Just add bats

On the 30th anniversary of ‘Cliffhanger’, a look at the, er, very efficient bat art direction for a particular scene.

Issue #4 of befores & afters magazine was a special issue with an in-depth feature on CG bird flocks, including early flocking tools developed by Craig Reynolds and Andy Kopra.

Kopra, in particular, capitalized on extensive digital bird simulations with the Boids software in several films he worked on at Video Image (later VIFX), one of which was Cliffhanger, celebrating its 30th anniversary today.

One particular scene in the film required the heroes to be in a cave, where they are suddenly confronted with scores of flying bats. See the clip, below.

For issue #4 of the magazine, Kopra had been relating to me how directors and visual effects supervisors had tried to describe how they want their CG birds or flying creatures to look. Well, on Cliffhanger, with director Renny Harlin, it was a different experience. Here’s what Kopra said:

Buy Me A Coffee

“When the work at VIFX was to begin, the studio sent the complete set of instructions for our portion of the visual effects. A few printed sheets listing the edge numbers of the film negative for each shot were stapled together, with a Post-it Note on top that said, simply, BAT SEQuenCE Add BATS.

The Post-it note in question.

Given such considerable leeway in design, I was concerned that several iterations would be required to determine what the visual effects supervisor had in mind. However, we met instead with the director, Renny Harlin, and during a few brief sessions he asked for changes — and accepted shots — with the utmost efficiency.

I don’t remember any of the shots requiring more than two takes after the original presentation. Harlin was working on another movie at the same time, so perhaps a heightened sense of ‘good enough’ made the project relatively painless (at least, for us).”

Read the full story in issue #4, which features an extensive history of CG bird simulations.

Need After Effects and other VFX plugins? Find them at Toolfarm.

Leave a Reply