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An Inside Look To How “The Lady of Heaven” Visual Effects Team Used Groundbreaking Filming And CGI Techniques

lady of heaven

The Lady of Heaven, one of the most highly rated films of the year, is soon to be released in Fiji (April 21st), Ireland and Canada (April 29th).

The historical drama follows the story of Laith (Gabriel Cartade), a young Iraqi boy who loses his mother to war and is sent to live with a loving grandmother Bibi (Denise Black). There, Laith learns the power of patience and the incredible tale of Lady Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad.

The heartbreaking story of Lady Fatima involved an incredible amount of research in order to ensure complete historical accuracy.

Religious guidelines of Islam forbid Holy Characters from being visualized or represented by living human beings. Therefore, the film’s visual effects team had to work around this challenge through the use of CGI technology that would show respect for Islamic tradition and abide by religious codes. The shots on the intricacies of the representation of the religious figures were called by writer, Sheikh al-Habib, from very early on.

Though the film pushes boundaries, the intention was to honor and respectfully create caricatures that were, at the same time, groundbreaking and historically accurate to their setting. Al-Habib’s hope is that all who watch this film will follow in Lady Fatima’s footsteps as she leads through “peace, justice and equality.”

The film’s CGI team worked to intricately replace the faces of the actors and animate the faces of Holy Characters, while abiding by the complexity of the requirements. Marcin Kolendo, the visual effects supervisor, outlined how: “Instead of disguising the faces of actors with cloth, we were tasked with creating CGI faces that would seamlessly replace the original ones, in line with the sensitive religious aspect of the subject.”

The Lady of Heaven features about 200 shots of Holy Characters including the Prophet, Imam Ali, and Imam’s children. Each individual shot that included a Holy Character, presented the team with unique challenges. Immense care went into the film’s CGI work in order to achieve an appropriate depiction of the Holy Characters to do justice to their benevolent nature.

Focusing their attention on photo realism, natural behavior and extreme close-ups, the team also utilized wide shots and different environmental conditions (night vs. day time, fire, smoke) in order to create the most realistic faces possible. The team worked closely with “The Client (Enlightened Kingdom), the creative consultant (John Stephenson) and Director of Photography (Michael Brewster). We designed and pre-planned every VFX shot of the project, paying special attention to Holy Appearances,” Kolendo said.

At every stage within the production, the representation of Holy Characters needed to be approved by experts in this field. Following approval, the team then prepared for the filming stage, where multiple steps needed to be followed carefully in order to ensure smooth translation of the shots of Holy Characters into CGI. The team had to use technologically advanced techniques for filming, including taking an HDRI (High Dynamic Range Images) of each shot to ensure the replication of lighting conditions and the use of a chrome and diffuse ball to capture the light conditions of the environment.

Hundreds of pictures needed to be taken as reference to help in the post-production process. “For every shot all the camera data (tilt, roll, height, lens type) had to be recorded to allow artists to proceed with their tasks in later stages,” Kolendo said. To track movement of actors, small black dots were placed all over their faces to make transferring the shot to the computer more efficient.

Further, “All the Holy Character’s faces needed to be created (Asset Build) by 3D artists. Modelling, texturing, rigging, groom (hair), animation and lighting departments were utilized to produce bespoke CGI faces for each of the Holy Characters, all carefully and painstakingly created on computers taking into account references and advice from the Enlightened Kingdom.” Once the faces were approved, information was gathered to transfer the face of the composite on top of the actor’s.

Each shot needed to be ‘camera tracked,’ which Kolendo outlined as, “Creating a virtual camera that corresponds with the camera used to film a particular shot – the position and movement of the camera is ‘tracked’ using tracking software, resulting in a virtual camera identical to the camera from the shot.”

The groundbreaking technology used in The Lady of Heaven required the utmost attention to detail, leading up to a beautiful finalized product.

For more information on where to watch the film upon its release in Fiji, Ireland and Canada, visit https://ladyofheaven.com/

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