By Jeff Jensen
August 16, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT
  • Movie

Princeton student John Nash (Russell Crowe) spends the winter-to-spring months feverishly working on his dissertation. As the camera pulls back from his dormitory window, swirling snow gives way to warm sunshine, while tendrils of dead ivy regain their curling green. before According to Digital Domain’s Claas Henke, director Ron Howard wanted an ”elegant way” to convey the passing of time. Howard had a bare-bones, two-story facade of Nash’s dorm window built on a soundstage and filmed the swooping camera move with a crane. He left the weather, the vegetation, and other details (like the cracked stone pattern of the wall) to the animators and matte painters. after While roughing out ideas (a phase called ”previsualization”), Digital Domain’s 3-D artist decided a tree limb should creep into the shot and go from bare to budding. Replicating Howard’s camera move, a fake tree with nylon leaves (a real one wasn’t found in time) was shot twice against a blue screen — once with leaves, once without. Henke then combined the camera moves and layered in the various animated elements (snow, ivy, sunlight, et al.) to form the finished shot; the pros call this ”compositing.” As Howard didn’t want the segue to happen with one sudden morph, Henke had to sprinkle a series of subtle edits to pop in at different times during the course of the shot. ”This was probably the toughest shot we worked on,” says Henke. ”We worked on the film for three months; this shot was in production the entire time.”