September 2015’s release of Everest took viewers to the top of the world. As is mentioned in the trailer, human beings aren’t equipped to function at the cruising altitude of a 747. That includes actors! For that matter, most film equipment is out of the question in such locations because it’s either too big and cumbersome to get into place or can’t handle the harsh conditions.
For all of these reasons, it obviously wasn’t possible to film on location! The solution was to turn to digital magic and Petur Arnorsson was brought in by RVX to figure out the pipeline and work as a lead modeler. ZBrush was heavily utilized and so we spoke with Petur to get more information about the process.
Enjoy the trailer below, then continue on to learn how it was done!
What is your occupation and what projects have you worked on in the past?
I´m a modeler, digital sculptor and texture artist. In the past I have worked on films like 2 Guns, 6 Miranda Drive and Identity Thief, among others as well as game cinematics for AAA franchises like Eve Online, Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth and Crackdown. I have also been sculpting licensed Marvel collectibles recently and I got a chance to touch on the new upcoming Doom game earlier this year.
Currently I´m working on some highly detailed AAA promo art for Meduzarts on Dishonored 2 using ZBrush as my main tool.
How did you get involved in digital sculpting? Did you practice practical sculpting beforehand?
I have been drawing all my life but only started practical sculpting at about the same time as I got involved in digital sculpting. I had a friend working at a local game studio and I saw over his shoulder one day at work. He was modeling heads for a well known online game called Eve Online. That day I knew what I wanted to do and there was no turning back.
A couple of years later I was in beautiful Australia studying animation, specializing in modeling and texturing. I got introduced to ZBrush as a sculpting tool and was blown away by its potential. I have been honing my skills ever since with work and personal studies. I also try to take two workshops every year. I have been busy but it has paid off.
What artists, movies or art first inspired you to become an artist yourself?
Movies like The Lord of the Rings, Aliens and Jurassic Park inspired me a lot. For artists I would name Frank Frazetta, Simon Lee, Mark Newman, Cesar Dacol Jr., Steve Lord, Pascal Blanche, Raphael Grasetti and last (but not the least) the legendary Rick Baker. I could go on and on, really.
What was your role on Everest and how was digital sculpting involved in the making of the film?
I was a lead modeler at RVX, the main VFX vendor of the movie. I started during pre-production and helped with developing the pipeline and workflow for asset creation. I was also involved with RND on the asset creation side of things.
When the production itself went into full swing I had a team of modelers with me which I managed on different assignments throughout the project. My team members were Daniel Thordarson, Gudjon Orn Larusson and Kjartan Hardarson. Photogrammetry lead was Olafur Haraldsson, using software from Designing Reality and our CG Supervisor Matthias Bjarnason.
As you might have guessed there was a lot of environment work in Everest. ZBrush played a major role in the production of the movie. We used lidar scans and photogrammetry extensively. ZBrush was used to clean up the data and enhance the details. A lot of hand sculpting was also needed on many of the shots, sometimes using cleaned up photogrammetry models as a base and at other times built from scratch in ZBrush. We also sculpted folds in tents, details in clothing of the digital doubles, etc.
What types of models was ZBrush used for in Everest? Why was it the best tool for that particular job?
We used ZBrush to sculpt high frequency detailed models like glaciers, snow, ice, rocks, boulders and hills, etc. We also used it to create digital doubles and tents, to name a few elements.
With ZBrush we were able to get a high level of detail really quickly, with great topology and UV´s.
Describe your typical approach in sculpting. For example, a piece of ice wall or glacier.
One example would be if we had a lidar scan of an area where the actors were standing, which we used to begin with as a base for the surrounding area. We used a combination of Dynamesh, ZRemesher and Projection to get a friendly mesh to play with. A lot of Damian Standard, Slash, Trim Dynamic, Move, Claytubes and similar brushes along with a healthy dash of custom made brushes with alphas of various snow patterns.
One of the things to keep in mind is that ice can be just as sharp as rocks. Keep things sharp and on layers if you need to change things. Those Displacement maps do keep a habit of softening up in the renders so it is good to exaggerate some shapes and details.
What was the most challenging sequence or shot that you worked on for Everest using ZBrush?
I have to say the sequence in the Khumbu Icefall where Beck Weathers (played by Josh Brolin) is going over a huge crevasse. That sequence is fully CG with 180 degree shots and a whole lot of ice up close to the camera and everywhere around. 99% of the assets there were touched on with ZBrush!
How do you think ZBrush is improving the way that we make films and other media?
For me it is a way to think from the other side of the spectrum. Before, you were kind of limited with just polygon modeling but now you can sketch out a model fairly quickly to see how it works and then add details. From there you just create the topology, either fully or semi automatically.
ZBrush also makes things a lot more fun and we get amazing results.
What do you see for the future of digital sculpting and 3D technology?
I think there are amazing times ahead. VR sculpting and viewing, auto resolution and optimization to where it is needed on the models. More smooth integration into pipelines. Hopefully I will be able to stay in ZBrush through the whole production pipeline.
You’ll find quite a few more images in the next post. Enjoy!
Then join us below in thanking Petur for sharing all of this great info.