The bright lights of Hollywood may feel like they’ve very far removed from our sunny little island (except for an appearance or two by Singaporean actors) but there may be more of Singapore in blockbuster films than you might realise.
And that’s all thanks to the Industrlal Light and Magic (ILM) office here in Singapore. As the principle visual effects studio on Iron Man 2, ILM produced more than 530 visual effect shots for the movie, including 190 that were done in Singapore, or more specifically at the ILM office in Changi Business Park. Reporting to their head office in San Francisco, having a team locally allows ILM to have a 24-hour production pipeline. “It’s like Singapore is just at the end of a very long corridor in the office,” says Mohen Leo, Singapore’s Studio Supervisor.
The magic of visual effects
There’s a lot that can be achieved with the power of visual effects, and it’s not just about adding in extra smoke or changing the lighting. Digital work can often achieve what can’t be physically filmed in a realistic manner. And before any of the work can start, there’s a long planning process involved that includes tests that could take years to be completed. ILM does these to make sure they have the full capability to deliver the work promised. But there are also times when ILM answers ‘emergency 911’ calls, where they come in only during post-production to help out.
For Iron Man 2, ILM was involved from the beginning – from the storyboards to pre-visualisations, the company worked closed with director Jon Favreau to ensure that they achieved the vision he had for the second movie. ILM staff went on-set to take hundreds of digital photographs as references so they could create an entire digital environment on the computers, allowing them to easily manipulate or create new scenes.
All in all, ILM clocked in eight months of digital work for Iron Man 2. Filming wrapped in July and ILM went to work in August, finishing only in early April. And this is where the Singapore team of over 65 staff went full-steam ahead with work on Iron Man 2. Split into different specialisations, each member of the staff worked on different aspects of each scene (see interview below). To ensure a smooth transition of work with the San Francisco office, there are daily review sessions with the Visual Effects (VFX) supervisors. “It’s important that we take that knowledge and share it with our young artists here in Singapore so that they are able to make meaningful contributions to the blockbuster movies that ILM works on,” Mohen says.
Other films you might have seen a touch of Singapore in? How about Transformers, TerminatorSalvation, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Confessions of a Shopaholic, and Star Trek. So next time you’re at the movies, you could be watching the work of someone you know!
What goes on at ILM? We spoke to Adam Lee, Digital Artist at ILM Singapore.
Adam worked on some of the scenes in Iron Man 2, though he can’t really tell us which ones. “It’s a spoiler if I tell you!” he said. But we got the inside scoop about working on Hollywood blockbusters as a job.
What do you do at ILM as a digital artist?
As digital artists in ILM, we’re all trained in different roles. I do match-moving part of a sequence, where we try to recreate the camera and character’s motion in 3D. This helps so we can add in other things later during post-production. We get to work on entire sequences, so it’s not like they give us just a part of the shot, and then we do bits and pieces. I do my part of the shot, and then the scene gets passed on to someone from lighting, then to compositing.
How many shots did you do for Iron Man 2?
I worked on about 10 shots in the movie, and it takes about one to two weeks for each shot for me to do. The longest one took about three weeks.
What’s the most exciting part of the job to you?
The work itself is quite exciting because there isn’t much chance for local artists to work on Hollywood movies. So it’s really getting the chance to do Hollywood movies and learn the pipeline of how things work at ILM. I like to do 3D stuff, which is the main reason I’m doing it. It’s hard to find a job that you love to do.
With the head office in San Francisco, is it difficult to work with colleagues based overseas?
We’re all quite well-connected and we have daily meetings to make sure we’re all up-to-date. We also email and message each other quite frequently, so the work flow is quite smooth.
You previously worked on commercials, and have now moved on to films – what do you feel is the main difference between the two?
Film is more specialised, and we’re always trying to push the envelope in terms of the technology and the work produced. And the quality is much higher and the tools we use at ILM are more specialised. As we work, they keep trying to improve the technology and you can see it evolve as you work on a project. .
What other films have you worked on so far?
I only just joined the company last year, so I was quite excited when I found out my first project was Iron Man 2. When I started work, I didn’t know about this department – they simply said that they do movies at ILM, so it wasn’t till I got in that I realised they do all the big projects.
Now that you’ve been working on movies, do you feel you look at movies differently when you’re watching?
Yeah, definitely. I try not to pick out where all the digital work has been or where the mistakes are because I’d rather enjoy the movie!
What can you tell us about Iron Man 2?
Well, it’s a great movie!