Director Peter Weir's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World uses more than 700 visual-effects shots to bring to the big screen Patrick O'Brian's high-seas adventure novel set during the Napoleonic Wars. A host of big name visual-effects houses including Weta Workshop, ILM, Asylum Effects, and CaféFX were involved in the project, to create shots that included CG, miniatures, and full-blown, live-action effects.

Master and Commander
Master and Commander
Director Peter Weir's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World uses more than 700 visual-effects shots to bring to the big screen Patrick O'Brian's high-seas adventure novel set during the Napoleonic Wars. A host of big name visual-effects houses including Weta Workshop, ILM, Asylum Effects, and CaféFX were involved in the project, to create shots that included CG, miniatures, and full-blown, live-action effects.

The ComputerCafe Group's CaféFX worked on 22 complex shots, some running as long as nine seconds, requiring compositing and digital-matte painting. "As soon as Jeff Barnes and David Ebner (ComputerCafe Group founding partners) saw the scope of this project, they knew we could help," says Jonathan Stone, visual-effects producer at the CaféFX office in Los Angeles. "In the end, Ben Grossmann and Paul Graff worked under the supervision of compositing supervisor Kevin Prudenville, with matte painters Robert Stromberg, visual-studio effects producer Brook Breton, and Julia Frey, producer at Digital Backlot, to produce the project. In all, the project took about ten weeks to complete and was quite a challenging job."

Taken by Surprise






Master and Commander
Master and Commander
Master and Commander follows the adventures of Captain 'Lucky' Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe), ship's doctor Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) and the crew of the HMS Surprise, on a journey around globe. The ships sails from the sunny coast of Brazil to the perilous waters of Cape Horn, to finally the remote shores of the Galápagos Islands where Charles Darwin formulated his theory of Natural Selection. Although the film does feature footage shot on these islands - the first time the islands have been used as a location for a feature film - there are several scenes in which the tropical peninsula of Baja served as a stand-in for the famed isles.

"Essentially, our job was to seamlessly composite several digital matte paintings into the scenes filmed in Baja," explains Prudenville. "Dealing with parallax between the foreground, midground and backgrounds proved to be a real challenge. The live-action elements were very dramatic, and it took intense tracking and rotoscoping to achieve a realistic look. We used a combination of Discreet Flame, Adobe After Effects, and Digital Fusion to create good keys on the various actors' hair and the objects they were carrying, and to ensure that the matte paintings were precisely balanced within the scene."

Complex shots






Master and Commander
Master and Commander
Several of the shots that the CaféFX team worked on became more complex as the project progressed. One started as a relatively simple sky replacement and matte painting addition, but eventually became an integral part of the final scene. In another, the team needed to create an entirely new scene to surround one of the film's characters.

"The only live action in that scene is the actor himself," explains Stone. "In order to capture the essential details of the scene, we had to nail the tracking. We also replaced the fishing net he was carrying with a remarkably detailed CG version, and added some CG dust for realism."

Stone gives a great deal of credit to director Weir for the ultimate success of Master and Commander: "Peter Weir was a wonderful collaborator," says Stone. "We were very involved in the screenings, and he was obviously very happy to have our artists there. He clearly wanted face-to face contact with the people who were creating these scenes. That was greatly appreciated by everybody at CaféFX."

Software: Adobe After Effects
Digital Fusion
Discreet Flame
Contact: CaféFX., 001 805 992 9479
www.cafefx.com