In the Spring of 2016, just a few months before ‘Star Trek Beyond’ was due to be released, production company Bad Robot made a brave and ambitious decision; together with Paramount and Skydance, they agreed a deal with digital cinema leader Barco to release the film in the brand new Barco Escape multi-screen cinema format. And they turned to Prime Focus to help deliver the extra footage required for this immersive, ultra wide-screen experience.
“Throughout the history of our company we have always been passionate about exploring exciting new technologies,” said Prime Focus Founder and Global CEO Namit Malhotra. “Barco Escape is a compelling opportunity for filmmakers to paint on a broader canvas and for audiences to experience films on a grander scale, and this was an opportunity that we were not going to pass up, irrespective of the challenges that lay ahead.”
Talking about the Barco Escape version of ‘Star Trek Beyond’, Bad Robot Producer and Head of Post Production & Visual Effects Ben Rosenblatt said: “Everyone on our side has been more and more excited about it. I think this is an exciting next step for the format. We’re very interested in emerging technologies and new formats that offer innovation in the theatrical experience.”
The Barco Escape format utilizes three cinema projectors and two additional Cinemascope screens to present audiences with a much wider field of view, enhancing the cinema-going experience and bringing audiences inside the action like never before. As one of the first to create content for this exciting new presentation format, the Prime Focus team of 120 dedicated artists worked closely with their colleagues at Double Negative (Dneg), the main VFX partner on ‘Star Trek Beyond’, to create brand new visuals to expand and enhance the action playing on the main screen.
Leading the project for Prime Focus was Co-Founder and Chief Creative Director Merzin Tavaria.
“The movie was in post production and the VFX work was already underway when Prime Focus came on-board to tackle the Barco Escape content,” said Merzin Tavaria. “We took on some of the main action sequences – mainly 100% CG shots that Dneg were already working on – and began the process of expanding the action into the left and right screens.”
The first challenge faced by the Prime Focus team was that it was still early in the VFX process, and the sequences were still taking shape. As on most big VFX shows, final delivery of the VFX shots was going to run right up to the wire, and there were some seriously complicated shots that the Dneg team were taking on.
Starting with work-in-progress sequences, the Prime Focus team began to create the left and right screen content based on the latest available versions of Dneg’s shots, tracking the progress and director’s notes on the centre screen content and applying the changes to the left and right screens as new versions became available.
“We had a certain amount of creative freedom to develop the content for the left and right screens, taking cues from the action on the centre screen,” explained Merzin. “Most of the shots already had an environment that extended left and right from the main screen to some extent, and we would extend or recreate this to fill the entire field of vision. Then creative decisions had to be taken – for example, if the Enterprise was coming in from the right screen and filling the centre screen, we would need to recreate the CG for the extended scene, and may need to light it differently, or add additional destruction elements. There were a lot of considerations.”
That Prime Focus was able to tackle this challenge in such a short space of time was to some extent due to its close working relationship with group company Double Negative. Prime Focus shared Dneg’s VFX assets, elements and pipeline for the project, allowing the creation of 100% CG scenes that matched the exacting quality that Dneg was creating for the centre screen.
The creative challenge was one aspect of the project that needed to be tackled; another was the technical challenge of creating visuals for this brand new format. Prime Focus spent most of May 2016 in R&D, working out the best approach to creating the action for the side screens so that it matched seamlessly with the centre screen.
“Essentially we were creating one huge 6K image across a 270 degree field of view,” said Merzin. “We realised early on that the scenes that we would be extending were already impressively wide shots on the single centre screen, with focal lengths of around 100mm. If we’d applied similar focal lengths to the left and right cameras, we’d have been looking behind ourselves! We had to come up with intelligent and creative ways of using the extra screen space.”
There was also the logistical challenge of sharing and transferring hundreds of terabytes of data between the various facilities working on the film. Although 100% of the Barco Escape work was completed at the flagship Prime Focus facility in Mumbai, Dneg was working on the VFX for the show in London and Vancouver, with support from its new Mumbai facility.
“The fact that the Dneg VFX pipeline had already been rolled out to the Dneg Mumbai facility was of crucial importance to the successful delivery of this project in the timeline available,” continued Merzin. “We were able to work within the Dneg pipeline and share the VFX assets and elements that were being used for the main VFX sequences. Perhaps the biggest hurdle was the sheer amount of data that we needed to move around - the fact that we were able to do this so efficiently is one of our key strengths as an integrated global organization.”
If the Prime Focus team needed any further encouragement on this project, it came when they started to see the visuals building across the three screens.
“Seeing the effect that our work was having when projected across the three screens was incredible, and became the driving force for the team to create better and better scenes, with more and more detail,” concluded Merzin. “‘Star Trek Beyond’ looks incredible in this format, and we look forward to creating stunning visuals for more projects in the Barco Escape format very soon!”
Commenting on the release of ‘Star Trek Beyond’, CEO of Barco Escape, Todd Hoddick, said: “We are honored to have J.J. Abrams and the incredibly talented teams at Bad Robot and Prime Focus as partners on this project, and we look forward to sharing the power of this experience with audiences around the world, and to creating more unforgettable cinematic moments for big, bold stories like ‘Star Trek Beyond.'”
RELEASE: July 22, 2016 (US & UK)
Director: Justin Lin
Studios / Distributors: Bad Robot / Paramount Pictures
VFX Executive Producer: Merzin Tavaria
VFX Supervisor: Michael Grobe
VFX Producer: Daniel Lombardo
VFX Sequence Supervisors: Gregor Lakner, Rif Daghner, Giuseppe Motta
Compositing Supervisor: Bharat Raj De
Lighting Supervisor: Sushant Acharekar
FX Supervisor: Manoj Barhate
Asset Supervisor: Madhu Nair
Senior Production Manager: Amit Jhamb
Digital Production Manager: Nelson D’Sousa
Pipeline Leads: Llewellyn Fernandez, Dheeraj Bhadani
Production Coordinators: Yogita Narsian, Chiranjeev Thakur
Animation Leads: Animesh Maity, Rahul Bochare, Ramchandra Birje
Compositing Leads: Hash Mavi, Wasim Ali, Oniel Fernandes
Lighting Leads: Ashutosh Kushe, Akshay Vichare, Rohit Lad