Technology advanced an incredible amount from 2000 to 2010,
camera phones, digital music, blu-ray discs, and of course, Youtube were all invented and developed in this decade. This rapid advancement in technology allowed the VFX industry to evolve quickly too. Here are the Top 10 Innovations of the Naughties!
Cinesite, Digital Color Grading.
Color Grading isn't a new technique, old analog systems were used to provide color continuity throughout the film or to change the environment of a scene, for example, filming a scene at midday and then altering the color grading to make it an evening scene. In the Year 2000, the Coen Brothers produced and directed the film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Although it was filmed in spring, the Coen Brothers wanted a sepia-tinted autumnal look and feel to the movie. After several unsatisfactory attempts to achieve this physically using chemical processes, they opted to try it digitally.
ILM, Water Simulation.
Water is an incredibly complex fluid and therefore very challenging for a VFX artist to simulate. You can treat it like particles, calculating each individual droplet, however, this isn't possible when simulating large bodies of water because the calculations would just be ridiculous. So when simulating a large body of water you treat it like a mesh, making it ripple, rise and fall, or ebb and flow, but this method doesn't work when a wave breaks or it's windy, because that is when you expect the water to act like particles and create droplets, spray, or mist.
Weta Digital, Crowd Simulation.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy pushed the VFX envelope in many ways but perhaps the biggest industry changer was the creation of Massive. Before Massive, crowds, armies or just general agglomerations of people were either hired extras or CG assets with little or no detail and very little animation, however, for LOTR, Peter Jackson wanted huge armies of soldiers, all fighting independently. To overcome this problem Weta Digital created a software called Multiple Agent Simulation System In Virtual Environment or Massive. Square pictures, Motion Capture. Motion-capture is a technique where an actor wears a motion-capture suit that has tracking markers, their performance is filmed by various different cameras in order to be able to triangulate the position of each marker on the suit. This motion data is then transferred to a CG puppet which then moves exactly as the actor had.
ESC Entertainment, Universal Capture.
In the early 2000s, motion capture wasn't particularly advanced, they could track body movements and translate them to a CG puppet but hand movements and facial expressions couldn't be tracked so easily. This was a problem for the Wachowski brothers who had planned a scene where 100 Agent Smiths fight with Neo.
Sony Pictures Imageworks, Painted Marker Motion Tracking.
In 2004, Warner Bros released The Polar Express, the film had a 100% digital cast almost completely animated by using motion capture. This was made possible by Sony Pictures Imageworks and the first time Painted Marker Motion Tracking was used on a full-length feature film. Here, dots are painted on the actor's face in key positions, in order to capture their performance and emotions.
Digital Backlot. The technique of Chroma Keying,
which is using a blue or green screen to layer one plate of the actor's performance over a secondary plate of a set or background, isn't new, it's been around since the 1930s, but, the technique of creating digital matte paintings or artificial environments for the background plate, or what known as a Digital Backlot, is a lot more modern. Digital Backlots only started to become popular once we had the technology to make them credible.
The second and third Pirates of the Caribbean films required the whole of Davy Jones's crew to be CG monsters, However, the problem was, that these "CG monsters" also had to interact with "normal" actors so ILM decided it needed to use motion-capture, but this also proved problematical. The main problems motion capture had, was that it either had to be done completely separate to principal photography or a long time had to be spent on set rigging up cameras and lighting.
Weta Digital, Facial Performance Capture.
On the 2009 film, Avatar, lead VFX house Weta Digital basically took every VFX innovation on our list and "one uped" it. Digital backlots, Motion-Capture and Simulations, all had to evolve to create this masterpiece. One of the reasons it was a box office hit was that we could empathise with the characters and this was because we could recognise them and their human traits.