Amazing!

Feature film

the NBA meets a powerful game AI

VFX Supervisor

the Premise

To produce an immense number of shots with a limited budget.

Production

This film had everything; love, action, sci-fi, basketball and lots of pretty people. Working with the stars Huang Xiaoming, Cai Jie, Huang Yi, Stephen Fung and Amber Kuo was great. But our real excitement came from practicing some virtual basketball with Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Scottie Pippen! Big American Films did previs for some of the films effects, while most of the actual shots were done at Base fx and 37 Digital.

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This was probably the most odd story I've ever worked on; basically what would happen if the designer of a popular basketball game got romantically involved with the games AI.

The designs for the AI/cyber world were incredible, as were the stylistic interpretations of characters and situations. The director had never done anything like this, but was a big NBA fan and so had managed to convince the NBA in China to get involved. This was a dream for me. For example we shot Carmelo for reference and I got to 'pretend' to be blocking him as he shot. What a trip.

I had gone down the road with Basefx in Beijing and locally with 37 digital to work out the myriad of shots to take place in the cyber world. There were 3 main cyber locations, but only existed in concept form. All the techniques were worked out, which would be primarily motion capture for all the actors. work was progressing on the game basketball courts themselves and the characters were looking great.

The budget didn't match the lofty goals of the film. Compounded to that was some cash flow issues and a fear the director had of the cg not showing emotion. So I had to take a lot of shortcuts. Doing accurate facial at the time was still very technical and expensive for believable results, and to avoid the uncanny valley. Therefore the director chose to shoot the main actors on green screen in addition to their cg versions playing basketball. I was put in the uncomfortable position of having to find "some effect" we could add in post to make the live actors look appropriately cyber. We did some experiments but nothing that worked very well. Perhaps if we'd had more time in post we could have found a way, but it had to be done low budget on a flame system.

When we started the shoot prep I worked with wardrobe (her first time on a film) and the one rule I told her was to not put anything reflective into the costumes if possible. I was shown the costumes the day before the green screen shooting and the costumes for the principals were almost entirely silver. I had them dull them down with spray but it was too late to change the material at that point.

All in all it was quite a wild experience.

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