THE DARK KNIGHT: VFX Breakdown Of Batman's Sonar

THE DARK KNIGHT: VFX Breakdown Of Batman's Sonar

In Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, Batman (Christian Bale) uses Lucius Fox's (Morgan Freeman) cell phone sonar technology to help rescue the hostages and apprehend The Joker (Heath Ledger). Come see a breakdown of that visual effect.

The Dark Knight | Visual Effects Making Of from BUF on Vimeo.

For The Dark Knight, BUF was assigned the spectacular opening shot of the film and new intriguing challenge from director Nolan, the creation of Batman's "Spy Vision". In the film, Bruce Wayne develops a new technology that is able to detect the electromagnetic waves emitted by cell phones. By scanning the waves' behavior in space, the device allows Wayne to visualize in three dimensions any environment in which a cell phone is turned on

Since nothing like this exists in the real world, it was up to Pierre Buffin, VFX Supervisor Dominique Vidal and the team to figure out what this technology could look like. "We started with the concept of sonar." Vidal remarks, "Except that you can't see a sonar wave. So, we did tons and tons of tests. We tried waves, metaballs, smoke, particles, etc.” This testing period involved intensive collaboration between BUF's in-house R & D team led by Xavier Bec and lasted eight months. This research allowed BUF to be extremely efficient in the execution of these shots, the subsequent production period for the shots lasted only four months.

"Chris Nolan wanted the waves to bounce back off obstacles, but also to partly travel through them. In addition, the device needed to feel harmless, and not look like X-Ray. We considered allot of different details of what this could look like, for example: how fast should the wave go? how much of it should bounce back? how fast it should deteriorate? how it would dissipate? etc.," Vidal continues. "In the end, we managed to find the right combination of wave frequency, speed and rhythm. It was basically a CG wave on which we added some noise. All our work on the movie was created using proprietary software."

BUF also designed the environments in which the "Spy Vision" is used. This wave animation plays a key role in the Prewitt building sequence, where Batman uses it to locate hostages. The device is also featured in the Batcave monitor room, where dozens of monitors visualize different locations -- an environment reminiscent of the Architect Room that BUF created for The Matrix Reloaded.

The first step was to build each environment by modeling layers upon layers of geometries, because in Spy Vision, all volumes are translucent except when hit by a wave. "We had to see across the rooms all the way through, including the city in the background with traffic in the streets, etc." Vidal remarks. "It was amazingly complex. And we had to do it for each one of the monitors in the Spy Vision scenes in the Batcave. It was a very detailed for something that was only meant to be part of the background, each screen had to show people with phones doing different activities. In order to get enough material, we filmed our families, our apartments, our offices, etc., using BUF's proprietary pipeline to shoot references for the key frame animation. The amount of work that those Batcave monitor room shots required was insane!".

Finally, BUF had to prepare the shots to be rendered for IMAX resolution. This unique requirement added an enormous challenge to a project that was already very challenging. VFX are usually created at a 2K resolution but full IMAX resolution exceeds 8K x 6K, with a single uncompressed frame representing around 200 Mb of data. BUF treated IMAX resolution at either 5.6K or at 4K anamorphic, depending on the shot. 3D renders and 2D elements were created at one or the other of these resolutions. "It is much heavier to handle, but in the end, you really obtain a quality that clearly sets the movie apart from anything that one can see on a DVD at home," Vidal notes.


THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) was directed by Christopher Nolan, from a script written by Jonathan Nolan, David S. Goyer and of course Christopher Nolan himself. The film starred: Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Heath Ledger as Joker, Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, Michael Caine as Alfred, Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel, Gary Oldman as Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow, and Eric Roberts as Maroni.

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Member Since 7/12/2010
Filed Under "Batman" 4/13/2013 Source: BUF Studios
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GuardianAngel - 4/13/2013, 7:52 PM
Was this just released? Ehh, I don't care. [frick]ing love this film.
SuperSam - 4/13/2013, 7:52 PM
Jesus Christ Heath Ledger looks terrifying in that pic. The sonar always reminds me of this :)

Mendenhall12 - 4/13/2013, 7:58 PM
Yeah I think I'm going to have to watch The Dark Knight for the 100th time.
OrgasmicPotatoe - 4/13/2013, 7:58 PM
You got me to watch that first video right after I hit the bong, you son of a bitch !
thorhulk77 - 4/13/2013, 8:00 PM
Overrated movie but still great nonetheless.
StarlordX - 4/13/2013, 8:01 PM
Im the only one that think that this movie is Overrated?
Before someone say yes i like the avengers, i know it has flaws but i still like it.
THEDARKKNIGHT1939 - 4/13/2013, 8:02 PM
Okay then
superbatspiderman - 4/13/2013, 8:02 PM
the Dark Knight is the greatest CBM of all time. It is also just an all around great movie in general. I mean seriously whenever there os a list of greatest movie villains Heath's Joker is usually on that list.
SuperSam - 4/13/2013, 8:03 PM
That moment was like a mix of B:TAS and Daredevil. People complain about Batman being a weakling in the trilogy but that is simply not true. Batman taking out Joker goons and outsmarting the highly trained SWAT team made this one of the countless cool moments in the film.
GoILL - 4/13/2013, 8:08 PM

No problem stating how you feel, this movie is one of my favorites though.
thorhulk77 - 4/13/2013, 8:10 PM

Yeah... TDK is a real good movie, but best of ALL TIME? Idk
Growler - 4/13/2013, 8:10 PM
It really irks me that we're getting this now, when it should have been on the DVD/BluRay but they instead decided to give us pretty much vanilla discs in the way of extras.

