Film: "10,000 B.C."

10,000 B.C. movie production notes, pg 2

Bringing Lost Worlds to Life

Pyramids under construction in a scene from Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ epic adventure “10,000 B.C.,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Throughout his career, Emmerich has pushed the envelope on what was possible with visual effects, creating such memorable big-screen images as the White House explosion in "Independence Day" and the giant wave in "The Day After Tomorrow." Ongoing technological advances allowed Emmerich to unleash his imagination for the epic experience he sought to create for "10,000 BC."

Emmerich enlisted visual effects supervisor Karen Goulekas, with whom he has collaborated on past films including "Godzilla" and "The Day After Tomorrow," to oversee the film's massive effects undertaking. "Karen is one of the most ingenious and visually inventive people I have ever worked with," the director states. "To her, nothing is impossible. I know I can count on her to bring even my most ambitious concepts to the screen--often more spectacularly than even I first envisioned them."

The most extensive work would involve the creation of the film's menagerie of mighty, ancient creatures - mammoths, the saber-tooth tigers and terror birds. Emmerich wanted lifelike movement for these creatures and so looked to their modern-day relatives. "We used a lot of reference footage of elephants, of tigers, of ostriches," he says. "The main issue was that no one knows exactly what a real mammoth moved like. They were a very distinct animal. You can only understand how an animal works from animal footage."

The most challenging aspect of re-creating the immense Pleistocene epoch animals was their hair: long and matted in the case of the mammoths, feathered for the terror birds, and, in the case of the saber-tooth tiger, interacting with water. "We had to basically reinvent the wheel for hair behavior to make these animals photo-real," comments Emmerich. "It's a challenge to do it right, and we hired two companies in England to make sure these animals looked so real you could almost reach out and touch them."

Goulekas joined the project two years before start of principal photography and began her work breaking down the script according to its effects needs, eventually translating each theme to concept art, maquettes (sculptures to be scanned into the computer) and models. Her focus was the three main set pieces of the film - the mammoth hunt, the terror birds sequence, and D'Leh's encounters with the saber-toothed tiger.

Goulekas built a library of illustrations, photos and CG images from television shows as references for all the creatures in the film. She also visited the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, which provided a rich source of research on mammoths, as well as the Tala Game Reserve in Durban, South Africa, where she shot HD footage of a variety of wild animals, including lions, tigers, leopards, elephants and ostriches. The images she gathered enabled the animators to study the animal movements from different angles.

One of Goulekas's most challenging projects was the film's terror birds - flightless predators with huge beaks - which are based on creatures that existed in South America. "They were gigantic," says Goulekas. "We know how fast an ostrich can run and how much damage it can do with its powerful feet, and combined that knowledge with the fact that there is a direct link between the terror birds and the dinosaurs. We based their look on a hybrid of different illustrations."

Perfecting the movements of all the creatures required multiple passes at their design in close collaboration with Emmerich. "It's a process of discovery," Goulekas says. "You change it and change it until you get it right. This film was creative and collaborative and forever evolving. Roland gave me all the input I needed but also a lot of creative freedom."

Once the designs of the creatures were finalized, her team of 18, including character animators and asset makers, then began pre-visualization (previs), an animated 3-D storyboard of all the effects sequences. "For example, for a scene in which D'Leh walks through the tiger gorge, we built a 3-D environment of the gorge and the artist then animated the tiger jumping down from a bird's eye view of the scene, as a means of blocking the action," describes Goulekas. "Then we put in some camera angles and, with our previs editor, Steve Pang, and the previs supervisors, we looked at all the cuts and discussed what needed to be done with the individual artists."

The previs became an invaluable tool on-set for cast and crew alike. "I always showed the actors the previs before we set up a scene so they would know the big picture of what was going on around them," comments Emmerich.

For director of photography Ueli Steiger, it also provided an invaluable aid to lighting. "Previs is a real guideline for how to shoot a particular scene," he confirms. "Obviously it ends up looking different when it's shot and there is a lot of improvising that goes on when you're actually filming, but it's a guide."

Emmerich's collaborative spirit enabled the artists on Goulekas's team to set their imaginations loose, always in close interaction with her and the director. "We would discuss their suggestions and would often incorporate their ideas into the work," she notes. "It resulted in a much higher quality of work. There's a sense of ownership on behalf of the artists; they feel as though they're part of the storytelling."

During production, Goulekas and her team joined the actors and on-set crew armed with measuring sticks, flags and other objects painted blue, to eventually be replaced by moving digital creatures. "For the terror birds sequence, we had a blue terror bird head on the end of a stick, so that as we were framing up, we could visualize it," she explains. "For the tiger sequence, we had a full size tiger mapped on a flag which we could just walk across the frame. If you don't get the framing right, it'll burn you later. With the height stick, the actor can see where he's looking, and then the director can shoot whatever he wants."

Interacting with visual effects props was an interesting exercise for the young actors in the film. "It's a unique chance to really use your imagination," comments Steven Strait. "It gives you a lot of room to play with because you're not restricted by anything physical. During the shooting of the mammoth hunt, there was such an intense sense of freedom in interacting with something that doesn't exist."

Continued on next page: Creating the World of "10,000 BC"

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