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Suspension of disbelief is the currency of any action movie in which actors perform feats of physical prowess. Audiences wouldn”t expect comedians Will Ferrell and Jon Heder to actually attempt the icy escapades in Paramount/Dreamworks” Blades of Glory, but directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck didn”t want to cheat the action by simply showing the backs of stunt skaters” heads. As Ferrell and Heder leap their way through hilarious ice-skating routines, the camera is close and very personal. The ability to capture every comedic grimace comes courtesy of the face replacement techniques achieved at Rainmaker Animation & Visual Effects in Vancouver, Canada.
“Face replacements aren”t new, but people are used to seeing them shot with lock-off cameras,” says Visual Effects Supervisor Mark Breakspear. “We”ve seen face replacements where actors are running at camera and not turning their heads. But with ice-skating, the relationship to the camera changes dramatically all the time. We did about 150 face replacements in this film and every single relationship to camera was different. You”re spinning, going up and down, and bending over. Will Ferrell is an actor who could use those moments to make us laugh, so we couldn”t just put a CG face on a skater. It had to act like Will Ferrell.”
Rainmaker began with a plaster cast of the actor”s face, which was then made into a mold. That mold was scanned at high resolution by XYZ RGB in Ottowa, Canada, so that pores and small wrinkles were visible. “We knew we were going in close enough that audiences would see those details,” says Breakspear. After applying textures culled from photos of the actor”s face, Rainmaker arrived at a CG likeness. But making the face ‘behave” like Will Ferrell was the real challenge, and Rainmaker developed a PCap system to do it.
They placed about 150 tracking dots on the actor”s face, but not in a conventional grid-like pattern. Grid arrangements can miss the subtleties of an actor”s distinctive facial style, observes Breakspear. “We studied footage to see what part of his face moved when he did a ‘Will Ferrell performance.” We concentrated the dots within those performance areas.” Read More …