Growler - 4/13/2013, 8:12 PM
Irks is a damned fine word, by the way!
Growler - 4/13/2013, 8:13 PM
We had the white lenses in one of the earlier, lesser Batman movies.
SuperSam - 4/13/2013, 8:18 PM
Yeah Aaron Eckhart was really underrated in this film and as an actor in general. He was the only good thing in the shitfest that was Battle: L.A.

I think he could've been an awesome Captain America if he was younger.
IDKwhatToChoose - 4/13/2013, 8:19 PM
Ledgers performance was one of the greatest of all times. The new Rachel was a terrible actress and her and Bales chemistry just could not match the chemistry of the Rachel/Bruce in Begins IMO
DioFoRio - 4/13/2013, 8:22 PM
wonder if they could make a mask work with lenses or would it look stupid?
UrbanTheEmcee - 4/13/2013, 8:27 PM
I don't wanna hear it Marvel fans.
The Dark Knight > The Avengers
I don't wanna hear it Hardcore Batman fans.
Nolan made great Batman movies.
With all TDKR flaws it's still a great movie. We got action, drama, great cinematography, great acting, and real emotions from that film. F*ck anybody who overlooks that to jump on small flaws.
yinyangpalms - 4/13/2013, 8:40 PM
@StarlordX TDK is one of those films you love too much upon the 1st viewing and rate it much higher than you will later.
Its a movie with a perfect Joker, perfect Two-Face but with a terrible Batman who seemed like a mentally handicapped, slow minded individual trying to keep pace with much smarter persons.

In this film Nolan stopped writing Batman as a vigilante that criminals feared and made him a vigilante that criminals stalked, chased, harassed, outsmarted, bullied and defeated.
Batman and Rachel in TDK were not continuations of the characters presented in Batman Begins.
For example: Batman could no longer fight like a Ninja. Rachel in Begins was afraid of Bruce after finding out he was Batman. In TDK Rachel feels sorry for him which diminished Batman, the main character. In the final moments of Begins we see Bruce brilliantly retake Wayne from William Earle.
But in TDK he not only lost the ability to out think others he couldnt even read them correctly. For example: He thought Dent was a great guy and worse he failed to read Rachel, who he had known for years, correctly and thought she chose him instead of Dent.
In TDK Bruce became a weak character that wanted a woman who did not want him. And he talked often about quitting the Batman gig like some kid complaining about their job at McDs.
Bruce/Batman's sharp decent from feared vigilante to PREY worsened as the film went on and continued with TDKR.

So really, just how good is a CBM when the superhero is written as a pathetic character in love with a woman who pities him and the "hero" is continually a victim?

The scenes with Ledger and Eckhart are perfect. The scenes with Bale/Batman are the worst parts of the film that you can't wait until they end so you can see more Ledger.
StarlordX - 4/13/2013, 8:42 PM
I personally like Batman Begins More
yinyangpalms - 4/13/2013, 8:50 PM
@StarlordX I agree with you that Begins was better because the central character was what he was supposed to be.

Imagine a TDK with the angry, driven fighter Batman from Begins with Ledger's Joker and Eckhat's Dent. It would've been a bad ass film like The Good The Bad And The Ugly.
But instead we got a great Tuco and Angel Eyes and a weak willed pouty faced, self pitying Blondie who could no longer draw his gun fast or out think the Bad Guys and gets beaten in the end.
ReynMan - 4/13/2013, 9:44 PM

though i'm really happy that i'm not the only guy around who likes Begins better than TDK, i'll have to respectfully disagree on your points about bruce in TDK.

the things you pointed out makes Bruce seem all the more human rather than just a flat-out one-dimensional character.

i get it, he's batman, but what guy wouldn't want to have a comfortable life with the woman he's always been in love with? he didn't fail to read rachel, he only hoped that she would choose him over Dent if he gave up the cowl. also, rachel never feared bruce, they rather spend a positive moment together talking about the future at the end of begins. what made you think that??

he still fought like a ninja. i personally think the fight scenes are shot much better since he could move his head this time around. if you watch Begins again, you'll notice that most of the fight scenes are actually close up shots.

