Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is the third film in the action comedy trilogy produced by 20th Century Fox. starring Ben Stiller, the film was released on December 19, 2014. The movie was shot by Guillermo Navarro with RED Dragon and ARRI Alexa cameras on locations and stages around Vancouver, with additional photography in London and New York. A few months before pre-production on the film began, Zoic Studios had recently finished working with Production Visual Effects Producer Monette Dubin on another project in Vancouver, so she was happy to recommend Zoic Studios to Production VFX Supervisor Erik Nash and the filmmakers for the prologue sequence. Zoic Studios’ work opens the movie, in Egypt in 1938, where we find a team of archaeologists excavating the Valley of the Kings in search of a certain valuable artifact – the tablet of Ahkmenrah. Thus, the back-story of the MacGuffin that drives the entire trilogy unfolds.
As cinematography for the Egypt flashback commenced, Production VFX Supervisor Erik Nash asked Zoic’s VFX Supervisor Ralph Maiers to join the shooting crew on location in Kamloops, British Columbia. There, a wide establishing landscape was shot with a RED Dragon mounted on a radio-controlled flying quad-rotor drone. Ralph Maiers notes, “Using drones for plate photography is a real bonus of shooting in British Columbia. The FAA has virtually banned their use so far in the US, but they have become a useful tool here amongst the Vancouver film community.” Zoic enhanced and broadened the aerial view into a large 3D landscape featuring the pyramids and an extended mountain ridge that bounds the archeological dig site in the wide Nile River valley. Element photography of additional people, camels and other pack animals,
and period vehicles were used to enliven the shot. As the dust storm descends on the archeological excavation, the Zoic team added blowing dust to many shots to heighten the drama and to balance the storm continuity in the sequence. Zoic’s CG Supervisor Richard Patterson and his team used the dynamics toolsets in Phoenix and Krakatoa to create the dust storm that looms in the background of the opening shot and throughout the sequence. Zoic next completed a flashback night scene depicting the creation of the tablet’s magical powers. For this sequence, the live action was shot in-studio against a green screen. Zoic’s Supervising Matte Artist Rich Mahon and his team created the large night landscape to complete the scene. Rich Mahon said, “Every matte artist wants to paint ancient Egypt! We got to tick that box and we had a lot of fun doing it!” Mahon’s crew produced three matte paintings over five months, depicting the blessing of the tablet. Patterson’s CG team provided the mysterious moon energy that imbued Ahkmenrah’s tablet with its life-giving powers. Zoic’s VFX Producer Christopher Elke frequently cites this show as an example of production efficiency: “This show was an absolute pleasure to work on from start to finish. Erik Nash’s notes were always spot on and always seemed to reflect what Shawn Levy wanted. We shared a few shots directly with the other vendors on the show, who added the tablet corrosion & statue animation before our final moonlight and transitions were applied. A handful of shots were shared amongst three VFX studios – and all this was managed by production really well too. It was a smooth ride.” Ralph Maier’s agreed, saying, “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb was one of those shows that made you look forward to coming to work each day. It was great working with Erik and the filmmakers. We are very happy that they entrusted the opening of the film to us!”