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Zodiac
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4th of July, 1969. A man shoots two people in a car outside San Francisco, then calls the police to brag. He is the Zodiac, in many ways the first modern serial killer. David Fincher's uncomprimising look at the murders, and especially the people who dedicate themselves to finding the killer, called for realistic 1960's and 70's views of the San Francisco Bay Area. Matte World Digital provided a wide variety of shots that set the scene.


Today, San Francisco's historic ferry terminal is a thriving marketplace, but as the film opens in 1969, it was in disrepair. The neighborhood just beyond, though, was undergoing a rejuvination, and many of the buildings that now dominate the skyline were under construction.

The neighborhood was modelled to be accurate for that time, including the Embarcadero Freeway, which was destroyed in 1989. Historical accuracy was important to the production to reinforce the realistic tone of the film. Matte World shot digital textures of the actual buildings, and repainted period details.



The scene was rendered on a beautiful clear morning, a stark contrast to the gritty night scene that preceded it. Tweak Films provided wonderfully complex cgi water. A large number of small moving elements add life to the scene, including people on the docks, construction crews, cranes in operation, birds, flags, steam from building tops, and traffic.

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As the story unfolds, quick and easy answers elude the investigators. As a device to show the passage of time, the iconic Transamerica Tower appears in various stages of construction. During one substantial gap in the progress of the case, the tower grows from it's foundations to a complete structure. The script called for an ambitious timelapse effect to emphasize this period.

The only "real" element in the shot is the sky -- actually a series of timelapse skies photographed under varying conditions to portray the fickle San Francisco weather. The tower itself was reconstructed from architectural drawings and historical photographs. Procedural animation sequenced the girders and facade panels into place. CG lighting allowed us to show cycles of day and night with moving shadows.

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The most spectacular viewpoint of the Golden Gate Bridge is, of course, from the top of one of the towers. David Fincher asked for a shot looking back towards San Francisco, tilting down to find the hero's car driving out of the city. Naturally, the shot should include that location's ubiquitous fog.


The logistics of shooting the scene, or even a plate, from the actual location proved insurmountable, so a 3d model of the bridge was generated to provide the basis for a matte painting. Existing photographs from the bridge tower provided reference and some textures. Traffic on the bridge was modeled and lit in 3d (with some hand-animated glints as a finishing touch). The water, boats, and layers of fog are 2d "gag" animations from still photos.

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Film Credits

Film Credits