Union Scale New Heights on Everest
At 8,849 meters, Mount Everest is the tallest and most famous mountain on the planet. It is one of the most challenging for precisely this reason. The altitude imposes all kinds of challenges and the extreme cold is just as dangerous. Filming in this hostile environment would also prove challenging.
Production filmed on location in Nepal as well as in the Italian Alps and Iceland. In addition, greenscreen and backlot shoots took place in Rome and Pinewood Studios in the U.K in order to create sequences that would be impossible to shoot for real.
It was the job of VFX supervisor Dadi Einarsson to bring together the film’s sequences ensuring the VFX were invisible and believable.
Union created mountain environments using a combination of Maya for geometry and lighting and ZBrush for sculpting; Nuke for projections and compositing and Houdini for snow and rock simulations. The high resolution textures from Everest were supplied to us from RVX along with basic geo of the mountain range. Additional live action footage shot on RED, Alexa and DSLR from the helicopters as they flew from basecamp to camp 1 and above also proved invaluable when re-creating the most recognizable mountain region in the world.
Some of the most challenging shots Union worked on were moments where the helicopter comes in to land at camp. The plates were shot at the Dolomites and had actual landing moments with tonnes of drift snow swirling around the helicopter obscuring the backgrounds that needed to be replaced with a CG Everest. The team had to simulate spinning snow in Houdini as close as possible to the original photography in order to blend it in seamlessly. There was, understandably, a lot of snow ranging from large scale spin drift and blizzard moments down to subtle flurries and snow kicking up over rocks to bring life to the CG environments.
VFX Supervisor and Co-Founder of Union, Adam Gascoyne commented: “There is a very fine balance that needs to be achieved to seamlessly blend into original photography, yet retain enough of the new environments behind the snow to tell the story. In addition, the movement in the real snow in the plates took a lot of time to match. To create depth we needed to meticulously rotoscope objects and character from front to back separately so that we could have haze levels adjusted independently as well as snow falling between.”