Movie tech: Why nobody destroys the world better than Hollywood - the effects behind 2012

Movie tech: Why nobody destroys the world better than Hollywood - the effects behind 2012

Bringing destruction to life on screen is a everyday job for the effects wizards behind the upcoming film 2012. In fact, the filmmakers produced a whopping million gigabytes of data

Film Review: Leave it to Hollywood to destroy the world with such flair. 2012 is yet another disaster film with heavy sci-fi boots to fill, echoing the best and worst of Dan Brown novels and pulpy, edge-of-your-seat adventure-dramas.

It's also marks the next big attempt from Hollywood's go-to-director of destruction, Roland Emmerich; who again gets to go play in his favourite CGI sandbox, in a genre he now basically owns - plot mechanics be damned.

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The end of the world "Hollywood-style" in 2012.

Following in the footsteps of his previous blockbusters (Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow), 2012 is set to destroy all things logical - even as some of the set pieces make for some enthralling theme park rides.

At times, there's a bit too much chat and audiences might tire of the inevitable talky setup. Everything in the film is set up long before the first destruction scenes hit, some 45 minutes into the film. And it's a long film at that, punishing sleepy-eyed viewers with 158 minutes of spine-tingling, biblical flood-inducing mayhem.  

Some audiences will take the bait, while other theatre-goers will feel helplessly stuck to this cinematic rollercoaster, overawed by the intense digital scenery as Cusak and the gang run from one cataclysm to another.

Production designer Barry Chisod explains that the object of the film " that the viewer can't tell what we actually built and what's a visual effect, made in the computer." In fact, the film used more than 12 soundstages with green and blue screens and two outdoor stages to achieve the effects renderings, with a huge shaky floor to simulate the much of the earthquake action used throughout the film - so it wouldn't all have to be done in the PC.

2012 is already being touted as one of the biggest effects movies of all time, although James Cameron's Avatar might have something to say about that.

2012 is essentially an escape film, filled with soap opera moments; a first-rate chance to watch the earth get hammered with all things apocalyptic, including 1500 feet high tsunami waves, giant volcano eruptions and countless megaquakes (10.5's literally tear up the west coast of America).     

Emmerich's Day After Tomorrow serves as the perfect predecessor to the familiar disaster plot design of 2012, switching a convenient Gulf Stream reversal in Tomorrow for an overheated earth's core in 2012 - although both plots largely feel the same and aim for the same emotional gravitas by films conclusion.

The genre has already been coined 'disaster porn' by some, oddly because of Hollywood's fond predisposition to blast, destroy and obliterate everything on screen.  

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Pretty visuals need to engage the audience or the film ultimately fails

And so in that fashion, 2012 is another showy CGI extravaganza, with enough high-tech fakery to fool human eyeballs - although the the doom and destruction gets exhausting after a while.

Large water tanks were used to simulate some of the Titanic-like flooding scenes, and vast pumping systems were created to steer the flow of the water via computer - so it would literally chase the actors on set.

Effects pre-visualisation took almost seven months to prepare and the effects are so complicated that every single thing that falls down on the screen has to be observed perfectly in the computer or the audience "will pick up on any little thing we get wrong", says visual effects supervisor Marc Weigert.   

A huge blue screen six hundred feet long and forty feet high was constructed to achieve the necessary dimensions needed to give the shots an epic scale.

"A building has to be cut apart into millions of little pieces, so then a physics-based simulation can be done on that building and shows how a building would crumble when the ground would move under it," says effects supervisor Volker Engel.

There was over a petabyte (1 million gigabytes) of information going to disk. So big were some of the destruction sequences, that a render farm consisting of 250 computers was set up to handle two of the major effects scenes - particularly the destruction of Vegas sequence.

2012 is released on the 12th of Novemember in Australia. For more information on the science behind 2012, be sure to read our latest article.



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