“The Haunted Mansion” by Minkoff

  • ©Rob Minkoff  Sony Pictures Imageworks



    The Haunted Mansion




Company / Institution / Agency:

  • Sony Pictures Imageworks


    Seamlessly combining practical and digital effects, Imageworks artists conjured up nearly “999” ghostly effects for the film. A combi- nation of SteadiCam, real-time motion control and bluescreen photog- raphy was used in shooting the “ghosts.” For the cemetery sequence, the team used a 360-degree bluescreen stage and composited 60+ separate blue-screen passes together for the final shot.

    When ghosts are seen interacting with other ghosts and humans, to preserve transparency, the team used 3D roto processes. To achieve an ethereal, yet energetic look, costumers painted microscopic glass beads known as Scotchlite on each ghost’s costume, causing light to reflect right back to its source. With a special light mounted on the motion-control camera, these beads would light up and sparkle. With this unique photographic technique in place, the semi-transparent ghostly look was achieved digitally by using proprietary tracking soft- ware combined with optical-flow software to track movement of selected points from frame to frame. On top of this, plasma, ener- getic and ethereal effects were achieved through design of custom particle tools and shaders. All in, each ghost had over eight effects layers combined with 2D filtering and image processing.

    For Madame Leota, Jennifer Tilly was shot with elaborate motion control photography separate from each set and actor. A full CG version of her head was created for scenes when Eddie Murphy is shown carrying the crystal ball. Digital makeup was applied to give her a glowing and luminescent skin. 3D sets were used for the spinning Seance Room sequence and particle “miniature storm” effects were created for inside the ball.

    For the Singing Busts, unique animation controls were built and a faux “stop-motion” style was developed to achieve a “moving stone” look, along with the use of SSL (sub-surface-scattering) shaders to make the ancient marble busts seamlessly integrate with the back- ground photography. Imageworks’ proprietary Bonsai compositing software was used for over 300 shots for the film.


    SOFTWARE DEVELOPER: Modeling: Maya 4.5, Houdini, RenderMan, Bonsai, Inferno, tons of custom code, fire and smoke effects are all proprietary code written to handle millions of particles. Animation: Maya 4.5, Houdini, RenderMan (yes, RenderMan for animated particles!) Rendering: RenderMan, Maya Renderer, custom DSOs, shaders, plug-ins, Photoshop for matte-paintings. Dynamics: Maya 4.5, Houdini, TONS of custom code for fire, plasma, smoke effects, proprietary dynamics tools. Compositing: Bonsai, Matador, Photoshop, Combustion, Inferno. Additional software: Imageworks frame rendering and management software, tons of custom code for organic effects. Custom software: custom shaders, particle systems, and animation controls. Maya, Houdini, and RenderMan function as front ends to our proprietary code. OS: Linux, Unix, Irix, Mac OS X, Windows NT/XP.

Additional Contributors:

    Visual Effects Supervisor: Jay Redd
    Visual Effects Producer: Jacquie Barnbrook
    Digital Effects Supervisor: Pete Travers
    Effects Lead: David Stephens
    Lighting Lead: Jim McLean
    Visual Effects Executive Producer: Jenny Fulle
    Animation Supervisor: Troy Saliba
    Computer Graphics Supervisor: Darren Lurie
    Compositing Lead: Bob Peitzman
    Shader Lead: Brian Steiner

Additional Information:

    Modeling: NURBS. 2D and 3D rotoscoping used extensively. Rendering technique used most: RenderMan with custom shaders and heavy use of SSL (sub-surface-scattering) algorithms. Average CPU time for rendering per frame: two seconds to six hours, depending on imagery. Total production time: approximately 400 days, from preproduction to final release print. Production highlight: Unique collaboration among Visual Effects Supervisor (Jay Redd), Costume Designer (Mona May), Director of Photography (Remi Adefarasin), and makeup effects designer (Rick Baker) resulted in the first-time use on film of highly reflective microscopic mirrors, mixed into paint, and applied to costumes. With special lighting, these tiny mirrors created an image basis used for the organic plasma effects of the ghosts in the film.

Animation / Video Overview: