DIRECTOR : Mathieu Kassovitz
PRODUCTION : Fox, MNP, Canal +, Okko Productions
NUMBER OF SHOTS : 572
Hugo Toorop, a veteran-turned-mercenary, is hired to escort a mysterious young woman across a post apocalyptic Europe in the year 2013. During their perilous journey, Toorop discovers that the woman is carrying a secret that could change the fate of the whole human race...
Babylon A.D. was Matthieu Kassovitz's first large-scale, VFX intensive film. He came to BUF for consultation early on in the development of the project. Many concepts and ideas were discussed, Pierre Buffin remembers: "Our discussions were based on the book itself. He knew what he wanted but proved to be very open to suggestions. The movie ended up being quite complex in terms of terms of the variety of effects to achieve. It required many experienced artists and a huge amount of visual research. Most of the challenges involved creating the final sequence on the plaza."
BUF ended up creating some 572 VFX shots, through an unique pipeline where BUF artists would often single-handedly tackle a shot from initial design to final composite. "Our philosophy is to work to develop multi-talented artists capable of taking a shot from start to completion," Buffin remarks.
BUF's work included the creation of elaborate environments such as a night view of the city where Toorop's live-action car is connected to a CG helicopter with a 3D environment below. BUF enhanced the night shots of New York City, adding many new 3D buildings and inserting multiple giant animated billboards. The Prague sequence also featured a combination of live-action plates and CG extension in the background. But the real challenge was enhancing the railway station bombing where victims are catapulted in the air. BUF had to create and animate digital characters using Video Motion Capture (VMC), the company trademark. The other VMC scene involved adding hundreds of digital extras behind a group of real actors.
The final sequence features a complex explosion. There are two parts to the work on this sequence. In the first, a rocket is fired at Aurora, but instead of being blown apart, she appears unaffected as it explodes around her. Because this is one of the film's hero VFX sequences, Kassovitz opted to show the action in ultra slow motion. The challenge was to see the explosion from the inside in extreme slow motion. It involved creating a CG destruction, in ultra slow motion, of the entire environment. Then, because of the camera movement, BUF had to recreate Melanie Thierry digitally. In addition to the explosion, the other tricky aspect was the animation of the pavement being ripped apart. It's animation was a real challenge as the pavement elements needed to not only break apart and fly away in a realistic manner, but also in a visually pleasing manner.
In the second part of work, we see the Plaza in a satellite shot from outer space that begins with the camera high above the Earth and diving down until ultimately we zoom into Vin Diesel's eye. Because this is one continuous shot BUF used a series of six different matte paintings to achieve this shot.
In addition to the urban sequences, BUF also worked on an intricate sequence set in the Arctic. Shot on location in Iceland, the action involves a chase between snowmobiles and a CG drone, and no less than a nuclear submarine (a full size prop built in a water tank in Prague's studios). With the exception of the final explosion shot, BUF's goal on Babylon A.D. was to deliver shots that blended in seamlessly with the story, never distracting from the character's journey.