apologies if you actually read this whole thing.
Re: White House Down: Method Studios Wreaks CG Havoc
by Edan Cohen
If you keep writing, I'll keep reading/responding. I'm sick that way. I am also working on a big editing project this week and have lots of render time. =)

This "debate" would take about 3 minutes in real life. We'd both agree White House Down is inane garbage. We'd both agree that the ratio of good films to bad films was better in the 70s. And yes, there were huge turkeys in the 70s, 60s, 50, 40s, 30s, etc.

We'd disagree over some modern films being classics.

And then we'd talk about gear.
Re: White House Down: Method Studios Wreaks CG Havoc
by Edan Cohen
All of this unbelievably impressive work for such a turkey of a film. Why can't Hollywood channel all of this technology and brainpower into making good films?
@Edan Cohen
by Debra Kaufman
that indeed is the sad reality of VFX, isn't it? I think that's why I was so excited about District 9, which of course was directed by a VFX artist, Neil Blomkamp. His next movie Elysium is coming out soon, so stay tuned.


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TV & Movie Appreciation
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As the first show to create a rabid, real-time internet fandom, devotion to "The X-Files" has been growing in intensity with each year since the original series finale, with a fanbase that is clever, thoughtful, and largely female. Not that there's any shortage of male X-Philes, but there's a generation of women who was inspired to technical careers by the Gillian Anderson's Dana Scully. Kylee Peña is among them, and additionally very specifically inspired by the production values of "The X-Files" to build a career in the technology of TV storytelling in particular. Here's Kylee's look at what it has meant to be a female fan of the art, technology, and empowerment of "The X-Files" in the 21st century.

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Peter Doyle: Supervising Visual Colourist at Technicolor

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