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October 2014
Issue: July 1, 2013

Editor's Letter: MPC's 550 shots for 'The Lone Ranger'

By: Randi Altman
While our cover story this month is about ILM’s work as lead VFX house on Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger, from Disney Studios, London’s MPC (www. moving-picture.com/film) also provided a significant amount of shots, 550 to be exact, ranging from full CG canyons and caves to Comanche attacks, CG trains, horses, birds, arrows, fire and scorpions.

I asked MPC VFX supervisor Gary Brozenich to describe some of the work the studio provided. He points to the sequence at the start of the movie, where John Reid wakes up to find himself high up on the Spirit Platform. “Our team extended the height of the canyon and narrowed the width to give a more dramatic feel to the shot. John is surrounded by our CG flies looking over a CG reinterpretation of the valley from Dead Horse Point, Utah. As the camera pulls away you see a full CG landscape with added Anasazi Ruins, which were photographic elements sourced on location.”

The MPC modeling team created a CG train for the scene where character Rebecca Reid climbs out from the train onto a bridge. “We merged studio shot plates and the CG train with our full CG environments. The tricky part was combining all of these elements together with a fast-moving digital background and keeping them 100 percent photoreal.”

For the shot where The Lone Ranger and Tonto are buried up to their necks in the ground, MPC created CG scorpions, which come up from the ground and crawl all over their faces. The scorpions were created with some high-end shader work and development, tech animation and MPC’s proprietary hair and fur software, Furtility.

They also worked on the scene where a stampede of Comanches are shot down by Gatling guns. “You’re no longer allowed to use large amounts of real horses in this type of movie sequence, as the horses and riders could be injured,” explains Brozenich. That’s where MPC came in. 

“There were these amazing Native American stunt riders, shot on-set, charging down quite a steep hill. Our team took the plate footage of the riders and rearranged it with the movie’s editor.”

MPC used a mixture of mocap animation and rigid body simulations, as well as CG horses jumping over the camera. They also added some trees shattering around the hill as bullets fly.

MPC used Autodesk Maya as a basis for much of its work and called on Nuke for compositing, as well as lots of other software. “We also have a great R&D team here who create proprietary tools, which are invaluable to our work,” explains Brozenich. In addition to the aforementioned Furtility for hair, fur and feathers, other proprietary tools include Kali for destruction and Alice for crowd work.