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The Day After Tomorrow

Technical breakthrough

One of the biggest remaining challenges for digital f/x pros is volumetric rendering — the credible representation of such ill-defined, constantly changing things as giant ocean waves, huge tornadoes and bilious clouds.

So although Fox’s “The Day After Tomorrow” included only 400-plus digital f/x shots — a modest total for an action film these days — it’s copious inclusion of these weather phenomena made it a particularly difficult project to execute.

Few other films have required so much volumetric rendering. And so difficult was the task that with the production sked down to only six months worth of “tomorrows,” director Roland Emmerich had to bring in additional effects companies, including ILM, to finish the job.

Designing new rendering tools and creating fresh techniques, lead shop Digital Domain had become bogged down with the twisters that blew apart Los Angeles, the giant coastal tide that consumed Manhattan and the massive Russian freighter that sailed the Big Apple’s newly submerged streets.

All this volumetric rendering proved to be time-consuming. “On the clouds, your tracing how each ray of light bounces off every single molecule,” says Digital Domain f/x supervisor David Prescott. “And each one of the twisters in the movie casts a shadow.”

But the late rush didn’t diminish the impact of all this computer-generated weather phenomena, set against stunning big-city digital backdrops. All served to offset some basic facts about the film — or, rather, the lack of them.

Despite some pre-release political controversy, this pic’s sci-fi premise is ozone-thin, and it wasn’t performances that carried it to nearly $187 million in domestic B.O. In other words, it’s the all-digitally rendered flyover sequence at the beginning of the film that suspends the aud’s disbelief somewhere over Antarctica and doesn’t put it down until half the Earth is frozen over.

Last year, “The Lord of the Rings” juggernaut — and its strong character rendering –overshadowed palpable buzz surrounding the innovative volumetric rendering achievements by ILM on “Master & Commander.” If the weather is an issue with Academy voters again this year, “Day After Tomorrow” will have its day in the sun.

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