Breaking new ground at Waterfront Film Studios


Waterfront Film Studios was launched recently on the promise of offering
specialised expertise. With the combined talents of Steve Harris, Ivan Bridgens,
Hilton Treves and Alun Richards it was inevitable that creative chemistry would
occur. Sure enough, it has; among recent highlights at the new company is the
work of Treves and his team in the VFX department.

Hilton Treves, long time VFX expert and co-creator of BlackGinger, which he sold
in April last year, says: “I needed a change from commercials, was suffering from
burn-out and wanted something with more soul.’ Feature work was the main
attraction for him and in August last year he formed FuseFX.

“The intention was to come in right at the start of a project, not only at the
post-production stage,’ he says.

“The idea was the fusion of digital effect supervision, which is my area of
expertise, and to ensure that things are shot and processed correctly before it
gets to the VFX and post-production house, so FuseFX was to be focused on the
technology of virtual sets and virtual environments.’

The technology catering for this did not yet exist in South Africa. The process is
called Lidar scanning. As is often the case with innovations in the field, Lidar was
not originally designed for the film industry. It was first created for military,
engineering, surveying, mining and crime scene investigation purposes. It offers
high technology 3D views of the world in which it is operating.

Treves explains: “Lidar is a remote sensing technology that measures distance
by illuminating a target with a laser and analysing the reflected light. The term
Lidar was actually created as a portmanteau of light and radar. It is basically a
laser scanner which fires out a beam. Where it hits it bounces back, registers
how long it takes to get there and generates a point in 3D space.’

Hollywood professionals soon realised that it had an application in VFX – for
instance, scanning a set for future use should the original be destroyed. In fact
it would be true to say that the Lidar has been used in every feature film that
you care to imagine in the past 10 years. From The Incredible Hulk, The
Avengers and Superman to creature movies using virtual characters. Lidar and
cyber scanning are very much cornerstone technologies into today’s feature

The applications are mind boggling. Entire sets can be captured and created as
virtual sets. When plugged into matchmoving software the virtual set can be
matched perfectly to the photography. “If a creature needs to be placed in a
specific area, I don’t care what the lens is as I know my performances are going
to be based on what my virtual build is,’ adds Treves.

“We have used Lidar for several applications on the movie Dominion, such as
scanning streets in Cape Town to double for Las Vegas. We have also used it
for pre-visualisation. In one instance we scanned Rhodes memorial for overseas
directors and gave them the data which they could take to the virtual planner
and see what they would physically see from any angle, therefore planning their
shot before they came to South Africa,’ continues Treves.

“We turned Long Street into a virtual environment so that it could double as Las
Vegas and we could have the exact proportions of where a vehicle was going to
be in the street,’ he says.

“We also scanned multiple sets for the Jeff Bridges / Meryl Streep movie The
Giver. All the virtual sets will be used for set extensions, matchmoving and matte
paintings for the film.

“Another area of the business is what we call cyber scanning. It’s the process
where we take a human subject, scan and digitise their form and turn them into
a virtual digital double. So I can scan you and have an exact digital likeness of

Treves says: “We did some remarkable cyber scanning for Dominion and The
Giver. Actress Meryl Streep was unavailable for one of the days of shooting and
production wanted to have her as a holographic projection. For this we use a
white light scanner. We used this on her; she got onto our rotating stage, the
device fired a whole series of patterns, shapes and grids onto her which then
registered back as thousands of photographs, which the system transformed
into a three-dimensional model based on the grid pattern. We created a full
digital double and the virtual performances were then matched to the real. The
whole process is completely portable and includes a turntable which is linked
into the computer,’ Treves reveals.

He adds: “This is a market that I had hoped for. It’s an industry that I know
inside out so it is a great place in which to start to become comfortable with
what the technology is capable of. The only limit is your imagination. It’s unique
to South Africa and another unique offering from Waterfront Film Studios.’


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