This sequence from 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes, where a priest has a hallucination of a stained glass picture coming to life and attacking him, was an amazing sequence back in the day, and possibly the first use of a fully CG character interacting with real actors. For it’s time it was quite groundbreaking, given the state of computer graphics and computing power in the early 1980s. Today, with more advanced computer graphic and video editing programs as well as home computers being more powerful that the ones Hollywood used at the time, it should be easier to recreate this, right?

I was originally going to post the following video by The Corridor Crew as a daily quick post and call it a morning, but then in the comments I saw a follow-up thread had been pinned to the top of the comments section by the Crew. The posts featured an actual VFX artist from the future Pixar Entertainment and I decided to share the important details as part of this article. The actual short, recreating not the scene from Young Sherlock Holmes but the effect, is at the 18:15 mark but the full video shows Wren, Jordan, and Griffin of Corridor Digital using modern programs to give this old effect a new coating. Enjoy.

Like I said, I had planned this as the daily quickpost, but then in the comments corrections were made by Craig Good, one of the animators at Lucasfilm’s computer graphics team, now Pixar, who clarified many of Wren’s comments about how the effect was made as well as responding to Corridor fans asking him follow-up questions. Here’s his initial statement:

This is nice, but a few historical details aren’t quite right. I was part of the crew that made this – and I’m in that group photo you showed.

John did not go to England to measure the set and record where the lights were. Someone else got that info for us. Motion blur was invented in the Computer Division, and we were never part of ILM.

We rendered the highlights as a separate element so that ILM Optical could tweak them, and if you look carefully all of the floating bits of glass are slightly convex, which allowed a more pleasing reflection of the environment. (When Barry Levinson asked in dailies for it to look “more religious” we all panicked, but Dennis Muren just had Optical add 2 more clicks of diffusion to the glow pass.)

A detail you might like is that the candles and stands in the foreground of that tracking shot are all CGI.

That rack focus shot was so expensive to compute that I spent 2 weeks at CCI headquarters in Orange County rendering just the last 2/3 of that shot on borrowed computers overnight. Meanwhile, Bill Reeves (the bearded guy in the photo with John) rendered the first third. I had to fly down with two giant disk packs which each could hold about 300 Mb.

You should definitely read Alvy Ray Smith’s book, “A Biography of the Pixel” to get this, and the rest of the history of computer graphics. It’s terrific.

Good would add more information in response to questions. I’ll put the questions in a different colors (since they were asked by different people) so you can tell them apart from Good’s answers.

How the hell do you get dailies for VFX back then when shots took so long to render?

We had them “eventually”. The animation was shot in wireframe on instant-process film so that part was easy. Getting it all rendered and on film was a much bigger deal. The review session is called “dailies” whether or not it’s held every day.

Thank you for your contribution Craig. We forget sometimes that there was a time when none of this existed and people like you and your team thought it up from something as simple as, “you know what would be cool? a stained glass man”

To be fair, the stained glass man was in the script and not our idea. We were merely hired to execute it. Praise goes to Dennis Muren for thinking we could pull it off.

Thanks for chiming in! I’ve got to get that book! How did you guys get the chairs and candles in the foreground to look so good for such early CG?! It isn’t even obvious that those were CGI elements until you pointed it out!

Not the chairs, just the iron candle stands and candles. They’re pretty simple shapes, and if you look carefully at the flames you can tell. (I hope I’m remembering right. Maybe it was just the candles, but I don’t think so. Hey, it was a long time ago.)

{responding to a comment I couldn’t find} LOL YouTube commenter saying that ILM didn’t work on the film. ILM most certainly did. We (in the Lucasfilm Computer Division) did the stained glass knight for ILM, and ILM did all the other VFX for the movie.

Some comments were for Good to appear on one of Corridor Crew’s “VFX Artists Reacts” videos to discuss what they did and I would also like to see that and get his thoughts on the recreation. It’s amazing, and occasionally scary, how far computer imagery have come over the years.

About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

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