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You are here: Homepage /  inHouse /  Behind the Screenz / Source Code with Modus FX's Mostafa Badran
Source Code with Modus FX's Mostafa Badran
 
 
Posted: May 03, 2011
Published by: the area
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Software: Autodesk Softimage
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The Area:
Welcome to AREA Mostafa! We’re excited to talk with you about the work Modus FX has done on the recently released action thriller "Source Code", a film about "a soldier who wakes up in the body of an unknown man and discovers he's part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train". But before we get started, let's get a bit of your background in CG. What were you doing prior to working as CG Supervisor at Modus FX?
Mostafa:
Thanks for having me AREA! I started off at Modus FX as the Lead Technical Director. Before that I was a Character TD at Hybride Technologies.
Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x1200

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x1200

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

The Area:
How did you get from CAE (Canadian Aviation Electronics) to working in the VFX industry and what about in terms of software, were you always using SI?
Mostafa:
Unfortunately no hehe, I was using software called MultiGen Creator when I was at CAE… Several months later, one of my old teachers had called me and asked me if I missed Softimage. He had a job for me at a small VFX house called Pop6. Needless to say, I jumped to the occasion to work with Softimage again.
Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x817

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x817

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

The Area:
What are some of the film titles you've worked on, and what specific type of work did you do in those movies?
Mostafa:
Well, recently I’ve completed work on The American as a CG Supervisor, Barney’s Version and Super as a rigger and layout artist, and a few others you can check out on the www.modusfx.com. Earlier at Hybride, I had the opportunity to work on Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D and on 300 as a Character TD.
The Area:
What 3D application did you start out with first and what do you use now for your daily work?
Mostafa:
At school I learned 3D using Softimage XSI 3.5 and I just fell in love with it. I still to this day preach to all my CG brethren about getting them to convert to Softimage. I use it daily for various elements and I don’t see that changing in the near future…
Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x817

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x817

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

The Area:
Let's talk about “Source Code”. Looking at the stills from the film, it's pretty hard to discern what are the CG elements and what is real. What were the shots and sequences that Modus FX did in this film?
Mostafa:
Well, our mandate was to create a photo-realistic CG train and to turn a park in Montreal into a fictional Chicago train station. Basically any shot with the train or any shot in “Glenbrook Station” was a shot we worked on. We also had some crowd simulation shots as well as some CG stunt doubles.
The Area:
What was the timeframe you guys had to accomplish all this?
Mostafa:
Modus started early on (February 2010) in the project doing pre-visualization, including the film’s climactic explosion scene. Once those sequences were roughed out, the shots were handed over to MPC Vancouver for completion. We then started working on the CG train station, CG train and other elements in May 2010. We delivered all the final shots in December, right before Christmas!
Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x817

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

The Area:
Can you describe the initial process of working on these shots -- securing/bidding for this gig, doing the environments/assets, did you go on set to shoot references, HDRIs, things like that?
Mostafa:
Modus was approached very early before the shooting to evaluate the VFX work to be done on the movie. Having worked with Louis Morin on a few projects prior, we carefully explored a few options for the key sequences and helped in developing the procedure to film. We’ve developed a mainly asset-driven pipeline at Modus so we approached both the train as well as the fictional “Glenbrook Station” as assets. We went a few times on set but one of the biggest upsides to working with Louis Morin again was the fact that he knew what we’d need in terms of HDRIs and references, so he provided us with everything we needed to get the job done.
Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x817

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

The Area:
Can you talk about Modux FX’s pipeline for matchmoving, motion tracking, backplates, rotoscoping, and which packages were used for this project? Any custom in-house tools that were developed for this production or do you already have a framework setup to handle these kinds of shots?
Mostafa:
Being mainly a VFX house, we do a lot of CG integration. So we’ve developed a pipeline that can handle a broad range of different live plates. In this particular case, we were dealing with distorted plates, which is something that we had worked with a number of times before, so the pipeline didn’t require too much tweaking. What we do is remove the distortion on the plates using 3D Equalizer, render out work plates that are not distorted. We then track the undistorted plates and work with them in our Softimage scenes. When comes time to render our CG elements, we use La Maison’s open source tool to apply the distortion values extracted from 3D Equalizer on a lens shader within Softimage. That way, our renders are already distorted and we do our compositing with the original live plates.
The Area:
How many people worked together at Modus FX on this project?
Mostafa:
75 artists (2D & 3D), technicians, supervisors and administration staff worked on Source Code at Modus FX.
Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x817

