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Filmmaking in the fourth dimension

26 October 2011

If you thought that 3d was the next big thing, think again. Apparently 4d is now where it’s at. Tim Dams on the making of a 4d film that comes with its own smell, rain and snow

Blackpool’s legendary Tower reopened this autumn after a 10 month restoration programme, part of a £20m regeneration of the holiday resort.

Key to this revamp is a new 4d experience film shown to visitors ahead of their ascent to the top of the tower. A 4d film? Well, it’s essentially a 3d film shown in a specially constructed cinema that allows physical effects such as snow, rain, smells and a vibrating floor.

The film, made by Sharp Cookies, was commissioned by Merlin Entertainments Group, owner of the Blackpool Tower as well as Tussauds, Sea Life, Alton Towers and The London Eye.

Sharp Cookies’ film tell the story of the Tower and showcases Blackpool itself. It centres on a young boy obsessed with flying, allowing the filmmakers to make the most of the panoramic views from the tower.

Even before production began, though, the team hit a major challenge. All the main locations were being renovated, making them unfilmable. Director Michael Hall recalls: “The tower was covered in scaffolding, the promenade was being re-modelled and the tram lines dug up.” So all external shots of the Tower, promenade and illuminations had to be created digitally. Many of the shots were created in a green-screen environment at Black Island Studios in London. These were complemented by internal shots filmed in Blackpool, including scenes in the Tower Ball Room and Tower Circus as well as aerial sequences featuring the landscape around the Tower.

All this, of course, had to be done in 3d. David Cox, the project’s stereographer and post production supervisor, says: “3d can be used subtly to allow the audience a window onto another world, or it can be used more immersively by directly involving them in the action. Generally, a drama feature film would use the former, but an experience film such as this needs to be more engaging from a 3d perspective.”

The shooting kit consisted of a pair of RED MX cameras, an Element Technica 3d rig, a playback and data handling station as well as suitable 3D test and viewing monitors, all supplied by On Sight.

Two sets were built in the green screen studio, including a full-scale section of the Blackpool tower. By using both the live action from this set and cgi elements, a sequence depicting how the tower was built was created, featuring workers building the tower with hand tools and hot rivets. A game of beach-ball was also filmed in the green screen studio, and later set against the Blackpool beach. Also a donkey was filmed and placed in a similar location, the donkey being a key trigger for one of the 4d effects – smell. In all, the green screen element of the shoot took seven days.

Then, the unit transferred to Blackpool for two days of filming. The final element was to shoot the aerial sequences, which were filmed in 3d with a stereo rig attached to a helicopter. While the editing was underway, so too was the creation of the cgi elements by Splitt Ltd. Key shots included the essential opening sequence, which starts with a straight down view of the tower so that the top of the tower provides a big 3d hit by appearing to stand out of the screen. Immediately after, the camera follows a seagull as it drops vertically down the side of the tower, across the promenade just missing a tram and then out to sea. This entire sequence including the bird, sea, tram, promenade and people on it were all generated in cg by Splitt.

Once the edit began to take shape, Cox began completing the special effects work on the shots. Post production included green screen composites, set extensions, ageing of material, colour grading, sky replacements and graphic design. All of this was done in a single Mistika suite over about six weeks.

About a week before the public opening, the final pictures and 7.1 surround sound mix were handed over to Austrian company Kraftwerk, who were responsible for installing the 4d effects, including snow, smoke, wind, rain, aroma, vibration and lights.

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Stuart  | May 4, 2012
And the result is amazing!!

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