2012 is the VFX-laden 'event' movie of 2009, a Hollywood spectacular taking a tour around an action-packed apocalypse as Mayan prophesies come true and the world goes to hell in a handbasket. The massive amount of visual effects was split across many post house - including Digital Doman, Sony Picture Imageworks, and London's own Double Negative. We spoke to Alex Wuttke, VFX supervisor at Double Negative to find out how you destroy iconic monuments in the most entertaining and huge-looking way possible.
DA: How many shots did you work on?
AW: "We worked on around 205 shots, split over two sequences - Yellowstone and St Peter's [Square, in the Vatican] - with the Yellowstone sequence forming the bulk of our efforts."
DA: How would you describe the aesthetic tone of the film and how did this influence the way you created the VFX?
AW: "We spent a long time at the beginning of our schedule doing 2D concept paintings to build a visual language. Early conversations with Roland [Emmerich, the film's director] gave us a lead on the sort of aesthetic he wanted, and most importantly the scale of the effects he was after, so everything we did went some way to encapsulate that need. For the Yellowstone sequence, the action revolves around a huge 12km-wide explosion that then unleashes a pyroclastic ashcloud that chases John Cusack. We treated this event as a central character complete with mini weather systems and lent it further menace by introducing a sense of epic internal combustion with the use of fiery internal glows.
"The ashcloud also spews out enormous lava bombs, which then smash the ground around the fleeing Cusack. We gave these a fiery quality with lava erupting out from their core on impact. All these devices went some way to lend the sequence an apocalyptic aesthetic whilst still retaining a huge amount of energy."
DA: Where did your take your inspiration from for how you made sequences look?
AW: "We studied mainly real world events to start with, looking at volcanic eruptions from around the world, as well as footage of nuclear bomb tests, and used that as our starting point. Once we'd established a look based on that reference, we started exaggerating this look to the point of caricature, accentuating the parts we deemed the most interesting."
DA: How do you make VFX look epic?
AW: "A lot of this comes down to scale and ways of depicting scale. We were constantly playing with different devices in this regard. One thing that Roland likes to do to sell scale is to never let the audience see the edges of an effect. In Independence Day for example, whenever you see one of the saucers, the framing is always such that you only get to see a small section. This is even true of big wide shots. We did the same thing with our ashclouds and explosions, always having them hanging out of the frame. The other thing we obsessed about was the speeds inherent in our effects work. We always tried to slow things right down to retain scale, but kept them fast enough to feel truly dangerous.
DA: We've seen the end of the world in many different ways over the years. How did you make it different in 2012?
"I think the main differentiation to other films is the sense of epic scale in this film. We see every kind of natural disaster imaginable and depicted in full frame for its entirety. The ambition to display this unflinchingly is what sets this apart from other disaster movies."