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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Tech Notes on the Ten Top-Grossing Movies of 2006

The Wall Street Journal ran a list today of the ten top-earning films of 2006, noting that four of the ten were computer-animated cartoons.

But even those that weren't computer-animated still incorporate a boatload of cutting-edge technology, whether it's visual effects shots or digital cinematography.

So here's an annotated list of the biggest box office hits of 2006. All the numbers come from Box Office Mojo, and you should note that these sums are grosses from the US theatrical release only -- not worldwide, and not home video.

Studio/Other Contributors
US Box Office (in Millions)
Tech Notes
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's ChestDisney/Buena Vista$423.3Movie contains 1100 visual effects shots, supervised by John Knoll of Industrial Light & Magic. Nominated for a visual effects Oscar and a Visual Effects Society award. (ILM site focusing on 'Pirates.' CG Society site.)
CarsDisney/Buena Vista/Pixar$244.1Scenes at the race tracks incorporate some of the biggest crowds in any CG animated movie. Neon lights and reflections, in the scene where the cars cruise down the main drag of a reinvigorated Radiator Flats, make for one of the movie's most complex sequences. Nominated for a Visual Effects Society award and "Best Animated Feature" Oscar. (Disney's production notes [PDF doc].)
X-Men: The Last StandFox$234.4 Sequence involving the re-routing of the Golden Gate Bridge to lead to Alcatraz combines miniatures, full-size sets, digital backgrounds, and plates shot on location. Visual effects companies working on the film included WETA Digital, Framestore CFC, Kleiser-Walczak, Hydraulics, and The Motion Picture Company. (Production notes.) (Digital Producer magazine article.) WETA Digital and Framestore CFC used software from Massive. (Press release.) Lola Visual Effects handles the "de-aging" of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. Nominated for a Visual Effects Society award.
Night at the MuseumFox$217.7Jim Rygiel of the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy serves as visual effects supervisor; Rhythm + Hues, Rainmaker, WETA Digital, Lola VFX and The Orphanage handle the drudgework. Pre-vis by Image Engine Design. Philly Inquirer says, "If the filmmakers had a script half as good as their special effects, 'Night at the Museum' would be a must-see." (Interview with Richard Hollander of Rhythm + Hues.)
The Da Vinci CodeSony$217.5 When filmmakers couldn't shoot inside Saint Sulpice, a famous church in Paris, Rainmaker built a digital set to emulate it. VFX work from Rainmaker, Double Negative, the Senate, and The Moving Picture Company. Nominated for a Visual Effects Society award. (Article on Saint Sulpice sequence. Autodesk interview with Double Negative.)
Superman ReturnsWarner Bros.$200.1Shot with Panavision's Genesis digital camera. Marlon Brando is returned to life as Jor-El, Superman's dad. Plus, a digital double of Superman, and CG water, cape, Boeing 777, and space shuttle. Sony Pictures Imageworks, The Orphanage, Photon, Framestore CFC, Pixel Liberation Front, Eden FX, Frantic Films, Rising Sun Pictures, and Rhythm + Hues produced about 1400 visual effects shots. Nominated for a visual effects Oscar and a Visual Effects Society award. (CinemaTech interview with cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel. IT News article. Studio Daily story. FXguide overview of who did what. Adobe case study.)
Ice Age: The MeltdownFox/Blue Sky Studios$195.3Sixty animators crank out the movie in just eight months. New technology for fur and water. (Animation World article.)
Happy FeetWarner Bros./Animal Logic$192.0Director George Miller builds a CG animation facility from scratch. Lead character, Mumbles, sports six million feathers. Dance sequences built upon motion capture data from expert tap-dancer Savion Glover. Nominated for "Best Animated Feature" Oscar. (Hollywood Reporter story.)
Casino RoyaleSony/MGM$165.4VFX supervisor Steven Begg oversees lots of wire-removal and rig-erasing during the action sequences. Movie expanded from 50 visual effects shots to 600. Nominated for a Visual Effects Society award. (Hollywood Reporter article. Framestore CFC explainer.)
Over the HedgeParamount/DreamWorks Animation$155.0According to Hewlett-Packard, movie required more than 15 million hours of rendering time. A single hedge contains 25 million leaves. (Seriously? Sounds a bit high.)