How VFX Artists Have Recreated the World Trade Center for a Post-9/11 World

·3-min read

Some of the most enduring images of the 9/11 attacks were the before-and-after photos of the World Trade Center, with the soaring towers beautifully jutting out from Downtown before they fell to the ground.

For films and TV shows set in a pre-9/11 world, VFX artists are often tasked with recreating that skyline. The artists have plenty to draw from, as the buildings were well-documented with photographs, videos and footage that to help them faithfully and accurately recreate the twin towers, often in painstaking detail.

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On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, two VFX artists discussed how they recreated the twin towers for the film “United 93” and FX’s “Pose.”

“United 93” Directed by Paul Greengrass

DNEG recreated the New York skyline and the weather in visual effects - Credit: Paramount Pictures Corp. Courtesy of DNEG
DNEG recreated the New York skyline and the weather in visual effects - Credit: Paramount Pictures Corp. Courtesy of DNEG

Paramount Pictures Corp. Courtesy of DNEG

DNEG helped to create some of the most dynamic visual effects in Paul Greengrass’ “United 93.” No other single event had been so extensively visually documented, therefore the onus was on DNEG to make sure that their recreation of the Lower Manhattan area and the destruction was completely accurate.

DNEG’s work covered two main stages; pre-collapse and the aftermath which meant building the towers and complex, many of the buildings around them and the surrounding streets, then adding dynamic effects such as smoke burning, falling paper and debris.

The second stage was post-collapse, which involved building Ground Zero in CG along with all the rubble, smoke and dust.

Peter Chiang, who served as visual effects supervisor on the 2006 film, explains that technology such as LIDAR and drone technology to capture skylines wasn’t readily available. “The twin towers were something we needed to reproduce accurately and geographically. We had to show its relationship to the control tower in Newark and the view from New York,” Chiang says.

Chiang and the team went out on jetties and relied on photographs to help recreate the skyline. They also had to consider the bright sunny morning of that fateful day. “We were shooting in England and it was raining. That footage of Leroy (Gary Commock) when he does his pre-checks as he walks around the plane. That’s just him in the rain. Everything is recreated. We had to build CG planes, cars and all the ancillary vehicles that would roam around the airports.”

Maya software was used to build everything in 3D. The company delivered 450 shots in six weeks, working with other vendors to deliver smaller vfx shots of views from the plane and luggage falling as the plane descends. Chiang recalls the pressure of the tight turnaround, “Our normal turnaround is a 24-26 week post period. There was a lot of augmentation that is hopefully still invisible today so you believe you’re in the story.”

“Pose” FX

Before: The N.Y. skyline as it appears now, before VFX recreated the skyline - Credit: FX
Before: The N.Y. skyline as it appears now, before VFX recreated the skyline - Credit: FX

FX

Set in New York and based on the city’s ballroom drag scene, “Pose” took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Co-creator, writer and director Steven Canals says, “Any person who’s visiting New York wants to see the Statue of Liberty or Times Square. It felt important to us that those buildings be present and represent New York in our show.” Through VFX, the twin towers were added. Brian Kubovcik from FuseFX, who serves as Head of Studio Atlanta and is a senior visual effects supervisor says, “FuseFX recreated the New York City skyline to its pre 9/11 form. Through careful research, we were able to tie together existing photography, and our CG twin tower assets to create the 1980s-1990s New York. Each shot that featured the twin towers was a reminder for our team of where we were on that day. “

“‘Pose’ is a reflection of New York and what it means to our characters, so honoring the legacy of the city was important to us both in narrative and photographically.”

After: FuseFX recreated the iconic skyline for “Pose” background scenes - Credit: FX
After: FuseFX recreated the iconic skyline for “Pose” background scenes - Credit: FX

FX

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