What District 9 Looks Like Without Special Effects

Image Engine is the studio behind most of the CGI in “District 9.” The company grew rapidly as it worked on the movie, and there’s one shot in particular that represents the entire time period for animation supervisor Steve Nichols. “They originally called it the ‘100-alien shot,’” Nichols told Studio Daily. “When [director Neill Blomkamp] started talking about how many aliens he really wanted, it became the ‘1,000,000-alien shot.’”

The shot in question comes near the beginning of the movie and shows the bodies of countless aliens resting in pods inside the massive saucer floating above Johannesburg. The moment establishes the scale of the refugee crisis and sets up the overarching conflict of the movie, and it’s one of the few times the entire screen is dedicated to CGI. Image Engine created it from the ground up, using some new software and processes the company developed in the process.

In the end the shot worked perfectly for the movie. Blomkamp thought so, too, but his compliment to the studio wasn’t what VFX Supervisor Dan Kaufman expected. “[He] sent me an email after the movie was over saying, ‘Oh, by the way, I ran that shot through a VHS player. It works really well in the movie,’” Kaufman said. “I emailed him back saying, ‘Well, whatever works – but I won’t tell the compositor that!’”

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