CBM's can be good even if the hero is pathetic. it's often, if not always, a sign of a well-written character. heck, Spider-Man's whole existence and popularity is because of the fact that he's "pathetic". if handled well, it actually adds depth to the story. i'd recommend you watch Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Superman II and Spider-Man 2, three movies that are considered to the best in the genre. they tackle the same issue: the superhero wanting to be a little human and "normal".

unknownfacts - 4/13/2013, 9:52 PM
Great movie but I think Batman Begins the best in the trilogy in my opinion.
Jollem - 4/13/2013, 9:54 PM
GuardianAngel - 4/13/2013, 10:00 PM
I agree with @ReynMan. Some of my favorite stories from the comics are the ones that involves Bruce struggling with himself. I would never say he seemed "pathetic" but the fact that he isn't perfect and deals with the issues of being Batman is what makes him more interesting to me. He puts on a tough face for those around him, but on the inside he's really lost. I think this really shows in the scene where he's interrogating Maroni and Maroni refuses to tell him anything so he drops him off a building to intimidate him.
GuardianAngel - 4/13/2013, 10:05 PM
I believe the ending to this film was perfect. The best ending to any CBM IMO, but I feel that it would've meant a lot more if he hadn't been retired after that. I think it would've been better if Rachel's death didn't make him just hide in his mansion and do nothing, but rather feel that now that he has no hope for a normal life, he can't stop being Batman.
Jollem - 4/13/2013, 11:49 PM
yinyangpalms - 4/14/2013, 12:44 AM
@ReynMan Batman should have struggles and he can't be perfect but he's supposed to be so resourceful and near inhumanly expert that even his allies at times are spooked by him.
In TDK and TDKR Nolan seemed to be tearing him down after building him up in BB.
His fighting in TDK was not the same as in BB. But in TDKR he fought like an untrained school kid. He grunted just before throwing punches and threw haymakers repeatedly. Sorry but when Batman goes to work you're supposed to see an expert. In his comeback fight he fought like he was in an 80's action TV series. They shouldn't have Batman fight like the choreographed BS we see in the Statham or Seagal crap because fights never go down with such organization. But still Batman shouldnt swing for the jaw 99% of the time and should not grunt as he throws such primitive strikes.

So while Batman's not supposed to be perfect and hes supposed to have problems to face the problems should not be due to incompetence or poor performances.

And in the end Batman must win like a very dangerous man whos an expert at everything he does.

In TDKR wins when Selina shoots Bane as Batman is helpless, tied up with simple ropes and about to have his head exploded on the floor by Bane's shotgun.

That was the 3rd time in the film Batman was rendered helpless by his enemies. 1st by Bane, 2nd by Talia then tied up by Bane. We expect Robin to end up in such situations but not Batman. Because Batman is supposed to be the best. In Nolan's films he was not the best at anything other than losing.

Jollem - 4/14/2013, 12:57 AM
bruce knew multiple martial arts, but he can fight how he wants to at any given time. maybe he just fought angry? he did say he was angry, after all

some skilled and some just plain lucky individuals get the drop on bats from time to time in the comics. as it turns out, that makes for interesting stories usually. batman was the best at being batman
Jollem - 4/14/2013, 12:58 AM
PenditaMarah - 4/14/2013, 1:04 AM
I am batman fans,and still enjoyed the trilogy.push stop.
GuardianAngel - 4/14/2013, 1:27 AM
Yingyampalms Most of your complaints have to do with his fighting style, which I agree wasn't as good in TDK and TDKR, but there's a lot more to the character and the movie than just that. I just look at every CBM as an Elseworld tale, so changes from the comics don't really bother me.

And while the Nolan Batman is considerably weaker/less intelligent than the Batman from the comics, there have been MANY instances in the comics where Batman has needed to be rescued.
QuestionDAnswer - 4/14/2013, 1:52 AM
NO the most overrated comic book movie ever is The Average-rs. They did a poll on this, and The Average-rs won most overrated. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks like this a lot of other people do too :)
Jollem - 4/14/2013, 2:00 AM
even in the arkham games(which, for some reason, are apparently lauded as the end-all be-all of batman?) he gets captured and messed up and whatnot and he's struggling to put the pieces together. he does fight pretty in the games :)
GuardianAngel - 4/14/2013, 2:36 AM
LEOSTRATOR - 4/14/2013, 3:39 AM
Overrated, but the best among the 3.
marvelboyliam - 4/14/2013, 6:19 AM
TheDetectiveComicRises - 4/14/2013, 6:36 AM
Love the sonar eyes & still the Greatest Superhero Comic Book movie of all time to me.
ReynMan - 4/14/2013, 7:24 AM

Batman's supposed to win all the time, he's supposed to be some kind of expert in everything in the comic books.

however, in the Nolan movies, he was deliberately written as a human being grounded in reality.

he did poorly in his fight with Bane because he was out of action for 8 years. if you follow any kind of sport, you know how a player performs after he's been out for just a single season.

and yeah, you'll also have to agree with what GuardianAngel and Jollem have already pointed out with the Arkham games.
SimyJo - 4/14/2013, 9:17 AM
Sonar eyes powered by Bat-teries. ^^
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