FX Civil – Bolt

I have always been fascinated by the incredible visual effects in blockbuster movies and video games. FX Civil is where I break down a movie or video game that implemented civil engineering and architecture in a believable and incredible way. I hope that I can learn from case studies of amazing special effects such as these but, let’s be honest, these types of visuals are just awesome and should be appreciated. While Civil FX is the art of approaching special effects from a civil engineering point of view, FX Civil is where we approach civil engineering from a special effects point of view.

I try to always be aware of the world around me, especially for the benefit of the improvement of my 3D visualization efforts. Sometimes inspiration comes in the most unassuming forms.

Having 3 small kidlets puts you eye level with a world that isn’t designed for you. Sure, adults paid for Frozen in droves and Legos are probably more for grown-ups these days than children. However, you can only listen to “The Wheels on the Bus” about forty five times before you can’t help but memorize the words and wonder how it applies to your life.

One of my favorite parts of parenthood these days are the great animated films created with a focus on kids but ultimately by adults and with adults in mind as well. Bolt by Walt Disney Animation (not created by Pixar but part of the same Disney company that now owns Pixar) is one that I’ve probably watched 1.3 times and listened to about seventy three times and, actually, mostly enjoyed.

It wasn’t until recently that I understood how beautiful this film stands as a tribute to special effects in civil engineering. Large portions of the film are set in urban or suburban locations with vast swaths of infrastructure modeled and wonderfully textured.

Everything in this movie pales, however, in comparison to the chase scene at the beginning of the film. The main protagonist and her dog race through a city (kind of like San Francisco, but I don’t think it is exactly) chased by and chasing bad guys navigating with a variety of vehicular modes of transportation which include motorcycles, helicopters and hummers. They race through streets and over and under bridges- around cars and buses and across the city.

There are a few things that caught my attention about this scene:

  • The textures are custom, detailed and realistic- much more so than the characters in the movie
  • The bridges are concrete and the roads are asphalt, something most people outside civil engineering often leave out
  • The buildings that make up the skyline are poorly modeled and textured, but I actually understand this because it is hard
  • The reflections on the oil tanker and the helmets of the baddies are perfectly rendered and help tell the story- brilliant
  • The movement and animations of the vehicles are good- I know this because I don’t notice them

And finally, don’t take my word for it. I hope you will enjoy the work embeded below this post!

Image credit to Walt Disney Animation

2 thoughts on “FX Civil – Bolt

  1. mark foster 9 years ago

    Hey Sam! I don’t know how my kids and I missed this movie. We’ll have to check it out. I am just curious what makes the skyline buildings poorly modeled. Is it just that they are basic block shapes? Beginner question.

    1. Sam Lytle 9 years ago

      One of the easiest ways to cut down on polygon count is by using textures. For example, a fully detailed car could have an extremely high polygon count so to reduce this, an artist can ‘fake’ some of the detail by using a custom texture created in something like Photoshop. The door handles, windshield wipers and grill could all look 3D but actually just be 2D texturing.

      What it looks like they did in bolt is this exact thing. They just had simple block shapes and used texturing for the windows and detailing. It is ‘good enough’ because I doubt very few noticed it, but I did 😀

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