Dot, Dot, Dot

LED Lights Become Tracking Markers in the Dark

Tracking points make regular appearances on VFX shoots everywhere. They are indispensable for compositing and usually come in the form of of an X made of gaffer’s tape.

So what happens when you’re shooting a very dark scene and your tape tracking points don’t show up on screen? Somehow visible tracking points have to be created or tracking can be a nightmare. This was one of the production challenges we faced in last night’s episode of Rescue Me.

In yesterday’s episode, Denis Leary finds himself in the basement of the World Trade Center during 9/11. The scene is supposed to be very dark and the set was a hallway that needed to be extended.

After struggling through some difficult tracks in the past, visual effects producer Andrew Bly searched for a clever solution. By placing two watch batteries (CR2032 Lithium 3V) inside a heat-shrunk plastic sleeve, he created a portable, durable LED power source. The LED’s are lightweight and can be taped to any surface. The resulting point of light is perfect for tracking a dark scene.

Having colored LED’s allows them to be removed later with a simple key. Having different sized LED’s allows for larger tracking points in the distance and smaller ones close to camera. We put LED tracking points on-set where the matte paintings were going to be composited.

The matte paintings were created by one of our visual effects artists Chad Sikora. He said the following about his work, “It’s always fun to create wreckage and mayhem in an image, but the tricky thing is to make them look believable and seamless, so nothing catches your eye and distracts from the action in the scene.¬†Painting the perspective somewhat ambiguously through exaggeration is the key, and buys the compositor some play during the tracking process.”

Chad¬†continues, “The paintings were done in Photoshop and consist mainly of photography cobbled together. If you are a New Yorker and look closely you can see that the subway station we photographed as the basis for the WTC station is actually Penn Station, and much of the debris is from photography taken on set. My personal favorite is the painting of the downed towers seen through the ceiling, but one of the plights of doing matte painting is that what you originally paint and what ends up in the composite are often very disparate.”

You can see this and more of The Molecule’s work on Rescue Me on Hulu.