Shark tales: Blackmagic Design on Bait 3D

This article originally appeared in IF Magazine #149 (October-November 2012.)
Bait will be released on DVD and Blue-ray on January 16, 2013.

Filmmaking is all about compromise: budgets, time, and a hundred different varieties of creative differences loom as potential obstacles. Murky water is rarely on the list but, for the team behind shark-thriller Bait 3D, it upended their original plan to use a mix of model sharks and CGI-generated man-eaters.

“We didn’t get clarity of water on most of the stuff we shot with the real shark,” Blackmagic Design Films executive producer Ian Maycock says. “So therefore, instead of being what was hoped to be a half-half balance between the CGI and model sharks, ended up being a majority CGI and a couple of shots of the swimming shark.”

The film, shot at the Village Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast, follows a group of tsunami survivors who are trapped in a flooded underground supermarket where they find themselves being hunted by great white sharks.

The remote controlled 10-foot model shark worked well while a model shark head proved realistic. “The head got a fair bit of work, breaching of water and that sort of stuff, which gave us some good reaction but any of the underwater and swimming stuff really became CGI,” Maycock says.

“The shark itself is not that much of a bother as far as CGI goes – the texturing and the lighting is the most important to make it fit in with its surroundings – and we had to build some background plates to go with that out-of-shot material. But obviously the interaction with the water is the key to success. There’s a lot of time spent with particle animation and liquids to get the breaching right. There’s more work around the shark than the shark itself.”

Important details included creating multiple particle runs attached to the flip of a tail or maintaining the realism even when the shark jumped completely out of the water to attack or – in one case – bite a victim in half.

The action during the film is split between two water-logged levels: a car park and a supermarket, prompting Blackmagic Design to give the different sharks individual identities.

“It is very hard with a shark because a shark is a cold creature – it doesn’t sort of smile at you and wink or whatever else – but we did try as much as possible to give it an angry feel every now and then to try and build into it some more character.”

The company also completed a range of other visual effects work including the 3D animated credits at the beginning of the film and the tsunami which ravages the coastline.

The production proved a major challenge for Blackmagic Design, better known as a software and technology company. The Singapore-Australian co-production was the first feature film it has co-produced, and the company mainly relied on Autodesk’s 3D-animation software Maya for the VFX (but also used a wide variety of software – see Tech Specs below).

Maycock says the extra CGI work added to the film’s budget: BMD ultimately outsourced about 80 of the 480 total VFX shots in total to Method Studios (then operating as Postmodern Sydney).

Ultimately, despite building up its post-production and visual effects capability during production, it decided to sell the division and assets to Singapore-based VHQ Media in March.

“The focus for Blackmagic Design was to continue on with more software, hardware and manufacturing development,” Maycock says, noting that the company is however, continuing its involvement in film production.

Its next co-production (this time with a European partner) is the $16 million contemporary Southeast Asia-set international thriller Pharmacide, which explores the world of counterfeit medicines.

Bait 3D was released in cinemas by Paramount Pictures on September 20.

Tech Specs
• Grading and 3D imagery: DaVinci Resolve
• Edit: Avid
• Main CG platform: Maya
• Water simulations: Real Flow with additional Maya particle effects
• Blood: 3D Studio Max using Krakatoa and FumeFX
• Compositing: Nuke using ocular stereo plugin
• Smoke for compositing and paint
• Matte paintings Photoshop, After Effects and Maya
• 3D textures were created in Mudbox
• Render management: Royal Render
• Project management: Effigy written by Mike Parsons, Blackmagic Design’s VFX supervisor
• Retiming of shots was done in Nuke oflow and Twixtor
• To work with director Kimble Rendall in Australia and Blackmagic Design in Singapore, the company used cineSync combined with Skype