30th Birthday of the Engine That Powered the CGI Revolution

❝ When Pixar President and co-founder Ed Catmull announced his retirement earlier this year, people rightly saw his impending departure as a transitional moment for the animation studio. But it’s bigger than that. Catmull’s shadow looms large not just over groundbreaking films like Toy Story and Coco, his influence can be traced all the way back to the dawn of digital visual effects. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The Abyss. Terminator 2. Jurassic Park. All of these titles came out before Woody and Buzz Lightyear, yet all remain watershed moments for VFX—and all used the tool that Catmull and his colleagues helped create at George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic.

RenderMan, as it’s known, came out of ILM’s computer graphics team (the same one that would later spin off into its own company called Pixar). It started as a powerful algorithm, but then became something greater—a graphical interface. “Up until that point,” says Catmull, “the look, the lighting, essentially had to be done by programmers.” A movie like 1982’s Tron might have been mindblowing, but its digital sequences also necessitated an absolutely knee-buckling amount of work, creating its futuristic effects frame by frame. RenderMan, though, allowed effects artists to realize their visions without needing to write code.

CGI Rulez! Most sci-fi geeks would agree. Most would also understand how the threads and techniques reach out into many aspects of today’s film-making regardless of genre. RTFA!

4 thoughts on “30th Birthday of the Engine That Powered the CGI Revolution

    • The Biz says:

      “Fox’s Alita: Battle Angel topped the weekend box office with ease, outperforming expectations and delivering an estimated $27.8 million over the three-day weekend with expectations to hit over $33 million for the four-day weekend. The result would push the film’s five-day cume over $41 million, well ahead of the $30 million expectations for the film heading into the weekend. Of course, despite the film’s over-performance, it still carries a lofty $170 million price tag with sources suggesting it needs to gross $500-550 million globally to break even, which, at this point, looks nearly impossible.
      Internationally, Alita debuted in 11 markets last weekend and expanded to 86 total markets this weekend, delivering $56.1 million for an overseas cume* that now stands at $94.3 million. Leading the way this weekend was the film’s opening in Russia where it brought in $6.45 million followed by openings in France ($5.87m), Mexico ($4.18m), Australia ($2.97m), Germany ($2.96m), Thailand ($2.48m), Spain ($195m), UK ($1.8m), Vietnam ($1.5m) and Italy ($1.2m). The film’s top market is South Korea where it added another $2.5 million this weekend for a cume that now totals $14.75 million. Alita will be releasing in China and Japan on February 22.”
      (Box Office Mojo 2/17/19) https://www.boxofficemojo.com/news/?id=4487
      [* IE: ‘Cumulative box office receipts’]

  1. Synthespian says:

    “Chris Evans and others sound off against CGI casting of James Dean” (CNN) https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/07/entertainment/james-dean-cgi-casting-trnd/index.html
    “James Dean Reborn in CGI for Vietnam War Action-Drama” (Hollywood Reporter) https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/afm-james-dean-reborn-cgi-vietnam-war-action-drama-1252703 “While Finding Jack will be live action, The Hollywood Reporter understands that Dean’s performance will be constructed via “full body” CGI using actual footage and photos. Another actor will voice him.
    Preproduction on Finding Jack starts Nov. 17, with a goal for a worldwide release on Veterans Day 2020. Magic City Films is handling the foreign sales.
    The filmmakers are now hoping that the CGI technology used to bring Dean back to life onscreen could soon be deployed on other well-known figures.
    “This opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us,” said Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide, which represents Dean’s family alongside more than 1,700 entertainment, sports, music and historical personalities, including the likes of Burt Reynolds, Christopher Reeve, Ingrid Bergman, Neil Armstrong, Bette Davis and Jack Lemmon.
    Donald A. Barton of Artistry Media Group added: “Now that we have closed with this iconic figure, we look forward to rapidly closing our remaining actors.”

  2. Méliès says:

    “Industrial Light and Magic has published a behind-the-scenes video on the production of Disney+’s The Mandalorian that gives an illuminating look at two of the biggest, high-tech trends in film and TV production: LED sets, and using game engines to create scenes. The video explains a major shift in virtual filmmaking that is unknown to most viewers.” https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2020/02/the-mandalorian-was-shot-on-a-holodeck-esque-set-with-unreal-engine-video-shows/
    “It has historically been impractical to achieve the production values seen in The Mandalorian in TV series, because the kind of visual effects work necessary simply takes more time than a TV production schedule allows. Generally, special effects-driven productions shoot scenes with actors and props in front of a green screen, and then teams add in the background environments and any computer-generated objects in a lengthy post-production period.
    That’s not how things worked on The Mandalorian. Executive Producer Jon Favreau, Industrial Light and Magic, and game engine-maker Epic Games collaborated to use the Unreal Engine to pre-render scenes then display them as parallax images on giant LED walls and an LED ceiling in a 21-by-75-feet digital set. It’s part of a lineage of production techniques and tools developed by Favreau’s teams called StageCraft. This approach offered numerous benefits.” (continues)

    “The Virtual Production of The Mandalorian, Season One” (video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUnxzVOs3rk
    “Groundbreaking LED Stage Production Technology Created for Hit Lucasfilm Series ‘The Mandalorian’” (ILM San Francisco) https://www.ilm.com/hatsrabbits/virtual-production-on-the-mandalorian/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.