Director Terrence Malick’s Voyage of Time” is a celebration of life and the grand history of the cosmos, spanning the eon from the Big Bang to present day and beyond. Released as a 90-min 35MM theatrical cut narrated by Cate Blanchett and a 45-min IMAX® version narrated by Brad Pitt, the documentary explores monumental, never-witnessed events with sweeping imagery. Method Studios helped bring Malick’s vision to life, crafting the birth of Earth’s solar system, glimpses of the first unicellular life forms and reconstructions of extinct species.
As one of the film’s primary visual effects providers, Method contributed some of its most complex and demanding CG work. Fitting with Malick’s directorial style, shot lengths were longer than average, and all work was completed in 5.5K for an immersive IMAX experience. Production VFX Supervisor Dan Glass, who is also Method’s Chief Creative Officer, began working on Voyage of Time more than a decade prior to its release. He collaborated closely with Malick and leading academics to develop artistic and emotional concepts that were scientifically sound. Glass, who joined Method after leading the VFX for Malick’s Oscar-nominated 2011 drama The Tree of Life” explained, “Method is a rare company in that it’s a group of highly creative and diverse artists. This film was completely atypical in most respects, and the team approached each challenge with tremendous enthusiasm.”
For the astrophysical simulations, Method was given scientific data as a starting point. Artists then collaborated with Malick to determine the camera location in XYZ space, and teased out depth and dynamic range through clever compositing techniques and miniature photography to create shots ranging from 15 to 25 seconds long – about seven minutes of total content. Method VFX Supervisor Bruce Woloshyn said, “One of my favorite shots contains no CG, just practical smoke and miniatures that Dan filmed on a sound stage and we composited. It was fun to go old school, but we had to make sure the work would translate to the IMAX format where every piece of minutia can be scrutinized, and it turned out beautifully.”
Creating the film at IMAX resolution provided artists more creative opportunity when working on the shot showing bacteria cell division. Method VFX Supervisor Olivier Dumont said, “The level of detail afforded by IMAX was ideal. The background plates we received, although astonishing, were fairly static; we were able to add a lot of depth through cutting pieces out and re-positioning them in 3D space following the CG camera move. We then added CG floating particles to add a better sense of travel. It was quite effects heavy, and the result is rich with dimension.” To develop the look of the bacteria, Dumont and his team scoured scientific reference photos, crafting near identical digital duplicates that deviated only slightly in color for a more cinematic result. Method also was responsible for the shots featuring dinosaurs, including the meteor that resulted in their extinction.