Ari Sachter-Zeltzer lets us in on his latest project: John Carpenter's "The Ward"


Ari Sachter-Zeltzer has spent the last dozen years working on projects ranging from feature film visual effects and full CG game cinematics to video projection for theater, main title design and pipeline development.

The project covered in this interview is the main title sequence for John Carpenter’s recent film, “The Ward”. This was "the last major title sequence we produced at Shadowplay Studio before we decided to close our doors and move on to new adventures at the end of 2010".


cebas: It seems that “The Ward” was an important project for you (and your firm). Can you tell us how you were involved?

The main title sequence we created for John Carpenter’s “The Ward” was the first photoreal CG title sequence. It was an ambitious challenge to create over two minutes of full-screen 2K computer-generated, slow-motion shattering glass. To top it off, we were also working for one of the greatest and well-known horror film directors of all time, John Carpenter!

In addition to being an owner and executive producer at Shadowplay, my direct responsibilities on this project involved oversight and quality control for all of the computer graphics elements including lighting, shading and the final composite. My business partner and studio creative director, Gareth Smith designed the initial style frames and spearheaded the overall creative direction and I worked with him to deliver the best rendered images possible.


cebas: Which shots/images/sequences in particular were you involved in?

Our studio handled the entire opening title sequence from initial concept to final delivery.

cebas: What cebas software did you use and why?

We used thinkingParticles to efficiently create and sculpt the fracturing glass effect and finalRender Studio Edition to deal with lighting and rendering.

These tools were a clear choice for us based not only on our experience and familiarity with them, but the extreme artistic and technical control they expose to the artist.

cebas: How did you use our software to achieve the effects?

thinkingParticles was the primary tool we used for all of the glass shattering animation. This enabled us to reuse and recycle effects setups and gain efficiency through rapid creation of many iterations and variations. Once we approved a simulation we could easily bake the animation into keyframes and/or use TP’s built-in caching system for playback and rendering on our render farm.

finalRender’s robust and full-featured render element system enabled us to extract all of the passes we needed to construct and sculpt our composites. As some of the shots were very render intensive, the ability to break our renders out into discreet passes increased our flexibility in the composite phase.


cebas: What features in particular helped you achieve your goal and how?

While there was not a specific feature of ThinkingParticles that stands out on this project, the overall rule-based paradigm allowed us to build reusable systems that performed consistently and reliably across all of our scenes.

cebas: What was the most difficult aspect of this project and how did you solve it?

The most difficult aspect of this project was the combination of slow-motion and the amount of detail and realism we needed to achieve. Explosions are typically very fast events and when viewed in real-time, there are lots of tricks you can get away with and still have it look real. In this instance, the glass moves rather slowly, so your eye is much more easily distracted by artifacts or things that just look wrong.



cebas: What was a step-by-step breakdown of a typical shot/image/sequence?

Our process started with the generation of a number of pre-broken sheets of virtual glass inspired by real-world reference of shattered glass. This geometry was ingested into our ThinkingParticles dynamics system and tweaked to get a variety of shattering motions.

After generating a library of shattering motions, we would apply a slow motion effect by baking the large glass pieces’ animation to key frames, then filtering and cleaning up their motion to remove any simulation jitters. At the point we had a sufficient library of shattering effects, our CG artist would work with our creative lead to find compelling compositions and timings that would be fed to our editor. This provided a base layer of the sequence which defined the overall beats of the sequence. Once we selected our simulation takes and camera angles, we would re-import the slow motion glass back into TP to create our small scale glass dust and generate new simulations. From this point we would continue to refine the lighting, shading and details of the dust to generate the final imagery for our composite.


cebas: How did the cebas tools perform for you and how was the experience of working with them like?

The thinkingParticles toolkit was instrumental in this project and enabled a small team to create many iterations and maintain maximum flexibility for creating such a long sequence. 


cebas: How did cebas software integrate into your production pipeline? How straightforward was it?

Cebas software was perfectly integrated in our 3dsmax centric pipeline. thinkingParticles and finalRender’s native implementation as particle and rendering plugins respectively allowed for a unified workflow without the need for constant translation or export/import steps.


cebas: What was the most fun or rewarding part of this project for you?

It was a great experience to work with one of the greatest horror film directors of all time. John Carpenter and his team were great collaborators and allowed us a great deal of creative freedom to build a sequence we could all be proud of.

cebas: What new projects can we expect from you in the future (if you're able to tell us)?

After nearly 10 years of creativity and design, Gareth and I decided to close the doors to Shadowplay and move on to new and exciting adventures. While there won’t be any more projects coming from Shadowplay Studio, Gareth and I continue to find new and exciting projects to work on.


We wish you all the best from our end Ari and we thank you for taking the time and talking to us! Looking forward to your next project :)


Cebas fans and members, share with us what you think about Ari's work in "The Ward" ...we certainly love it! Post your comments on our forum and Facebook fan page :)