For a recent episode of Smallville, I was asked to do some new looks for the exterior of the fortress of solitude for Entityfx (www.entityfx.com (http://www.entityfx.com)). According to the story, the fortress needed to have a dark, "dead" look, as it had been contaminated by some evil force. And then, at the end of the episode, the fortress is "healed" and it lights up brilliantly. Sorry for the spoiler.
Due to the fast turnaround, I decided on a 2 1/2 -D approach. The shots would be built and executed in 2-D, but utilize 3-D elements generated in Maya. The model had already been built for a previous episode, but since it's all made of refractive and reflective materials, the render time was prohibitive for our schedule.
The first step was designing the look and feel of the shot. I started by working on color thumbnail concept sketches, each with a different background and color palette. I presented a few of these, and they chose one.
Next, I took some stock photos which met the needs of the thumbnail and started to layer them in, working at 4k. Everything was layered in photoshop, so some parts of the image remained in sketch form, while each layer was one-by-one replaced by a photo-real equivalent.
I gave the fortress layer to Andrea Shear, who rendered out one frame of the 3-D model in Maya, with a neutral camera angle and flat lights. I painted over them in Photoshop to add more shadows and a bit more detail. In order to pull off a fake-parallax trick, we rendered it in slices, which were then re-assembled in After Effects as 3-D layers. When I placed the 3-D camera in After Effects and moved it around, you could see convincing internal parallax among the columns in the fortress with about a 20-degree rotation tolerance.
After locking the camera moves in AE, I gave the new render back to Andrea, who then generated a specular pass for the crystals by eyeballing the relative light source locations in my camera move and keyframing roving lights in Maya with a static camera. I was then able to layer her resulting 3-D render over mine additively and the moving highlights fit perfectly.
For the glowing effect, I had Andrea render an alternate, internally-lit, translucent set of slices for the fortress, as well as another with each column rendering as a flat-shaded gradient from white to black, with some randomization. Using the gradient as a matte, I was able to do a smooth transition from the dead crystals to the living ones using a luma-key.
For the last step, I applied mesh-warps to the surrounding snow to simulate a 3-D move on the ground plane. And the clouds, which I had painted over and separated into layers, were also mesh-warped to make them drift.
A quicktime movie of the final shot can be seen here: