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IBC2016: The cloud and Robert Zemeckis

During his masterclass on Robert Zemeckis’ most recent feature film The Walk on Saturday, special effects supervisor and Atomic Fiction CEO Kevin Baillie gave a detailed account of the virtual production technology used to recreate New York in 1974 and the Twin Towers, which famously were at each end of French artist Philippe Petit’s iconic high wire walk.

Among the tools used, Baillie described Cloud Conductor, an in-house developed technology enabling VR rendering in the cloud, which Atomic Fiction plans to release to the public in late September.

“Actual rendering needs are super duper spikey: you will use lots at some points then less when people go on holiday and spike massively towards the end of production, so it really makes sense to use the cloud,” he said.

Atomic Fiction had a 31 million budget for The Walk, which Baillie said “is what other movies spend on special effects alone”. He acknowledged however that using such a tool, while cost-efficient, was complicated: “It takes many types of software and techniques that digital effects are not familiar with, so we needed to figure out what textures and models were required and we uploaded all that to the cloud securely. It allowed us to control those renders and then automatically download the results back to people’s desktops.”

Baillie also showed an interview he made especially for IBC with Robert Zemeckis, where the director described his way of working, “of blending truth and spectacle”. He always produces a ‘previz’ before the actual script “so that everyone can understand what the director has in mind”, a way of “writing in images.”