Wow, how did they do that?
Beth Porter finds out about Stargate's spectacular computer-generated i mages
Monday 16 January 1995
This plot provides a vehicle for the finest computer-generated effects to grace a cinema screen. This is not the only application of technology: the director was able to try out different camera angles before shooting a single frame thanks to computers that generated 3D storyboards setting out the film's sequences electronically. And to help earn back the studio's $50m (£32.8m) investment, a Stargate CD-Rom game will be released by Acclaim.
Only a few effects were achieved by physical means - notably a slobbering desert yak, consisting of a Clydesdale horse dressed in an electronically controlled contraption to increase its size and drooling ability. The most spectacular tricks were computer generated. The same morphing technology that turns a snail into a frog on a TV advert is used to reveal Ra's face beneath the forbidding headdress he uses to dominate his slaves in the desert city of Nagada. And the activation of the Stargate gave Mr Emmerich a chance to create a kind of self-illuminated spinning tunnel made of water that transforms itself into a rippling round doorway of vertical water.
To satisfy the expected public demand to know how such effects were achieved, the producers assigned Compton NewMedia to release a CD-rom called Secrets of Stargate, distributed in the UK via Gem for release within the next two months at £34.95. It claims to take you "behind the scenes" via test shots of effects and interviews with cast and production team. But it is more of an expensive promo for the movie.
So for some real how-did-they-do-that? secrets, I talked to Jeff Kleiser, co-founder of Kleiser-Walczak Construction Company, which, for a fee of $3m, was responsible for all the computer effects. "No one really knew what any of the effects were supposedto look like, so we got a chance to come in right at the beginning; we helped to design everything."
Mr Kleiser put a team of 15 on the set, with another 25 back at his company's offices. They wrote dedicated image-creation and compositing software, as well as using commercial digital packages such as Domino and Matador to create the Stargate itself. The same software was behind the morphing helmets worn by Ra and the Horus guards, the entire cityscape of Nagada, and the "clean-up" shots needed, at $50,000 a time, to erase footprints in the desert sands.
Mr Kleiser swears by a digital box-of-tricks called Wavefront. "You can hook on to it and write your own effects programs. To create the illusion of vertical water [on the Stargate] we had to make accurate reflections of the people as they approached, sowe set up a camera that looked up at the Stargate at a 45-degree angle. Then we shot with a second camera on the other side to get both points of view, which we then turned into the reflection paths."
Because the Stargate is a water plane, it had to ripple whenever anyone touched it. This presented Mr Kleiser with one of his greatest challenges.
"It all had to be digitised so the ripples would be accurate. Scanning lasers were lined up at the surface of the gate so when James Spader's face poked through, the image was captured. Then, using Matador [a digital matte program], we painted out the body and created mattes to obliterate the corresponding parts of the body that had gone through the gate. Then we repeated the process from the other side."
Matting is a method of cutting out images within any frame and replacing them with something else. These days it is done electronically, revolutionising the post-production process. When Mr Kleiser's computer-generated ripple mattes were digitally composited on to the live action of James Spader walking, he appeared to be passing through a gate of water.
The pastry-loving Mr Emmerich wanted Mr Kleiser to produce something spectacular when the gate is first activated but didn't know what. The closest he could come was that he wanted it to turn into a something with a swirling surface like a New York-stylestrudel. The result was the spinning water tunnel. To achieve it, Mr Kleiser set up an air cannon pointing down into a water tank and shot the burst of air that the cannon fired into the water. "Then we digitised the footage, turned it on its side and set it spinning. Roland was happy with his "strudel'!"
What a pity such dedication, enthusiasm and minute attention to detail was not invested in the script.
The writer is London editor of `The Film Journal', a US monthly.
Life & Style blogs
What marriage would look like if we actually followed the Bible
Overly-controlling parents cause their children lifelong psychological damage, says study
What do the emojis on Snapchat mean?
Star Wars BB-8 droid toy is real, should be impossible
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
- 1 President Obama leaves touching comment on Humans of New York photo from Iran
- 2 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 3 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 4 German police forced to ask public to stop bringing donations for refugees arriving by train
- 5 Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This children's clothing compan...
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading manufacturer...
£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This bespoke furniture and inte...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you get a buzz from thinking up new ideas a...