Blackhat Data Concepts

October 2014 ––
Info: In early 2014, Michael Mann and Legendary Pictures approached Bradley Munkowitz to contribute concept art for a CG sequence in his cyber-crime thriller, Blackhat. The objective was to visualize a microchip at a massive scale - where time slows and malware becomes visible electrical signals moving along enormous freeway-like rails.

Munkowitz brought along the one and only C4D master Michael the Riggler for the ride, working together to craft a series of style frames to provide direction to Weta Digital, who was ultimately executing the sequence to perfection under Mr. Mann's methodical direction. 

The team paid special attention to the interior environments deep inside the computer - at such a macro scale they wanted to make sure all the dust and degradation was apparent; distressed passageways and irregular surfaces, all graded in a palette that made it feel worn and used.

This was a big directive from Mr Mann himself, he always pushed to have the scene feel claustrophobic and heavily distressed, and had done hours of research with leading chip experts to craft some incredibly helpful direction for the team.

Data Concepts

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The most important component of the concept frames was the data itself, which in the sequence was the key throughline. They took a few approaches in visualizing this data flow – one being high-density arrays of data points in irregular patterns flowing along the passageways, each packet illuminating a variety of exposure to capture the active nature of the flow.

These points would then fire lightning-like connections to and from each of the rails, and would also form barriers of contact for the data flow. Ultimately, with a multi-layered approach, they delivered a whole host of visual options for the post production team to take inspiration from and used to craft the final sequence. 

Design Process

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Visualizing the microchip at such a magnified scale posed some interesting design challenges. The design team focused on creating the look for the binary electrical signals and the design of various components within the chip, crafting extra detail in the signal itself to display the various impacts it had on the surrounding components. 

They presented various degrees of distress, which would exponentially increase the further the camera would descend. They would also present background and data renders separate, to isolate various components in detail to assist the CG team during production. 

Final Film Sequence

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Blackhat Hacker Design Credits

Director: Michael Mann
Production Company: Legendary Pictures

VFX Producer: Amber Kirsch

GFX Producer: Micah Gendron
Design Director: Bradley G Munkowitz
Lead Compositor: Bradley G Munkowitz
Lead Designers: Michael Rigley, Bradley G Munkowitz
Lead 3D Artist: Michael Rigley
Compositor: Michael Rigley