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Making 300

Category: 300 News
Article Date: February 22, 2007 | Publication: FHM Online | Author: Meghan Conaton

Posted by: admin

What does it take to film Frank Miller’s legendary graphic novel about the ancient Spartan army? Spears, loincloths and over 1300 visual effects—including a series that gave life to a military-enlisted rhinoceros. Here, 300’s visual effects supervisor, Chris Watts, breaks down every step that went into creating that sweet-assed rhino scene.

“The film is about 300 Spartan soldiers who battled the millions in Xerxes’ Persian army. In this scene, Xerxes is frantically pulling out crazy wild cards, including unleashing a rhino on the Spartans. In the script, it said something to the effect of, ‘A rhino comes running over the hill.’ From that, we created this very rough animation that gives us an idea of how big the rhino should be, how fast he has to move and how far he has to go to get across the hill. These early basics of the scene stayed almost exactly the same through the rest of the process.”

“There were lots of different designs for how the rhino should look. Most of them got rejected, but this is the one that ended up in the movie. This drawing tells me what we need to make this scene: dynamics on the hair, tail, chain and cloth, so those elements can move. There’s dust that somebody has to make, and a way to make the rhino run, either realistically or in a way that looks better than a real rhino run. Since there was nothing in the graphic novel about a rhino, we created a rhino that could have been in the book. In terms of historical accuracy, we said screw it.”

Step 3 – FILMING
“We shot the scene with the actors against a blue screen on a very small set, about 110 by 60 feet. There’s no rhino there, so we had to make sure the actors left enough room for this thing to fit between them and we had to get them all looking at the same area. We used lasers pointed in certain spots—which are the small green dots you can see on the blue screen—so we could tell them where to focus their eyes. You have to give them something positive to look at or they get a blank-eyed glassy stare. Then we also had a guy jumping around on the set making rhino noises so the actors had something to react to.”

“We didn’t build the actual digital rhino until months after we shot the scene. To do it, we decided what the rhino’s personality should be and how he should move. Then, sculptors who basically use pixels as their clay, created this rhino in the computer. It’s just a shell—basically like a hollow chocolate candy—with no bones or anything. We modeled him in a resting position, to see what he would look like if he was standing there sleeping.”

“Once we got the surface of this thing looking pretty, we put in bones and built a skeleton so he could run and be controllable by an animator. We didn’t make muscles, but we put in other things to make the skin bulge in the appropriate way and give it thickness and texture. We basically built an internal rig and then animated it. We’d watch it run, decide we didn’t like it, edit the rig and re-animate it. Some poor guy literally did that over and over again for months.”

“After spending all this time making this thing look perfect, in the final stage we basically started screwing it up so it looked real and like it belonged in this movie. We covered it with dust, blurred it, smeared it and hid parts of it behind other things. Then we had to basically weld the digital landscape to the small portion of a landscape that we shot with the camera. It’s the most difficult effort in the whole process because it requires hundreds of small judgment calls, any one of which can screw up the shot.”

300 hits theaters March 9.


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