How do our historic properties get to the big screen? We spoke to 3D spatial data specialist Louise Brand, who captured Sutton Scarsdale Hall (near Bolsover Castle) in Derbyshire for its role as Wayne Manor in 2016’s Batman vs Superman.
What is your role in the special effects business?
Louise: My company, 4DMax, primarily does data capture for visual effects on movies. I do sets, props and locations, characters – basically anything where there’s a need for geometry and accurate measurements. It’s for making digital versions of things that exist in the film which need to be put into the visual effects pipeline.
How do you do that?
L: I have a whole suite of technologies to enable me to do it. There’s three main parts to the process – the first is the Lidar scanner, which is what we used on Batman vs Superman. It’s a laser-based scanner which captures, I think, 50,000 points per second – all accurate to plus or minus 3 millimetres, so we get a very good accurate version of the structure.
I also have two other technologies – one is a measuring arm scanner which allows us to capture highly accurate props, usually smallish objects which then get very fine detail.
And the other one is for capturing geometry for people, creating digital doubles and that is a photogrammetry based system. So we’d have a 166 cameras in an array (we call it a rig) and we capture people from that to create highly accurate textured, versions of people.
What’s it like when you’re at a site?
L: I use a fixed scanner that sits on a tripod and collects geometry on everything that it can see from that point. So, if we were to just do one single scan, then you would be missing an awful lot. As you walk around the building as a visitor, you can see lots of things from different angles, so we basically do the same.
We move our scanner to various points throughout the building to make sure that it can see everything, everything that it can see that we then can collect geometry on it. So, I could be standing in lots of different positions, both high and low, but all from a traditional tripod.
How long did it take to scan Sutton Scarsdale for Batman versus Superman?
L: We had two days up at Sutton Scarsdale to do the scanning. We were only required to do the exterior of there, though I did do a couple of scans on the inside, just because I was interested!
We had a texture photographer with us as well so there were two types of information that went through to production. One is the geometry that we provided, and then the other one is the high resolution 2D texture information. Then the two get put together for the scene that they’re trying to create.
Once you’ve scanned a building, what happens then?
L: My role is to create an accurate 3D digital model that we deliver to production, and then they hand that over to what we call the Visual Effects vendor. So that could be MPC or Double negative or Weta – there’s lots of these companies around. Once they take hold of my data, it’s one of these companies that then create the shot that will go into the final film.
Does scanning a historic building like Sutton Scarsdale present any challenges?
L: I love scanning heritage-type buildings – they’re always very interesting and they’re always completely unique. They take some time to scan, because there’s nothing usually that uniform to them, so you have to take your time and make sure that you can see everything in the scan.
There’s lots of nooks and crannies everywhere, there’s big walls – so you have to take care to make sure that you’re capturing all of the information that you need, so that when you get back home you can create the full model.
Are there any other historic sites that you’d like capture?
L: I actually did the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao; that was a challenge but also a very nice piece to do. It’s very complex, because it’s very shiny, lots of big curves. It was a real challenge, both to capture the data that we needed again and to process it for the deliverable.
There’s quite a lot I’d like to do though… I’d love to do the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. I think that would be a challenge and fun to work with, but I love doing castles, I love doing old things.
Do you see this is as another way of preserving history?
L: Most definitely. I use the analogy of a camera. Anybody can buy a camera, but not everybody can create these amazing photographs – I think it’s the same with the scanner. Anybody can run a scanner because it’s relatively simple to actually press the buttons and say go, but it actually takes quite a lot of experience to ensure that you have enough information.
If you’re capturing something from an archive point of view, if you’ve got a person who’s got lots of experience then it’s an amazing piece of information. With all the right data, you would be able to recreate it at a one to one scale or, you know, doing a 2D print of something much smaller as a representation.
What I delivered to production for this movie is a digital 3D model of the exterior of a building, and we’re already at the stage of being able to do that relatively easily. The amount of scanners that are out there now compared to five years ago is phenomenal – they’re becoming very easy to get hold of, which is great. There’s always going to be developments and more software and the ability to be able to create different things, say for example, like a virtual walk through. You can see the changes that have happened and it’s an amazing archive on our heritage really. I think it’s a huge step forward.
Visit Sutton Scarsdale
Sutton Scarsdale Hall was once a grandiose Georgian mansion built in 1724-29, with an immensely columned exterior. It’s been a roofless shell since 1919, when its interiors were dismantled and some exported to America.
Batman vs Superman is released on DVD in the UK on 1 August 2016.