A cape for Christopher Lee
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- May 16, 2022
Attack of the Clones is celebrating its 20th anniversary this week. To celebrate, I thought I’d present this excerpt from issue #1 of befores & afters magazine which feature a look at digital capes in film history, including the cape for Count Dooku from the film.
By the early 2000s, ILM had done a whole lot more CG cloth simulation, with a major effort in this area required for Attack of the Clones, released in 2002. Here, Jedi robes and various cloaks and capes all needed to be simulated. This included for the villain Count Dooku, played by common cape wearer, Christopher Lee.
Is Dooku’s cape as famous as those that have been worn by your typical superhero or villain? Perhaps not, but it was still a key piece of wardrobe required for the character, and one that needed to be solved by ILM digitally just like the many other cloth simulations in the film.
At ILM, the cape work was approached as a technical animation and creature effects project. One member of the team was Juan-Luis Sanchez, credited as a digital model development and construction artist on Clones, and subsequently as a digital clothing supervisor on Revenge of the Sith (where capes were again heavily featured). Sanchez says that ILM technical animation supervisor James Tooley led the effort on the cloth simulation approaches for digi-doubles and digital characters.
The big thing we needed to solve on Clones,” details Sanchez, “was layered cloth sims. We knew how to do a single layer of cloth, but how do we do double layers? Do we sim it altogether? Do we do it outside-in? Do we do it inside-out? Could it scale? These were all the production questions we had.”
To handle cloth on the film, ILM’s tool of choice at the time was its own proprietary Caricature or CARI system, originally built by Cary Phillips to enable facial animation on Dragonheart. “CARI had been built into a cloth solver,” outlines Sanchez. “We used Softimage for animation and CARI for the actual cloth sim and cloth ‘fixing’ for the shots.”
“The cool thing about CARI,” attests Sanchez, “was that you could paint what we called ‘tacks’ that were essentially position, acceleration and velocity or damping constraints, and then layer them together. It allowed us to get certain silhouettes that we wanted on a particular frame. CARI was so great in that way because you could really easily sculpt shape upon shape and shape. Later, things switched into ILM’s Zeno toolset and they put the PhysBAM simulation engine into Zeno for both hair and cloth sims.”
Count Dooku’s digi-double CG cape in Attack of the Clones came into play for shots in which he attempts to escape on a speeder on Geonosis, during the duel against Yoda, and on Coruscant when he meets Darth Sidious. “There were times where we transitioned from a live-action actor to the digi-double with the cape which was really exciting for us because of making those transitions seamless,” recalls Sanchez.
ILM’s cloth sim workload for Clones would be huge, but, interestingly, the process for simulating Dooku’s cape was slightly different than the other robe/cloak/cape tasks. “For all the other characters,” says Sanchez, “we were given a model of what was always referred to as the ‘Kenny pose’, as in, South Park’s Kenny. It was this completely inflated hood and flattened out conical shape. And we’d then sim that on top of the character as if it was floating there. But for Dooku’s cape, it had this characteristic fold back over the shoulders.”
“So, rather than just give us a model with that folded back, what we got was a flat conical robe and then we’d sim the folds in place and get the shape draping naturally on him. It was really the early days of what I came to call ‘dynamic tailoring.’ We’d end up with a saved-out shape that was dynamically consistent and where all the forces had already been worked out in that process.”
“Normally,” adds Sanchez, “if you get a model in place with wrinkles and shape and everything and then you sim it, gravity will pull on it and it just gets longer. But if you’ve sim’d it into place, then all of that gravity has already been taken into account. So, Dooku’s cape was interesting because we realized we had to sim it into place and then hold it there and hope that it did the right thing!”
Sanchez’s experience with Count Dooku’s cape was particularly memorable, not just for the CG simulations he wrangled, but also because he was called upon to double for the character himself in a few insert shots. Sanchez didn’t even mind when one of his own insert shots for Dooku’s arrival on Coruscant was ultimately replaced by a fully CG double, complete with digital cape.
“By then, which was right at the end of production, the cape came out of the oven looking amazing. I think we did two takes and it looked great. It was really satisfying because the machine was really humming at that point and you kind of felt like, ‘Okay, this is as easy as it should be.’ Whereas earlier it was pain. Lots and lots of pain!”