Whether you loved or hated Ready Player One, odds are you were still amazed by the second challenge—yes, that scene—even if you were just wondering how the hell even someone like director Steven Spielberg pulled off something so impossible. Now we know.
The upcoming Art of Ready Player One book by Gian McIntyre explains it in detail. It’s out on April 17, and we highly recommend it if you’re a fan of the movie or if you’re just curious about how all its many, many, many disparate parts were put together, which is a fascinating process unto itself—but none more fascinating than the second challenge.
Of course, the scene in question is when the High Five enter the Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, where they hope to find the Jade Key to continue Halliday’s game. It begins with their avatars walking into the Overlook’s Grand Hall, followed by several crucial locations from the original film: the iconic hallways, room 237, the hedge maze, the ballroom, and more. And it looks like the characters stepped directly onto the set of the 1980 film.
They didn’t, although there was talk of actually rebuilding the entire set of Kubrick’s film. But since it’s the character’s CGI avatars who are in the scene, and not the real actors, the effects team eventually decided a digital recreation would work best.
But how do you turn the nearly 40-year-old footage into a perfect, indistinguishable-from-the-original 3D environment? Well, the team at ILM found a “high-quality telecine transfer” of The Shining, scanned it into their computers as a reference, and began to digitally recreate the locations needed for the film. “The bar that I wanted to reach was for anyone to watch it and go, ‘That’s a shot from The Shining,’” senior visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett told McIntyre. “It just happens to have our characters in it. Of course, if you’re inventing new scenes within The Shining or new moments or new characters, then the camerawork has to [change]. We didn’t have enough coverage of the different scenes.”
Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
When there was a shot they could use from the original movie, they did. So while most of The Shining sequence footage in Ready Player One is digital, it’s combined with some original footage from the film as well as a few new physical shots. Basically, anything that included a real actor, like the twins or the bathtub lady, was built and shot the old-fashioned way. Then those all of those elements were combined by ILM to create one, cohesive scene.
And yet, all of the footage had to trick the audience into thinking they were essentially watching The Shining—and that meant more than just recreating the sets. It also meant the Frankenstein-esque collection of footage all had to be augmented to look like it was from that era—duplicating Kubrick’s exact lighting, creating all the props to ensure they looked like they were made in the era—even the grain of the 1980s film stock had to be recreated. The attention to detail even included the avatars themselves; though all the actors were filmed using performance capture, just like the rest of the movie, for The Shining scenes, the final renders were sent through a “grainer lens.” The lens made them look less than perfect and fit better into the scene.
Stories like that fill McIntyre’s book, which also has dozens and dozens of concept images from The Shining sequence, as well as every else in the movie. The Art of Ready Play One arrives April 17 and Ready Player One is in theaters now.