Cinesite: Reimagining John Carter For 21st Century

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Disney’s John Carter hasn’t had a very good reception at box office or among critics. But that shouldn’t detract from the achievement of Cinesite, which completed 800 visual effects shots and converted 87 minutes into 3D.

Cinesite created the majority of the film's environments, including the cities of Zodanga and Helium, and the Thern Sanctuary, as well as a big air battle and full-screen CG digi-doubles of John Carter and Princess Dejah. In addition, the firm populated these environments with CG crowds and numerous CG props.

Cinesite spent over two and a half years working on John Carter, the first live-action feature film from Andrew Stanton. Senior visual effects supervisor Sue Rowe headed Cinesite's efforts, working with Stanton and spending several months on set in the UK and Utah.

Rowe and a team of 300 people took Stanton's vision for the Edgar Rice Burroughs series of novels to deliver Cinesite's most complex and creative work to date.

Due to the volume and complexity of the work Cinesite divided the shots between four additional visual effects supervisors - Jon Neill, Christian Irles, Ben Shepherd and Simon Stanley-Clamp. Artemis Oikonomopoulou was overall 3D supervisor. For the travelling city of Zodanga, Jon Neill and his team created the mile-long myriapod-like rusty metal tanker that roams the surface of Mars extracting the vital fuel element 'radium'. Cinesite populated the city with an arsenal of warships and troops, before furnishing it with 200 CG props.

Christian Irles oversaw Princess Dejah's city, Helium, which houses the Palace of Light. Seen from various angles and used as the backdrop for the final battle sequence, Helium has a clean and elegant look and feel. The team created a matte painting of the outside of the city and, using photogrammetry projections, built up the terrain using high-res stills taken on location in Utah.

Ben Shepherd supervised the huge aerial battle between Zodanga and Helium. His team created each side's airships, which use solar wings to travel on light, as well as explosions, cannon fire, digital people, a CG Thark City environment and set extensions based on photogrammetry. The giant airships are seen at close proximity so the detailing needed to be precise.

Simon Stanley-Clamp led Cinesite's work on Thern, the mysterious power controlled by the Thern priesthood which appears in various guises throughout the film. Briefed by Stanton to create something "that has never been seen before", the initial challenge was defining what the effect would look like. The Thern effect system was built using a combination of Maya, Houdini and in-house software. Based on principles of nanotechnology, it provided a semi-automated way to "grow" Thern into any environment and geometry. It took a full year of development time to evolve and bring to the big screen.
For the stereo conversion Cinesite hired one of the industry's most respected stereographers, Scott Willman and built a new pipeline based on Nuke and proprietary tools. Scott's team meticulously rotoscoped and rotomotioned each object in every shot to achieve the highest possible 3D quality.

"Working on John Carter has been an epic journey for us," said Antony Hunt, managing director of Cinesite. "We've pushed our creative ability to a new limit with outstanding visual effects, and our pipelines have been well and truly put to the test. John Carter is our first full stereo conversion of a feature film and the feedback we've had from Andrew and Disney on conversion quality has been fantastic.”