Directed by Mimi Leder
Visual Effects Supervisor: Michael Backes

Visual Effects Produced by:

Digital FX Supervisor: Paul Wang
Visual Effects Producer: Les Hunter

Executive Producer: Joe Gareri
Digital FX Supervisor: David Sosalla


Pacific Data Images and Pacific Title Digital teamed up to create the visual effects for the new action thriller, THE PEACEMAKER, a film that contains many more 'invisible' visual effects than 'visible,' outright effects.

The film opens with a flurry of effects, most of them meant to be 100% unnoticeable. The sequences involved the nighttime hijacking of a Russian train, and its subsequent collision and detonation of a nuclear weapon. Many shots were filmed day for night--massive amounts of color correction and digital massaging was completed to make all the shots match. PDI and Pacific Title teamed up to add billowing smoke from each trains' smokestack. In many cases, massive amounts of rotoscoping was necessary to place the smoke behind characters, trees and the train. While the rotoscoping for these sequences was top notch, the smoke element sometimes 'slid' in frame, although this mis-match-move was only slightly noticeable.

Digital enhancements abound in this sequence, with the addition of CG lights, reflections, and flashlight beams. Director Mimi Leder's ambitious camerawork led to two amazing shots during the sequence as two trains head toward each other; the camera tracks within a car left to right and actually passes through the wall outside to reveal the oncoming train. This camera move was repeated for the reverse angle, to complete a highly charged sequence.

After the crash, an elderly couple walk outside their farmhouse to catch a glimpse of the wreckage. As they leave their house, a steadicam shot follows them outside, and captures the smoke and fire from the wreckage, miles off in the distance--when the nuclear blast hits. PDI, under the supervision of digital effects supervisor Paul Wang, orchestrated the single shot, with a super white hot flash, and the yellowish blast ring that obliterates the forest, the couple, and the camera. The shot is effective and visually interesting, reminiscent of PDI's past nuclear work from 1994, creating the nuclear blast for TRUE LIES.

As hero George Clooney heads up a helicopter attack on a truck hauling stolen nuclear warheads, the visual effects continue. Russian missiles fire on the choppers in an extremely wide shot; the missiles appear from the forest miles away, and quickly approach the choppers. The matchmoving and tracking for this single shot, as well as the smoke trails and missile animation are first rate.

The missiles strike an American helicopter and the chopper blows up in a fiery blast--this explosion, as well as another explosion a few minutes later, are quite dismally composited. In both shots, the explosion elements are completely out of place in the frame--the matte line edges are too distinguishable, the focus is too sharp in foreground, midground and background images, and the matchmoving of the first shot leaves a lot to be desired. These shots screamed out "visual effect!", and most audiences could easily guess that the explosion element was shot separately from the background. Both of these shots were difficult, due to the harsh, daylight sky that poured into the background plates, which is unforgiving to effects shots, in terms of matte lines and lighting issues.

The rest of the film contains some more invisible effects, including a number of sky replacement/enhancement shots, as well as numerous bluescreen composites during the bridge sequence, and even a few digital landscapes added to some shots. PDI even removed an apartment building and inserted the film's climax location, a church building, complete with a matching camera move to the background plate.

The overall effects effort supervised by Michael Backes (whose name is unceremoniously hidden within the end credits) is commendable--dozens upon dozens of effects appear in THE PEACEMAKER that are completely invisible to the average moviegoer. PDI's terrific work on the nuclear blast round out a fine effort by all parties involved.

Check out American Cinematographer Sep. '97
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