"For the human 'pyramids,' we used a combination of different techniques. There was one scene where a bus is turned over by a massive army of zombies, so we used things like ramps with stunt performers coming over them. For the pyramids, we would start off by defining the general shape of it and then add different clips to it based on the inclination of the pyramid."
"We were constantly talking about things like our zombies being really fast, but you don't want to push it"
Despite the often frenzied movement of their digital zombies, Norman insists they still had to obey the basic laws of physics. "We were constantly talking about things like our zombies being really fast, but you don't want to push it. If we had some super-fast performances you just wouldn't believe it; the same with some of our large-scale crowd shots. Some of those pyramids had 5,000 zombies in them, so we had to rely on our crowd system - which worked really well - and pick our moments to make something you could believe.
"In order to make sure general physics applied, we had to make sure that the various characters were motion-captured at the angle the pyramid was at. And then we used things like Dynamic Solver, or as soon as somebody fell, you used Gravity or Rag Doll and all of that."
Re-drawing the Map
In addition to their work with digital zombies, the MPC team had a number of different responsibilities, from a sequence aboard a zombie-infested airplane in which the fuselage is blown open, disgorging most of its passengers, to several shots for the epilogue that take place from Egypt to India.
In other instances, existing locations had to be digitally transformed into other environments, such as turning Malta into Israel. "One of main scenes is set in the entrance where the buses come in, having travelled into the safe area of Jerusalem," Norman relates. "We had to replace the water in the real world outside with flat land, as well as buildings that were half-torn down and weathered, so we had to mix that in, adding more walls to a lot of shots.
"And at the end of the sequence where we look back and see Jerusalem, we used a combination of aerial plates we shot in Malta of smaller buildings and little villages. To sell the fact that it was really Jerusalem, we also used a lot of stills taken - rather handily - by one of our comp leads, a camera fanatic who was in Jerusalem on holiday. It was the perfect combination."
Looking Back on the Apocalypse
With the Moving Picture Company's work on World War Z
finally completed, it seems a good time to ask Norman what lessons, if any, the shop will be able to take on to future projects.
"That's a difficult question to answer," she muses, "especially today where we've only just delivered, touch wood, our final shots. I think you sometimes need a bit of distance, especially when you've been working on something for such a long time. Because you've got so many 'babies', or zombies in this case, it's hard to decide what your favourites are.
"I think we learned a lot about the process of working between departments, using Alice our crowd tool as one of the things that brought everything together, and how well it worked. That was something I really enjoyed. I think some of those processes will be valuable, as we continue improving the tools we will be using in the future."
World War Z: Original Website
World War Z: Official Trailer
Jessica Norman: IMDB
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