When he was a British schoolboy, Peter Chiang used to stand in the local bookstore staring at the covers of science fiction paperbacks and dreaming about fantastical scenarios. “I just loved the imagery,” says Chiang. “I started illustrating space ships and monsters and creatures, growing up on Thunderbirds sci-fi cartoon series here in the UK, and watching Blade Runner, which had a huge impact on my life. I remember thinking ‘I want to do that.’”
Four decades later, Chiang used his old-fashioned drawing skills to fine-tune giant robots and dinosaur-sized freaks as visual effects supervisor for Pacific Rim: Uprising, opening Friday. Working alongside director Steven S. DeKnight, Chiang oversaw 1,600 VFX shots of “Jaeger” fighting machines, reptilian “Kaiju” monsters, smashed buildings, crashing glass and dusty debris transmitted via Internet from 2,500 far-flung artists based in Mumbai, Los Angeles, London, Vancouver and Montreal.
Chiang, headquartered in Burbank, California’s Legendary Entertainment offices, used a software program called cineSync to tweak VFX submissions so he could illustrate exactly how collaborators needed to revise their shots. He explains, “The software allows me to scrub through the clip, stop on a frame, draw on it with a digital pen in whatever color I want and physically show the team in London, for example, ‘Don’t put the robot here, put the robot there.’ The London team could save out a copy and use that as reference for their next version.”
Why can’t the VFX contributors just get it right the first time?
Chiang says it comes down to a question of interpretation. “When an artist translates the director’s vision, it’s probably not going to be 100 percent the first time. The robot’s hand moves too quickly, or a footfall lands in front of the camera and blocks a certain aspect of a shot, or an effects simulation might be technically perfect, but maybe we want to cheat a little and get less dust because it’s covering up some of the action.” Pressured to meet a January 21 delivery date for all visual effects, Chiang spent eight months in post-production cracking the whip. “I’d tell the artists, ‘I’m going to give you three ‘Go’s’ to get the shot exactly how Steven wants it.’”
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