Stoner comedy fans have a new reason to celebrate this holiday season, with the release of the first major 3D feature in the genre, "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas." For his directorial debut, Todd Strauss-Schulson looked to visual effects company Ingenuity Engine to help him create self-aware 3D gags and over-the-top visuals that deliver the kind of high art fans of the genre hunger for.
Working with production VFX Supervisor David Goldberg, Ingenuity Engine VFX Supervisors David Lebensfeld and Grant Miller created 125 visual effects shots that take Harold and Kumar across New York City to find a Christmas tree, stumbling into trouble (and Neil Patrick Harris!) at every turn. The effects encompass everything from a 100% computer generated (CG) flaming Christmas tree exploding out of a window to 3D egg throwing and Nativity scene gags, CG robot drumline dance numbers and more.
While Ingenuity Engine had plenty of VFX experience through its years of commercial, music video and TV series work, "Harold & Kumar" marked the company's first major studio feature, and its first stereo 3D project. Since camera metadata was not recorded on set, Miller and Lebensfeld developed a tool to preview the stereo depth of visual effects shots using proxy geometry in the Foundry's Nuke compositor. Using NVIDIA's 3D Vision for stereo review on their existing Quadro-equipped workstations, this methodology allowed artists to accurately match the depth in the live action plates in an interactive preview. The stereo camera and geometry were then transferred from Nuke to Autodesk 3ds Max animation software for final rendering.
The shot of the Christmas tree catching fire, which kicks off Harold & Kumar's quest, was particularly challenging. "Initially they were going to shoot a real tree on a stage, but by doing it all CG we saved the filmmakers a 2-day shoot, fire permits and tens of thousands of dollars," said Lebensfeld.
The following shot of the flaming tree exploding through a window (featured in the movie's trailer) was originally shot live, but then re-created in 100% CG to enable it to 'hang' in the air for a different look. Using their stereo preview tools, Ingenuity Engine artists initially created the scene in Nuke, matching the live action depth and post-vizing the animation. Artists then transferred the scene to 3ds Max where they created an entirely CG tree, shattering glass and sparks. The explosive effect was topped off with CG fire created in FumeFX.
"Being able to review proper full-color stereo on our artist workstations here was huge," said Miller. "We were able to create the 3D shots with fewer rounds of notes and review depth in real time with the director."
"Because we use small teams of multi-disciplined artists, we're nimble and able to adopt new methodologies and implement new software really quickly," Lebensfeld added. "Our approach has always been to work smart and fast, and focus on really helping the production. Operational flexibility is key."