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Celebrating World VFX Day - Sam Hall, ILM

Friday 8 December 2023, by Judy Harris

Happy World VFX Day! We spoke with Sam Hall, actor and Senior Research and Development Engineer at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) about the T-Rex scene in Jurassic Park, Pixar’s anthropomorphic Blue Umbrella and rendering black holes in Interstellar.

Jurassic Park - T-Rex reveal (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1993)
ILM and Stan Winston Studios

The cool thing about this scene is that less is more. The T-Rex has been teased throughout the film so they’ve built the tension leading up to the full reveal of this giant monster. Now, this is the early 90s and VFX was in its infancy so they’re technically quite limited with what they can do and there’s a real danger of it looking fake, but they lit it in a way that is shiny and specularly with lots of edge lighting, so it holds up even now. They worked within their limitations and lit it in way that works with the technology that they had. It’s also a good scene in terms of its composition, you get a sense of the T-Rex’s scale, weight and bulk. As a kid this was one of my favourite films and it was definitely very thrilling and scary.

The Blue Umbrella (Dir. Saschka Unseld, 2013)

This is my favourite Pixar short because it illustrates Pixar’s ethos of anthropomorphism. It opens on an urban street with lots of inanimate objects and they very subtly bring emotion to gutters and road signs by partially animating them. It’s very cute and clever. They really can bring character, heart and emotion to anything and make you deeply care about pair of umbrellas in just 6 minutes.

Interstellar - into the black hole (Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2014)

This is a cool film technically. In this scene the main characters are pulled into a black hole and DNEG (the VFX company) worked with astrophysicist Professor Kip Thorne to accurately render how light would behave as it approaches a black hole. They made a rendering engine based on his advice (as in, they wrote software that models how the light would be affected by the gravitational pull). There’s also something called an accretion disc which is created when gas and dust from other objects get pulled into the black hole and that was all physically recreated by using these equations. I think it took about 100 hours per frame to render. At first when they looked at the images they thought they looked totally wrong but then Professor Thorne confirmed that’s exactly how it would look. As well as being technically brilliant the scene makes you face how small we are. It really throws you off and puts you in an unknown place.

World VFX day is an annual day of recognition in celebration of the vfx industry (and the often invisible labour of vfx workers) started by a collective of visual effects studios. Anyone in or outside the industry are encouraged to take part. Sign up to the ‘World VFX Day’ newsletter for the latest news and events: https://mailchi.mp/651b2a6c2ad9/world-vfx-day

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