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x817

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

The Area:
Judging from the stills, there are many varying angles and distances/depth where CG elements have been applied. When creating specific 3D assets like buildings, environment elements, trains, how did you account for factors like level of detail?
Mostafa:
We actually take full advantage of Softimage’s referenced models to deal with issues such as level of detail. All our assets are built with various resolutions. These resolutions vary in terms of polygon count, texture map size, etc. We developed a tool that automatically switches the resolution specified by analyzing the CG camera’s frustum. So depending on the size of the CG element on screen, we use a specific resolution that is efficient for our renders. As for the train station, some of it was a series of textures and matte paintings laid out on grids we created within The Foundry’s Nuke Compositing software. With our proprietary .MCD format (Modus Camera Data) we could easily port the 3D camera created in Softimage to any of our other software, such as Houdini, Massive or Nuke.
Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x1200

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

The Area:
What about references for buildings and trains, did you work with a specific library of images and visuals?
Mostafa:
We had ample references and an HDRI of the Orland Park station in Chicago. We used that real station as a base for the fictional Glenbrook Station we see in the movie. A lot of the surroundings as well as the roof design were based on Orland Park. We had to build around what was built on the live set. There were many carefully placed green screens which we used to create all the surroundings. As for the train cars, we modeled an exact replica of an actual Chicago train and added the banner design on the sides. We had concept art from the production for the “CCR” logo.
The Area:
What surface types were used?
Mostafa:
Pretty much all polygons.
The Area:
Which software renderer was used (3delight, arnold, mr) and why?
Mostafa:
We rendered with Mental Ray, mainly because we’d worked with it for so long and had already developed some shaders we wanted to use. The current production we’re working should be rendered in Arnold. We’re always willing to test out the different strengths of each render engine.
Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x817

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x817

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

The Area:
Altogether, how many assets were created for Source Code?
Mostafa:
Roughly 30, there was the train, the locomotive, the freight train, Glenbrook Station, full body doubles of Jake Gyllenhaal and a few other passengers, some vegetation assets and a series of cars.
The Area:
What resolution were you working with…and the average texture map res?
Mostafa:
We rendered images up to 4K when needed and the average texture map, around 8K.
Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x817

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

The Area:
What did you use for generating the crowds and cars in the shot over the bridge?
Mostafa:
For the crowd shots we used Massive. We used the “Mayhem Agent” a lot and also built an AI system for the cars to recreate the feel of frantic or distressed driving. We put some work on the way the cars suspension reacted when slamming the breaks. Sometimes, it’s all in the details...
Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x817

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

The Area:
How would you sum up the overall experience of working on Source Code?
Mostafa:
It was a lot of fun, good, hard work. Like any other project, it did have its fair share of challenges. My particular favorite was on the 180 degree around the train and all the actors are accidentally hitting the green screen and moving our tracking markers. Like I said… It was a whole lot of fun. ;)
Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x817

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x817

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

Image courtesy of Modus FX 1920x1200

Image Description: Image courtesy of Modus FX

The Area:
So now that you have wrapped up Source Code, what projects are cooking up over at Modus FX?
Mostafa:
We’re currently working on some VFX for a movie called Immortals as well as Sarila, which is a full CG stereoscopic production.
The Area:
What do you do outside of your time at Modus FX?
Mostafa:
Well, I try to keep up with sports, football and soccer mostly. I’m more of a “summer sports” kind of guy, so during the harsh Quebec winters, I tend to hibernate. I love music and movies so I always have various projects that relate to those two.
The Area:
Well thanks for your time, Mostafa! It’s always cool to get the inside look into high profile productions as this and of course, to spread the SI love :-D
Mostafa:
Thanks again for inviting me.

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Posted by icetears on Sep 12, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Overview: An activity abstruseness centered on a soldier who wakes up in the physique of an alien man and discovers he's allotment of a mission to acquisition the adviser of a Chicago driver train.

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Posted by Or1on on Apr 17, 2012 at 11:26 PM
Thanks, this was very interesting