Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was filmed entirely against blue-screen. California-based companies Luma Pictures and CafeFX reveal the creative trickery that made it happen.

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The underwater explosions were tricky,” says Payam Shohadai, visual effects supervisor at Luma Pictures. “The amphibious planes were, too.”
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Luma Pictures, a Santa Monica-based visual effects company, is responsible for 150 of the VFX shots created for the newly released film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
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The other was that Maya, especially now with Maya Fluids, could be pushed to be an incredible powerhouse for a large variety of effects. I had sometimes heard people dismiss Fluids as almost a toy, but this project has confirmed my belief in the power of Fluids – if you are willing to learn the controls. It was almost like, if we were in a bind, someone would just say ‘let’s see what we can get out of Fluids’, and we'd be amazed.”

Snowbound

While Shohadai was working out a way to create silt plumes, Jeff Goldman of CafeFX was trying to get to grips with snow.

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As visual effects supervisor, it was his job to create the look and feel of the Nepal sequence. Remember when Indiana Jones went to the Himalaya? That’s the feel director Kerry Conran wanted to recreate.
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“Nepal marks the start of their world journey,” says Goldman, “so the filmmakers wanted to open with a bang.” They wanted a realistic look with a “fantasy feeling”, so decided to create digital matte paintings of towering mountains. 
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CafeFX’s Robert Stromberg used Newtek LightWave, Photoshop and After Effects to create a library of enormous tiled matte paintings to cover all possible angles for the shots. “That was a challenge,” says Goldman, “it was the first time I was designing on the fly.” 
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In Nepal, the protagonists set off on a journey through the snow. The weather develops into a full-on storm. “We used LightWave, 3DS Max, and Digital Fusion to create the sheeting effects of falling snow,” says Goldman. Stromberg’s paintings reflect the sombre atmosphere of the worsening weather and later, after a fight sequence and effects-laden explosion, help to create the retro mood that director Conran was after.
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That could well be down to acting in a void. Blue-screens can cause blindness and dizziness for actors. When she turned up in London’s Leicester Square for the premiere on 27 September Paltrow said: 
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“Towards the end of the filming, to be honest, I went slightly insane, because it was a very electrifying shade of blue, with orange circles.”
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However, both actors are outdone by the late Sir Laurence Olivier. Dead for 15 years, his manipulated image is exhumbed as Dr Totenkopf ("deadhead" in German) in jerky video footage and a Wizard of Oz floating-head homage. Sir Larry even gets a credit at the end.
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