The Avengers Find Their Way Using Cinema 4D and The City Kit
Great artist and friend Jayse Hansen gave us a sneak peek at NAB about how the City Kit was used in The Avengers. Needless to say, Chris and I were totally geeked out about the idea and excited to see the City Kit on the big screen. Now that the movie is out, Jayse was nice enough to put together a breakdown of the shot and some of the thinking and process that went behind the process of making Iron Man’s Heads Up Display. Take it away, Jayse…
I originally thought of using City Kit for the hud when I learned we needed to illustrate several moves through a 3d city. The original request was a dimensional city map that could: a. locate targets, b. plot trajectories, c. move along roadways, d. turn/zoom into and out of very specific areas in New York City.
Production had originally wanted a full screen city layout – but it ended up covering up too much of RDJ’s face, and too many of the other HUD elements had to be moved out or turned off completely to accommodate it. So we were asked to treat it like a widget. After several discussions with Lawes, Hristova, and Sean Cushing (Cantina VFX Producer), we decided that the widget could come from either the large diagnostic widget on screen left, or from the radar widget lower right (behind the spherical gyro-compass). The radar widget made the most sense – and I began drawing up ideas of how it could transform into a 3d widget.
Early ideas for the city widget.
The city widget is both a 2d and a 3d map, all in one. Here are the designs for the map in its 2d state which uses the City Kit + ILM geometry in a flattened state.
This first of the three is when the map is in its overall view, locked behind the ‘globe’, or ‘gimble’ map indicator. The red triangle icons indicate alien targets (numbers indicate threat level – 76 is the evil Leviathan that was nicknamed “Jumbo”), the yellow A’s are the locations of the other Avengers. There was the suggestion of using a hammer, shield and facemask icons, but, I think I safely ignored it.
It then transforms to ‘street level’ view when it comes to the front and is directly in front of Tony.
Iron Man is always represented in the center. This early draft screenshot indicates when he locks on to the Leviathan (red target) and is about to fly into him and blow him up from within. The yellow hex targets track approaching chariots behind him.
Then the 2d map spins, collapses and becomes a 3 dimensional map using cylindrical coordinates. Attached is a qt of one of the early tests with cubes I did to get the City to be able to move, turn, and zoom in to certain areas. I wanted the buildings to both fade at the edges, but also flatten out with a nice fall-off. It also had to transform quickly from the 2d map to the 3d widget and back again as different needs arose.
There were some C4D R12.5 rendering bugs that we discovered using random effectors and plain effectors with the color shader in the alpha channel. So I had a ton of help from the awesome Navarro Parker (who also did a lot of work on the Mark VI huds) and even ping’d Tim Clapham for some ideas to get the rig working the way I wanted in C4d. Everyone was a great help, but Navarro ended up solving the scaling issue by using the underrated and often overlooked inheritance effector. We used a simple null scaled down wafer thin in Y; as the city neared the edges of the effectors’ cylindrical falloff, individual buildings would both shrink (inheriting the y-scaled object’s scale properties) and fade (using the mograph color shader in the alpha channel).
After we got it to where it could fulfill Joss’s requests, we substituted our custom City Kit rig in for the extra detail and it worked great. For the custom rig we ended up mixing in ILM’s high density model of Stark Tower and accurate Park Avenue buildings when the story-points called for the focus to be located on a certain building. City Kit’s flexible ‘Custom Area’ function was essential to inserting ILM’s meshes into specific locations of the rig.
City Kit’s ‘Preview function’ allowed us to work with a full city in C4D and not get slowed down by extraneous geometry.
This was important – especially as there’s a scene where Tony needs to locate Thor. The 3d map backs out of a tunnel he’d just flown through, travels across town to 6th Street and zoom-spins into the buildings where the other Avengers are, surrounded by red targets.
We also loved how easy it was to carve paths through the city, customize the distribution of building sizes and make individual buildings as tall or short as we needed. For instance in the scene where Hawkeye tells Tony to look for sharp corners, we have Jarvis indicate he’s found a 90° bank. We made all the buildings in front of it dramatically shorter so that the audience could clearly see the arrow-indicator.
It’s little things like that which make our job easier. Coming up with things that work tends to be relatively easy – but coming up with things that work and can be changed and modified – usually within half a day’s time – is a bit more challenging, and City Kit helped us a lot with that.
Extra thanks to Cantina Creative. It’s the awesome company I did this work for and with. I led the design of the Mark VII and designed a few new elements for the Mark VI, but all of the HUDs were a team effort involving a shrink and grow team of up to 6 awesome designer/animators led by Cantina’s VFX Supervisor Venti Hristova and Creative Director Stephen Lawes. Also, Shout outs to the Cantina ‘Club Suave’ HUD team:
Jonathan Ficcadenti, Leon Nowlin, Navarro Parker, Alan Torres, Lukas Weyandt
The Avengers ™&© 2012 Marvel and Subs.
You can learn more about City Kit here.