It is obvious there are some pretty amazing visual effects that came out of David Fincher's 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' but would you be surprised to know that there is 52 minutes of the movie where there is no actual footage of Brad Pitt. Even people with knowledge of CGI work are surprised to hear that for approximately one third of the movie Benjamin Button is a 100% computer-generated head on a live actor’s body. This is pretty damn cool. This is according to Steve Preeg, a character supervisor at Digital Domain, the studio that created the majority of VFX for the film.
DD VFX Supervisor Eric Barba was involved with the film from its inception and outlines details of where the CGI head begins and ends; and when Brad Pitt is left to fend for himself.
"The first "digital head" shot is the one we did for the test, where there's a long dolly and pan until the audience sees Benjamin sitting at the table banging his spoon. That's the first body actor for Ben in his 80s, as he grows younger we have another body actor take over for him in his 70s, when he goes out on the tugboat with Cap'n Mike and goes to the bar."
"The bulk of our work is the "Ben 70″ character, and "Ben 60″ when he leaves home. One of our last shots is when he is reading the letter from Daisy on the back of the tugboat. The line where he tells the Captain, "Well you do drink a lot", that's where the real Brad takes over. "
With the body actor performing from the neck down, his head was replaced with one that was computer generated and based on Pitt's performance. The character was created using a combination of VFX tools and techniques, some developed for the project at Digital Domain.
"For Benjamin Button we could not create the performance in animation, we had to translate it from Brad's performance .... we shot him [Brad] performing the role on a sound stage with four HD cameras and used image analysis technology to get animation curves and timings that drove our proprietary deformation rig." Barba explains.
I would have to say that the visual effects in 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' has set a new benchmark in the VFX community.
For more information on the visual effects from Benjamin Button go to fxguide and npr.