Visual Effects Supervisor: Michael Fink
Digital Effects Supervisor: Guy Williams
Visual Effects Producer: Lauren Ritchie

After contributing effects for the 1996 action flick ERASER, the upstart effects house Warner Digital Studios (WDS) dove head first into the realm of digital effects, offering MARS ATTACKS! 150 shots. All of the Martian craft descending upon earth would be created by WDS, and their work is stupendous.

Hundreds of Martian spacecraft head toward earth in the film's fantastic
opening title sequence. The stylized saucers and planet are very
attractive onscreen, and the CG animation of the saucers is fantastic.

The saucers rise from the Martian landscape
in an early shot from the film.

The saucers approach earth concluding the
incredible opening sequence.

The film was originally planned by Burton as a stop-motion extravaganza, with stop-motion craft and Martians composited into live action background plates. WDS was approached with the daunting task of creating a digital headgear for the stop-motion aliens. Although test composites were very successful, the Martians would eventually be created as computer generated imagery by ILM. Warner went on to handle the Martian aircraft shots.

Paying homage to such films as WAR OF THE WORLDS and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, the martian aircraft design was quite simple. WDS and director Burton decided upon 200 foot wide flying saucers, with counter-rotating tops and bottoms. WDS would create computer generated saucers for use in the majority of shots, while three models of varying sizes were created for destruction scenes near the end of the film.

The opening titles are presented over WDS's fantastic 5000 frame sequence. A lone martian aircraft zooms from the earth's atmosphere, zips past the camera and heads towards the red planet, Mars. (Artistic license was granted as the ship makes the trip in record time!) Because of the smooth, featureless nature of the ships, the WDS created fantastic texture maps for the saucers, in an attempt to convey the proper sense of scale. Scale was very important for later scenes where saucers interact with various landmarks, such as the Washington monument and the Capitol building.

One of WDS's CG saucers approaches the Capitol
building in Washington D.C.

In this fantastic shot, the saucer begins its
landing sequence in front of the U.S military.

The slight wobbling of the legs of the ship added a lot of realism to the saucer's
landing cycle. The CG ship held up to scrutiny in these large, uninterrupted
shots. The CG lighting and textures presented appropriate scale for the ships.

A saucer attacks a group of boy scouts in this hilarious scene from the film.

Swarms of saucers appear from the Martian landscape and rise from Mars' surface. WDS composited a miniature landscape created by Acme models with CG saucers. The saucer's animation paths are smooth and realistic, with just the right amount of wobble in their movement. The sequence goes on as formations of hundreds of saucers leave Mars and head toward earth. The sequence is awe-inspiring--the camera angles and movements are very original and lent to the dynamic nature of the scene. My favorite shot of the sequence is the above angle shot of the saucers moving from the bottom of the screen to the top.

Compositing the saucers into the live-action plates is seamless and invisible. Reflections, camera shake, shadows and other visual cues were added to convincingly integrate the ships into the frame.

WDS also created several other elements to the destruction sequences, most notably the Easter Island sequence, where a flying saucer grabs a huge boulder and uses it to bowl over statue heads. Unlike the INDEPENDENCE DAY effects teams, the MARS ATTACKS! crews went for the comedy in each scene, while still retaining an ounce of realism and belivability. This can be seen in the Easter Island shot, since the animation of the statues and boulder is quite comical, but did not look like a cheesy, shoddy special effect. The comedy came from the idea of the shot--not the means of presentation.

Another sequenced contributed by WDS was the giant Martian robot that wreaks havoc in a nighttime scene at a trailer park. The CG model of the robot was modeled and animated with grace and style; the craters and debris created by the robot's feet was right on and lent to the realism of the scene. Lighting of the CG robot was very difficult, since the scene took place at night. The plates were shot in daylight, and were appropriately darkened. The composites of the CG robots were very crisp, even during shaky, POV shots. The incredible sequence ends with the robot running into powerlines and crashing to the ground.

The CG robot monster is composited into the live action, daylight-shot
background plate. Notice the effective and realistic reflections on the robot.

MARS ATTACKS! is a remarkable achievement for the start-up crew of WDS. Their first big effects attempt is extremely successful--expectations will be very high for their next big project.

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