Image Effects DUNE: My Wonderful Work! by cecilia
The Eyes Have It!

On the The Sci Fi Channel Site there is a message board. When I first wrote this article Ernie (the Special Effects Supervisor and who we answered to aside from the director) responded to a question about how the "blue" eyes were done on set. I took the opportunity to lift this message whole and insert it here so you would know what I was looking at when I worked on my shots.

The Blue Eyes - How We Did It

Date: 06/16/2001

From:  ernieworld

I was the Visual Effects Supervisor and 2nd Unit Director for Frank Herbert's Dune, and in response to some of the postings above, I thought Id pass along a little information regarding the blue eyes.

Of course, in the story consuming the spice causes the blue tint to come from within, but shy of somehow drugging the actors, we had to make do with simulating the effect from the outside. So the blue eyes were achieved by the use of fluorescent-coated blue-tinted contact lenses, custom-fitted to each of the principal actors and a handful of select extras by an ophthalmologist in Prague (and a contact lens technician was on set at all times when the lenses were in use). These scleral lenses fit over the entire surface of the eye; what appears to be the white of the eye showing through in some cases was a result of the particular shooting conditions, and varied mostly according to how much other set lighting happened to hit the actors face. You'll notice that the blue eyes show up best when an actors face happens to be shaded or in silhouette.

Two fluorescent blacklight tubes were built into a portable unit that could be positioned just above the camera, on a stand off to the side, or attached to the dolly. You cannot regulate the brightness of a blacklight with a rheostat, and neither can you take a light meter reading off the blacklight, so the brightness was adjusted by how close we physically placed the blacklight unit to the eyes. Tests were made in pre-production to determine the degree of brightness and amount of saturation at various distances and f/stops and this was the only guide for judging the relative intensity of the blue during filming (educated guessing, at best). Sometimes the perfect distance for proper blue in the eyes put the blacklight in so close that a blue cast appeared on skin tones or light colored wardrobe, and a handful of particularly noticable cases had to be reworked digitally to isolate and remove the unwanted blue from surrounding surfaces. We also had to be careful with staging to avoid other actors, extras, or objects passing between the blacklight and the lenses, or the blue would "wink out."

The blue eyes themselves were digitally enhanced in only about 15 or 20 shots, but these had all been filmed with contact lenses to begin with. Such enhancement usually involved isolating an actors eyes in order to brighten or saturate the blue in one eye to match the other eye (or darken, as the case may be) when the nature of the shot and set lighting prevented equal intensity. This was most common when half the face was in shadow, or when an actor moved from light to shadow (or vice-versa).

Finally, there were only 3 or 4 shots filmed without contact lenses at all in which the blue was totally added later as an effect. One example is the shot I did with 2nd Unit of the macro-closeup of Pauls eye snapping open when he senses that Baby Leto has been killed. Because we were in such close quarters, the blacklight unit was not only difficult to position but the close proximity resulted in the blue cast from the blacklight overpowering Alec Newmans natural skin tone. I shot it once with the contact lens but also did a backup version without, and thats the one we used. We later digitally rotoscoped and tracked the movement of his eye in order to lay in the blue color.

The other instances of 100% digital blue were the closeups of Alia during the final Paul/Feyd fight. As it happened, this scene was filmed at the end of the schedule. Laura Burton (Alia) had been fitted with her lenses at the beginning of production and had been quite comfortable with them during previous scenes. But in the intervening 6 months, being a growing child, she literally outgrew her contacts and by the time the Paul/Feyd scene rolled around they no longer fit properly. They were causing her some discomfort so we quickly decided to add the blue tint digitally to those few closeups rather than risk any damage to her eyes.

The blue eyes in David Lynchs "Dune" were all rotoscoped frame-by-frame on an animation stand and composited on an optical printer and involved thousands of inked-and-painted animation cels, hi-con mattes, etc. (I know some of the people who worked on that). There are pros and cons to any approach, and while the contact lens method could be inconsistent, it was a workable solution that freed us from hand-animating tens of thousands of frames in post production (wed still be working on it today).

Anyway, I hope this helps clear up some of the questions involving the blue eyes.

Ernest Farino

Well, Do Dah, Do Dah Day!

