FX Review

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Two of the film's signature helicopter flybys then appear, both handled by DD. The first is a modest flyby of the ship, with the 'helicopter' approaching the starboard side of the ship, ending its shot on Captain Smith on the bridge. The second shot begins on a tight two-shot of Jack and Fabrizio on the tip of the ship. The camera surrounds them, then travels up and backward throughout the entire length of the ship, traveling over the smokestacks, across the stern, and ending up at nearly the water's level. The two shots both utilized a miniature ship, and with the exception of the Jack/Fabrizio elements, which were live-action greenscreen elements, every

One of the film's signature images of Titanic sailing the seas. [Digital Domain]
passenger and crewmember depicted walking the decks of the ship were CG characters. The Jack and Fabrizio elements were shot with a complicated real time motion control system, with the actors and key lights fastened to a rotating platform. With the kind of perspective shifts associated with these flybys, using real actors against a greenscreen would have proven unruly and nearly impossible for the passengers on deck. After 3D tracking data of the ship's decks was determined, the 3D characters could be placed throughout the ship, and 'directed' by the animators just as human actors would be directed by the director.

The appearance of digital extras is not visible within TITANIC. There's nothing in the film to give the illusion away. This is a tribute to not only the performance/animation editors, but, more importantly, to the 3D trackers at DD who pinpointed the exact 3D space that the miniature decks, stairways and ladders existed in.

The second flyby, although technically astounding (especially considering the camera move around Jack/Fabrizio, and their eventual morph to CG characters), does a disservice to previous and subsequent realistic camera moves throughout TITANIC. Every shot of the ship besides this one could conceivably had been captured through actual helicopter, crane or some kind of photography. We've all seen countless cruise line commercials, where the camera triumphantly swirls around the decks of the

Jack and Fabrizio peer down the edge of the bow. [Digital Domain]
ship revealing the majesty of a huge craft. This shot, however, could never had been photographed by a real camera, due to the perilous nature of the camera's path. The camera twirls backwards away from the bow, and rises mere inches above one of Titanic's funnels. Since no helicopter would dare move its camera so close to the funnel in real life, the illusion of the shot is broken. The 'camera of God' syndrome of visual effects filmmaking is not new--just look at 1995's remarkable APOLLO 13; during the launch sequence, the camera rotates and dives through the gantry posts as the rocket blasts off.

Between the two flybys, a number of extraordinary shots appear. DD's remarkable camera moves continue as the view swoops over Jack's head, to view the breakwater against Titanic's hull. Dolphins appear, swimming and jumping alongside the ship--Hammerhead Productions not only composited real-life dolphin footage into the shot, but created CG dolphins for closeups of the animals. An over the shoulder

Hammerhead Productions created CG dolphins for some shots in the film.
dolly shot of Captain Smith and Officer Murdoch standing on the bridge reveals the extreme bow and forcastle in a very convincing shot--the actors, shot against greenscreen, comped in front of the 1/6 scale forecastle, with digital water and motion-capture CG crewmembers.

For other daylight exterior Titanic shots, actors were filmed on the decks of the Titanic set, with numerous digital sky replacements to enhance the scene, or remove visible remnants of land. In many cases, the camera swoops over the deck, first revealing Titanic's hull, the water, than cranes over the deck to characters having a discussion. One particular set extension shot accomplished by DD (usually using the Lightwave CG version of Titanic) is absolutely perfect--the camera begins starboard side aft, then flies over the railing to see some third class children kicking a ball on deck. The wake, water, interaction of the water on the hull... everything matched, not just in terms 3D tracking, but in scale, depth of field, contrast and color. Another terrific crane move from the hull to the decks takes place later in the film, as Rose and Mr. Andrews, the ship's designer, are walking on the port side of the ship, discussing the lifeboat situation. Once again, the water, hull and deck all seem in synch, and the illusion is not at all visible.

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All text Copyright © 1998 Todd Vaziri, unless otherwise noted