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behind the scenes minority report
The visual effects challenges of Minority Report were not in the number of effects shots, but in the detailed elements and compositing of those elements that would need to be perfect to create a seamless representation of Spielberg's vision. The 481 visual effects shots in the film were divided up, with the majority of the work going to San Rafael, CA-based Industrial Light & Magic, which has played a vital role in numerous Spielberg films.
For Minority Report, the ILM team, led by Scott Farrar (Oscar nominee for A.I. Artificial Intelligence) created vast interior environments using digital set extensions and their groundbreaking proprietary software to create 3D modeled people. Further, ILM was intent on matching Janusz Kaminski's grainy and textured visual style. Farrar decided to shoot blue screen work on a very fine grain negative and degrade it to match the rest of the film. With the majority of the scenes taking place in broad daylight, the visual effects team had no place to hide.
One of the more complicated compositing sequences involved the master shots of the Mag-Lev traffic system within within 21st century Washington, D.C. "This is a broad cityscape full of buildings, with rising steam and hundreds of cars, a tremendous number of elements," says compositing supervisor Scott Frankel. Add to that racing cars and their drivers, shadows and reflections, and the only physical element of the shot -- Tom Cruise who, when Anderton's car is recalled to Pre-Crime headquarters, must jump out of his own Mag-Lev vehicle and try to escape by leaping from car to car. "The blue screen element of Tom we shot against a blue screen," says Frankel. "The rest is completely synthetic."
Farrar shot aerial background plates of the Washington skyline, which then had to be augmented with touches of the city's newer development. "The idea of Minority Report was to somehow combine old and new," says Farrar. "The challenge was that no matter what we did, putting new buildings into pre-existing backgrounds, if you made it too fancy, too modern, too excessive, it stood out like a sore thumb. So, through Alex McDowell, and then our art director Alex Laurant, designing our futuristic buildings had to be pulled way back. We were trying to make it as gritty and real as possible. So, we've spent a lot of time trying to put the grit and texture of real city backgrounds into all the stuff that we're putting into the foreground."
The Hall of Containment sequences take place in a massive, 21st century "jail" in which the prisoners of Pre-Crime are kept in a coma-like state of suspended animation in which their crimes are played out on a continuous loop before their eyes. Spielberg and McDowell decided to use a nineteenth century prison model called a Pentopticon, which has a central tower surrounded by containment pods, that would have been converted into the Hall of Containment.
"Layered on top of that old, hundred year old prison are these shiny, perfect tubes that are keeping these guys really in cold storage," McDowell describes. "The image that Steven came up originally with was that it would be almost like Arlington Cemetery, and when Anderton walked in it would appear to be a space full of grave stones. And then Gideon reveals that in fact the gravestone was just a cap of a tube full of people. So there's this great moment when this field of gravestones suddenly rises up out of the ground and you realise that there's, you know, thousands of people stored in this enormous space, stacked one on top of each other."
For ILM, the challenge was to take the actors and a minimal set and create not only the extended digital Hall, but each individual prisoner within each individual sled. "In the Hall of Containment, we have hundreds of people that have to be 3D because we're going to see them from all different angles," says Farrar.
To manually paint photo-realistic digital humans on that scale was not time or cost effective, so the production took a chance on software being developed by one of ILM's engineers, Steve Sullivan, called 3D photo modelling.
Using 19 extras, the effects team set up 12 cameras photographing them from all different angles against a green screen. "Each camera has an outline and you can extract the person from the background create an outline," says visual effects producer Dana Friedman. "The computer can then piece those outlines together and create a 3D model based on those pieces. Then, you use the textures of the photos and map that back onto the 3D model and voila. You have a 3D model that you can put anywhere."
Each image had to then be variegated and inserted into each digitally-created containment sled, and composited together with the live action footage and other elements for the scene.
In addition to various wire removal, and adding flames and heat ripples from the jet packs, ILM worked with Michael Lantieri to create supporting footage for a giant hover craft used by the Pre-Crime team to arrive quickly at crime scenes. Though there was an actual physical hover craft built to scale, ILM made it fly, creating the floor and missing parts of the craft digitally. The team also created the fantasy images in the Cyber Parlor, where consumers live out their wildest dream, which provides Anderton with some key clues as he unravels the mystery. Other dazzling surprises include two digital face effects, and a peculiarly aggressive garden maintained by researcher Iris Hineman.
music and sound
Minority Report reunites Spielberg with five-time Academy Award-winning composer John Williams, with whom the director has collaborated on nineteen films over nearly three decades. For Minority Report, Williams creates what Spielberg calls his "first black and white score" - a classic suspense score with little tonality. "I think all of John's previous movie work has been in 'color'," Spielberg explains, "but this score is more experimental. You feel it more than you hear it."
Multiple Oscar-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom approached the sound design for Minority Report as a "past/future" film. "There are things we've never seen before," he says, "and there are also sounds that harken back to old Hollywood serials."
Rydstrom and his team started early, recording and experimenting with different sounds that they would eventually match with Spielberg's striking imagery. Their task was to give sound to the Mag-Lev and its ostensibly silent vehicles; create emotional sound design for the pre-visions of murders and holographic home movies; and record real hover crafts for the hover craft sequence. Jet packs, talking billboards, and a futuristic car factory, among other ambient environments, all had to be accounted for. "The audience has to recognise a sound as matching what they're seeing," says Rydstrom.
"Our job is to make the audience think that what they're hearing is really happening on set. But the other part of our job is to make the sound of each of these things reflect the spirit or the feeling of the moment. One of the great things about working with Steven Spielberg is he's very good at describing that feeling. Early on he said he was trying to make a futuristic John Huston film noir. It has these two opposing elements, and the combination will result in the feeling of this movie."
One of the most challenging sequences involved the mechanical spiders that track Anderton down to scan his eyes. "They're robotic," he describes, "they have a job to do. They're not living. But they move like spiders. So, I was trying to find the balance between something that would seem very futuristic, just tapping metal, clicking, creaking, things opening on the spiders. But also using things that would give them character."
Unspooling tape from a tape dispenser and dental floss from a roll helped give the spiders their screech. But for their footfalls, Rydstrom turned to a group of researchers at Cornell University, who had developed a sophisticated way of recording the sounds of jumping spiders, which are inaudible to the human ear. "They did these beautiful recordings of these jumping spiders doing their various rituals," Rydstrom recalls. "The spiders sounded mechanical, even though they're natural, and they did strange things with their legs. They would pop and whir and sound like little machinery. The natural world is full of interesting sounds we haven't explored yet. It's an amazing, new, untapped source for sounds."
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