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Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Digital Inc.
When you’re a CIA agent on the run, speed is key. The principle was ably demonstrated by actress Angelina Jolie (as fugitive Evelyn Salt) in Sony Pictures’ summer espionage thriller Salt, directed by Phillip Noyce. Speed also played a key role in the creation of visual effects for the movie, which were executed, in part, by Moscow-based visual effects company Tikibot, who were charged with creating 120 visual effects shots for the feature, shot in New York and Russia.
Tikibot’s charter on Salt was to develop a wide range of ‘invisible’ effects — creating or enhancing blood trails and explosions, creation of computer generated (CG) buildings, set extensions and digital double work that integrate seamlessly into live action footage and look photorealistic. “Our work was designed not to stand out, but to keep the audience’s attention on the most important part of the movie — the story,” said Tikibot founder and VFX supervisor Kevin Jackson.
The trick with the ‘invisible’ effects in Salt is that they carried over many shots in a sequence. Tikibot needed to not only create high-quality effects, but also make sure that continuity was maintained when the effects were edited into full sequences provided by the production — all in a series of quick iterations within a tight timeline.
Tikibot found success by using a pipeline that included Adobe Premiere Pro Creative Suite 5 and NVIDIA Quadro professional graphics processing units (GPUs). Leveraging the NVIDIA CUDA™ parallel computing architecture, Premiere Pro CS5 provides real-time scrubbing, playback and editing of native high-resolution footage and effects.
Jackson and the Tikibot team incorporated a variety of node-based compositing software tools into their pipeline, including Autodesk Maya for 3D animation, Pixar’s RenderMan for rendering, and Adobe’s Premiere Pro for VFX editing and playback—all bolstered by the power of Quadro GPU acceleration.
“We’re primarily a PC based shop, with a pipeline designed for budget-minded productions,” said Jackson. “We had been using Final Cut, but when Adobe released CS5 with NVIDIA CUDA GPU acceleration of Premiere Pro we got really interested in moving to Premiere. Faster playback is important for VFX editing as we are constantly updating new versions to the edit and shifting timelines.”
CUDA-accelerated visual effects playback on the GPU helped Tikibot achieve the workflow efficiency they sought with Premiere Pro and the rest of their pipeline. In one scene where Salt attacks her comrades aboard a boat at night, the live action footage was a bit too dark, and the production needed some quick sketches of how the sequence could be improved. “We quickly color corrected the shot for white balance and brightened the image some. We added CG explosions, fire, smoke and gunshots. The CUDA acceleration was helpful in making quick keys in 1080p and placing one large explosion with debris behind Salt, adding some quick lighting effects, and a small digital zoom to see how it would work before going into full fluid simulation and roto,” Jackson said.
NVIDIA GPU hardware acceleration of Adobe Flash also gave Tikibot a boost during reviews, as their Flash-based collaboration tool, Studiopass, helped them view 1080p and higher resolutions while maintaining high image quality and frame rate.
“Moving from Final Cut to Premiere Pro was smooth, with minimal learning curve, and the CUDA acceleration made quick effects and smooth video playback a snap. Final render of movie files was a simple process and very quick. Overall, Premiere Pro CS5 and NVIDIA’s CUDA proved to be a winning combination and a perfect fit into our pipeline. It delivers the best bang for the buck.”
Tikibot is currently deep into production on its next CUDA-charged Premiere Pro projects, a two-film FIFA World Cup feature project directed by Rupert Wainwright, and another collaboration with Angelina Jolie, this time in her directorial debut on a Bosnian war love story currently in production. Said Jackson, “We are really impressed with the successful Premiere pipeline we used to create effects for ‘Salt,’ and look forward to any new GPU-accelerated technologies that Adobe and NVIDIA may deliver in the future.”