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A large-scale, big-screen production such as Universal Pictures' new and ambitious version of the 1932 classic, The Mummy, requires a vast amount of effects filming. This included state of the art visual effects, supervised by Industrial Light and Magic's John Berton, the live action creature effects under the supervision of Nick Dudman, and the special effects, supervised by Chris Corbould.


John Berton, ILM's visual effects supervisor on The Mummy, was given the daunting task of overseeing the film's numerous visual effects sequences-many which involved the Mummy itself.


Berton says, "We first had to figure out what the Mummy would be like and we knew we wanted him to be totally unique, we didn't want him to be just a guy in bandages. He had to be mean, tough, nasty, something that had never been seen by audiences before."


"It took us about three months to develop the look," Berton says. "This was before filming started because we had to plan the effects and, until we knew what the Mummy was, we couldn't plan how to make him real. All those things are very much intertwined and there's a certain kind of synthesis that goes on in terms of thinking how you would do it as opposed to thinking about how it will look."


From the very beginning, Berton felt that 'motion capture,' which is a construction of motion information, was the best way to go. While motion capture doesn't have the same expressiveness as animation, it does provide for a tremendous amount of realism.


Berton says, "In this case we tried to achieve realistic motion. We were not trying to make a magical Mummy, we were trying to make a menacing and very realistic Mummy, and human motion is incredibly difficult to do because we all know what it looks like. We all know exactly how a human being moves. And if it's not right, you are going to see it right away."


The best way to create the natural movements of the Mummy was through simple observation, one of the basic necessities of good animation. "Not only do we have all the witness cameras recording the 'Motion Capture'", Berton says. "But we also poured over all the other photography that was done on Arnold. We also did some specific photography of Arnold so that we understood what his gait was and other things about the way he moved and how that worked in three-dimensional space.


There were two techniques that were used to create the Mummy. In the Mummy's earlier stages he was completely synthetic. But when he begins to look more like Arnold, Berton used combinations of live action and computer graphics of Imhotep. They then had to match what were essentially digital prosthetic make-up pieces on to Arnold's face.


Berton says, "As Imhotep, Arnold obviously brings a tremendous amount of live action presence to the film. When you see his film image, that's him. When he turns his head and half of his face is missing and you can see right through on to his teeth, that's really his face. And that's why it was so hard to do."


Berton was persistent in stressing that he didn't want people to know how the effects were accomplished, as he considers it a failure when people are more concerned with the visual effects than they are with the film. The staff at ILM wanted to make sure that the work they did served the film and didn't really point to itself.


Corbould, whose work on the James Bond films has established him as one of the world's top special-effects artists, is very enthusiastic about the overall effects work on The Mummy.


Corbould says, "From a special effects point of view, The Mummy is quite a big picture. We've gone for quality on this film as opposed to quantity. I had to satisfy Stephen's vision and make it work for the ILM set-up, which was quite tricky at times."


"This film, which utilizes the very best of present day state-of-the-art technology, will be recognized around the world as the epitome of an effects movie," he claims. "When I first read Stephen's script, I was struck by the tremendous potential for creating sequences that had not before been seen in action-adventure movies."


Sommers says, "I always wanted the Mummy to be computer generated. Prosthetics, used properly, are great but you can't always rely on them. And I knew if I was going to make The Mummy in the 1990's it couldn't just be a guy wrapped in bandages. It had to blow people's socks off...so I knew straight away we had to go with modern computer technology."


As Make-Up Effects Supervisor, Nick Dudman was called upon to lend his considerable expertise to producing all the actual physical creature effects in The Mummy, which included three-dimensional make-up and prosthetics. A veteran of numerous George Lucas films, including Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, Dudman was also tasked with designing all the animatronic effects in the film.


Other key special effect sequences in The Mummy included the enormous fire aboard the passenger barge, both below and above decks; the fire and hail storm in the courtyard of the British Fort; the face of the Mummy in the desert sand; a barrage of explosions as thousands of Tuareg horsemen attack a garrison of Legionnaires in the Sahara Desert; and a crashed World War II plane sinking nose first into the desert sand.


Corbould adds, "The CGI (Computer Generated Images) element in The Mummy are pretty paramount. There were so many visual effects required by the story that would be impossible for us to achieve and ILM was creating things we couldn't create. Normally in a film, visual effects would be enhancing something that we were doing but in The Mummy we were enhancing their work."


"There were a number of smaller effects which presented more of a challenge. One example was the sand coming through keyholes as the Mummy materializes. When you read the script you think it's easy; just pour sand through the keyhole. But it doesn't work like that, especially when Steve wants a big volume of sand. We ended up pressurizing it.


However, all this meant that a considerable amount of work on the film would have to take place in post-production, which presented quite a challenge for the actors.


FFraser says, "Because of the amount of visual effects in the movie, there were many scenes where we found ourselves acting, or reacting, to nothing in front of us. In situations like that I guess you rely on the thing you're asked to call upon in the first place...your imagination."


When a scene called for the actors to show fear or terror in their reactions, the crew would hold up a photograph of how Arnold Vosloo looks as the Mummy, as a source of inspiration.


Weisz says, "It certainly improved my imagination because Stephen would suddenly say: 'Alright, in front of you is a huge chariot crashing down the stairs with 10,000 armed soldiers rushing straight at you.' But there was nothing there at all, so I had to create the correct emotion, fear or whatever, while just looking at a blank space."


To ascertain the safety of the actors, the special effects team worked closely with the stunt team, conducting numerous tests with stunt personnel before actually filming a sequence. And in the end, the production proceeded without any major bumps, resulting in a relatively smooth production for a project the size and scope of The Mummy.




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