ADDING THE NEXT DIMENSION: SHOOTING IN 3-D
From the Umbrella Corporation's high-tech subterranean hideout in Tokyo to the smoldering Los Angeles skyline, Resident Evil: Afterlife is packed with eye-popping stunts, spectacular sets and stunning visual effects that take full advantage of the benefits of 3-D.
"When I was writing it, I knew it was going to be a 3-D movie," says Anderson. "I tried to write situations and environments into the screenplay that would play well in 3-D. I firmly believe 3-D is a paradigm shift in cinema right now. Soon, it will become the industry standard, and it's very exciting to be making one of the first real 3-D movies. And I do say 'real' because we shot a three-dimensional film. It's not something that was shot as a 2-D film and then had 3-D layered over the top of it."
One of 3-D's most exciting qualities is the ability to immerse the audience in the story, says the director. "It sucks the audience into an environment. It's similar to the advances that sound has made since I was a kid. Instead of sound coming just from the front of the theater, there are speakers inside and at the back of cinemas, so eventually you are completely cocooned in sound. Now, with 3-D, the image is doing what sound has already been doing for twenty years. It's helping immerse you in the world that's being portrayed by the movie."
Working with the new technology required adjustments in virtually every aspect of the production process. "I was lucky to have some very strong collaborators," says Anderson. "Both Arvinder Grewal, our production designer, and Dennis Berardi, the visual effects supervisor, were designing the movie with me even before we shot a frame of film."
In the film, the Umbrella Corporation headquarters is bright, polished and meticulously designed. Outside, the post-Apocalyptic world has a grayish, brownish hue and a cloud constantly hovering overhead. "The imagined future in this film started with Paul's written word," says Grewal. "Paul conceived two opposite realms: the underground world of The Umbrella Corporation and the devastation of the planet outside it. The Umbrella Corporation has everything, or they know how to get it. The rest of the world is struggling for survival. Our imaginary future is the clash between these two worlds."
Berardi's realization of those concepts was critical in a film where the locations were as much visual effects as they were physical sets. "We created a completely decimated Los Angeles cityscape," he says. "It's L.A. like you've never seen it. We completely destroyed Tokyo. In some shots, we're seeing upwards of 500,000 undead zombies. Our goal was always to have our effects seamlessly integrate into the visual style of the movie, so you don't know what is created digitally and what is practical.
"Using 3-D technology elevates the franchise," he continues. "It puts an exclamation point on everything. The 3-D adds a really exciting nature to the visual effects. It makes you feel like you're enveloped in the story, so that whole visual aspect is brand new."
Resident Evil wouldn't be the same without audience and gamer favorites, the dogs. "This is the fourth time we've seen them in a movie and they're horrendous because they've also been coping with the virus for four years," says special effects makeup supervisor Paul Jones. "But these dogs are much more elaborate than any that have come before. I'm really looking forward seeing those guys on the big screen."
Jones was also responsible for creating a new look for the mutated zombies. "We have burrowing zombies," he says. "We have water zombies. We have what I'm calling L.A. zombies. The distinctions between each of those were fun to work out. The burrowing undead have been living underground in the sewers and using their teeth and fingernails to chew through concrete and rebar and dirt," he continues. "They've stripped themselves of their lips and some of their facial tissue, and of their fingertips, essentially. And because of the T-virus mutation, they have these lovely mandibles coming out of their mouths."
Glenn MacPherson, the film's director of photography, who also shot The Final Destination in 3-D, says the biggest surprise for his crew was the amount of hardware required. "There's a big footprint," he says. "The first time we set up a shot, half the studio was the set and the other half was entirely filled with the technology."
Although for much of the shoot, MacPherson used twin Sony F35 cameras, Resident Evil: Afterlife is the first movie to shoot 3-D using twin Phantom cameras for certain scenes. Phantoms, which were developed by NASA to capture minute cracks and stresses on Space Shuttle tiles during launch, are designed to shoot at 1,000 frames per second (fps) or more, as compared to 24 fps, at which standard movie cameras operate.
According to MacPherson, the Phantom was notably used in scenes with bullets or drops of water. One such instance was the rainy scene at the Shibuya Crossing scene near the beginning of the movie. "Shooting raindrops at 200 fps is remarkable. You can follow the individual drops all the way down. 200 fps makes regular time look four times slower than real time. Shooting at 1000fps would mean you could walk out of the theater, get another tub of popcorn and be back in time to see the end of the shot."
Cutting-edge innovations sometimes tested the filmmakers' ingenuity. "Most conventional camera equipment didn't work for our purposes," says Anderson. "Stabilized heads, motion control rigs and high-tech camera cranes are all built for lightweight film or digital cameras. A 3-D camera is essentially two cameras tied together, so it's extremely heavy. We couldn't just put them on existing equipment. Techniques we've taken for granted for twenty years, like Steadicam rigs, no longer worked. We ended up putting the camera operator on a Segway and it looked exactly like a Steadicam shot."
Niven Howie, who edited Resident Evil: Extinction, cut the fourth installment as well. Although it was the third movie Anderson and Howie have made together, the pair had to learn to work in new way. "Normally, you cut the whole movie, and then hand it over to visual effects," says Anderson. "In this case, we would fine-cut the action scenes, do visual effects and then start trying to assemble the movie. I felt like I was back to making my first movie all over again, when I had no money and no film and no time and I had to really shoot to cut."
After a battery of test shots, Anderson was able to devise strategies for the specialized demands of 3-D. "We found that you really don't need as many close-ups," says Howie. "There's so much to look at within the frame. If someone moves in a 3-D stereoscopic environment, you just don't cut as quickly. It is a kind of throwback to an old-fashioned form of moviemaking, but with incredibly modern technology."
Even the franchise's signature stunts were adapted for 3-D. A seasoned stuntwoman, Jovovich still had one unexpected surprise. "There's a lot you can get away with in 2-D that just doesn't work in 3-D--like the simple punch," she notes. "In 2-D, you swing at someone, the other actor falls back, you add the sound effect and you've sold the punch. In 3-D with the almost 360-degree coverage you get with double sets of cameras, you can see if the fist doesn't connect with the face. We were doing one fight sequence and I kept hearing, 'Get closer, get closer, get closer' until I was actually hit in the head. It's a super 3-D experience! It's not just an actor acting anymore--you might really get hit in this movie!"
It all adds up to a totally fresh Resident Evil movie, according to Anderson. "Even if you've seen the other films, I guarantee you that you've never seen anything like this one. It's going to reinvent Resident Evil and make it brand new again for people. People who've seen all four movies have told me that it doesn't feel like Resident Evil 4. This feels like Resident Evil 1. It's like the start of a whole new franchise."