Making Monsters

For the movie Van Helsing, Ed Kramer, who creates sophisticated computer graphics for George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic, worked on shots of "hybrid" vampire brides--part human, part computer-simulation--similar to these:

1. While Josie Maran, who plays Marishka, one of the vampire brides, is being filmed by conventional movie cameras, every movement of her body is also recorded by special "motion-capture" cameras and turned into computer data. This data will eventually be used to help animate the bride's body, which will be completely computer-generated (CG).

2. The "blue-screen" technique is used when filming the live-action head of the actress, which will later be joined to the computer-generated body. "The blue screen gives the computer an easy way to define an area that can be replaced with another image," says Kramer. "You tell the computer, Any place there's this color blue, replace those pixels with a background image."

3. Small infrared emitters, represented by yellow dots, are used as markers from which the motion-capture cameras collect data.

4. The animation is blocked in using the data collected by the motion-capture cameras. Then CG experts like Kramer will fine-tune the animation by hand. "That gold netting shows the geometry of the computer-generated model without textures or lighting," he says. "You can see how well it fits over the actual actress in action."

5. The bride's headless body--the rendered CG element of the shot.

6. The actress' head will be attached to the CG body of the hybrid bride.

7. The final composite of the hybrid vampire bride.


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