Ok, so they plug in those funky lenses in the actors eyes and shine weirdo lights at them. Now, the fun begins! I got two shots in which Alec Newman - the actor portraying Paul Atreides - was filmed against green screen. On the right is one frame of one of the shots. They both were similar in composition. For those of you who have looked at (and studied) my Blue/Green Screen article you will note that there is a heavy shadow on the lower left corner of the background but the Green screen is fairly even aside from that. So I wasn't anticipating any trouble from that. Sometimes a frame has dirt or some other funkiness which just requires a little touching up. My job is to fix it up and composite a background.

what I got to work with

Here I want you to look at the major problem areas that have to be fixed to get this shot done. Alec's face has alot of spill from the "blacklight's" that Ernie used to reflect in the contact lenses.
Plus, take a close look at Alec's eyes. Can you see that each pupil is reflected in the contact lenses? Looks really odd, eh? You'll have to trust me but when you look at several frames you can see how it appears as if there are two pupils in each eye.

Well, I was looking at this carefully in AfterEffects (ver 4.1) and each frame would need a matte for each iris. That's to separate it from the effects I'll have to run on Alec's face to remove the blue spill. I want to KEEP the blue in the iris's while removing it from his face! Also, each pupil needs a matte. See, the color of the iris's change often during the course of the shot. This could get complicated!

what I got to work with

Ok, let's see if we can list what has to be done:

  • 1... Pull Alec off the green. In AfterEffects there's a plug-in from Ultimate that does this fairly well. Since I don't have the program in front of me and it's been months since I did this I can't remember the specifics. But I think it was an easy pull for the most part and anything weird - like the corner - is separated by another matte and done with it's own specs. For those unfamiliar with AfterEffects you can create as many spline mattes for each layer as you need - system memory permitting.

  • 2...So what I think I did (as the haze of time lifts slightly!) is duplicate the image, run the Ultimate plug and pull most of the green on the first copy.

  • 3...Then matte out the lower left corner on the duplicated (second) layer and run the Ultimate plug with different numbers on that area and comp the two. Did ya get that?

So the results are?

  • 1... I duplicated the image and made another layer. This (third) layer would be for the left and right eyes and I proceded to make the splines for both iris's. (Remember I said each layer can have any number of mattes. This layer has two). What's great about splines is that I don't have to make a spline for each frame (unless there's ALOT of movement between frames. It's a mathematical curve so it calculates the motion between frames. Of course, the trick is to know which frames to make the spline in order to make the smoothest movement.

  • 2... Now I can run certain effects to remove the blue haze (spill) from Alec's face. The simplest is one of AfterEffects default plug-ins which removes blue spill. While there are several other things I could use, I have found that keeping things simple is best and this one works right away. The "Holes" around the iris's let the blue eyes from the layer underneath come through. Ok, so his face is done.

  • 3... Now comes a rather tricky effect. Duplicating another layer, this one is for the left pupil only. I have to make separate layers for each pupil because they are NOT the same color in a single frame. Part of my job is taking the time to examine such details. I track the left pupil and make a spline matte for it.

  • 4... Now I create a blank layer. It's only purpose is to add color for the left pupil. The whole layer is a color. In AfterEffects I can animate a change in the color with keyframes. That is, it can change colors over time at my whim. (Ah, what power!) So, now I spend some time examining the exact color of the left pupil in each frame. and at every significant change, I make a keyframe of that color in the blank layer. This is trickier than it sounds, but that's why I make the big money. (Yeah, right).

  • 5... Once the left pupil is done it's time to do the same for the right pupil. And that means duplicating a layer, making a spline matte, creating a blank layer and making keyframes of the color changes.

all done, all nice

Add a background

  • 1... Now that the face and eyes are all spiffy and beautiful, it's time to add the background. (Never thought we'd get to that, did you?)

  • 2... The background plate came from E=mc (at least I think so; it's been awhile). It was used in several shots in one way or another. I added it to the comp as a layer.

  • 3... The background as given to me is "static" of course - since it's one frame. So I have to add a few elements to get movement into it. If you look at the left side of the picture maybe you'll see a couple of towers. I added smoke and small fires coming out of the tops of these. This scene occurs after a battle, and the location of these "fires" was planned out.

perfectly beautiful

Final Words, or, I Can't think of a Title Here

In one of these shots the camera trucks in closer to Paul and then stops. The background plate was originally just one frame, of course. So I had to "duplicate" this camera move by hand. That is: I had to scale the frame at just the right places so it looks like the camera is also tracking the background! This is once again one of those "tricky" exercises but with a bit of effort I was able to do it. I got the ultimate compliment from one of my colleagues, Mike Hoover, who was impressed with my efforts. Since he's mighty talented I'd say that was a compliment worth more than most awards!

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