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Author: Ian Failes

Mandelbulbs, mutations and motion capture: the visual effects of Annihilation


When Alex Garland’s Ex Machina won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 2016, it was perhaps considered a major surprise in the VFX community. But the win also highlighted just how crucial the visual effects were in bringing the story of the A.I. robot Ava, played by Alicia Vikander, to life.

Now Garland and Ex Machina’s Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor Andrew Whitehurst from Double Negative have re-teamed on Annihilation, about a group of scientists who investigate a mysterious quarantined zone called the Shimmer. While there was a larger visual effects effort required for this new film – which involved the Shimmer itself, an array of mutated creatures and an alien humanoid being – the VFX again remain highly integrated into the storytelling and crucial in realizing Garland’s vision.

vfxblog caught up with Whitehurst for an in-depth discussion about making the film and the visual effects (realized by Double Negative, Milk VFX, Nvisible and Union VFX), including shooting in real locations in the UK, designing with Mandelbulb 3D fractals, filming with practical effects and stand-ins for much of the creature work, and delivering a beautifully choreographed ‘dance’ for Annihilation’s stunning conclusion.

***Warning: this interview contains major plot spoilers***

New mocap video of Andy Serkis as Snoke


Most vfxblog readers have probably already seen ILM’s fantastic Snoke visual effects breakdown here, but Lucasfilm has also just released a clip from the upcoming Last Jedi Blu-ray/DVD that features an unaltered Andy Serkis performing Snoke in his motion capture suit.

Back in January, I wrote a piece for Cartoon Brew on how ILM transformed the actor’s mocap into Snoke. What was interesting – among many other things – about the studio’s work here was that the character went through a bit of a re-design and re-think during production, that even involved untwisting Serkis’ original mocap performance a little to make the character feel more powerful. It evolved into the final CG Snoke we see on screen.

Check out the new clip below:

FMX 2018 – the program


FMX has unveiled its program for 2018 and the talks, presentations and events happening in Stuttgart on April 24-27 look incredible. I am hosting the ‘Then & Now’ track which will feature Phil Tippett and Chris Wedge on the Friday, April 27th.

Here’s a rundown of some of the other talks that have been announced so far:

  • Pacific Rim: Uprising with Dneg and Territory
  • Star Trek Discovery with Pixomondo
  • Babylon Berlin with RISE’s Robert Pinnow
  • Ferdinand from Blue Sky Studios
  • The Breadwinner with Cartoon Saloon
  • Revolting Rhymes from Magic Light Pictures
  • Shaun the Sheep with Aardman
  • The Shape of Water from Mr. X
  • IT with Rodeo FX
  • Marvel’s Black Panther
  • Pirates of the Caribbean 5 with MPC
  • Paddington 2 and Framestore
  • Digital humans talks curated by Mike Seymour
  • + so so much more, with new talks to still be announced – check out the program here:

Thanks to Fox Renderfarm for sponsoring vfxblog


My thanks to Fox Renderfarm for coming on board as a new sponsor of I’m grateful to them for helping me continue publishing a whole bunch of original content here, including retro VFX pieces.

Many VFX and animation studios already rely on Fox Renderfarm for cloud rendering, and they are one of the leaders in the field. There’s a bunch of case studies of companies and how they’ve taken advantage of Fox Renderfarm here.

vfxblog readers will soon be able to access some exclusive rendering credits from Fox Renderfarm with a special sign-up code. Look out for that on my Twitter feed.

And if you’re also interested in sponsoring vfxblog, please email me.

Dark City at 20: a conversation with colorist Peter Doyle

Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

Filmed in Sydney and released 20 years ago this week in 1998, Alex Proyas’ Dark City surprised many by instantly becoming a neo-noir sci-fi classic. Fans of Proyas’ earlier works, including The Crow, were perhaps not surprised at the director’s adept skills in crafting a film around a dark sun-less world run by a mysterious group known as the ‘Strangers’.

Helping Proyas to achieve a distinctive look and feel to Dark City was Peter Doyle. Doyle is best known as championing the digital colour grading on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as lending his colorist skills on the Harry Potter films. Now he’s a supervising visual colorist at Technicolor, with recent credits on films such as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Darkest Hour and Paddington 2.

Peter Doyle.

But before Lord of the Rings and all those other blockbuster films, Doyle made his mark at Dfilm in Sydney, a film production services lab formed in 1995 that Doyle joined to help establish a wider digital post-production ambit. One of Dfilm’s first prominent gigs in that regard would be Alex Proyas’ Dark City (the company would later go on to work on The Matrix, also filmed in Sydney).

On Dark City’s 20th anniversary, vfxblog asked Doyle, who is credited as visual effects creative director on the film, about his time on the project, which came right as traditional film workflows were truly transitioning to digital, and as Australia’s own visual effects industry was just ramping up.