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

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

New mocap video of Andy Serkis as Snoke

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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

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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: https://fmx.de/program2018

Thanks to Fox Renderfarm for sponsoring vfxblog

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My thanks to Fox Renderfarm for coming on board as a new sponsor of vfxblog.com. 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

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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.

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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. Continue reading Dark City at 20: a conversation with colorist Peter Doyle

A whole bunch of Blade Runner 2049 VFX breakdowns in one place

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Over the past few months, I’ve seen some incredible – incredible – VFX breakdowns posted by the various studios behind the effects in Blade Runner 2049 (overall supervisor John Nelson). So here’s a whole bunch of them in one place at vfxblog. I’m sorry if I’ve missed any of the major work, please let me know.

https://vimeo.com/248318780

Aaron Sims on the secrets of crafting compelling characters

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The creatures and characters you see in some of the biggest films and television shows are the result of countless hours of design, research, re-design and skilled artistry. Among the most prolific of creature and characters designers is the team at Aaron Sims Creative, headed up by design veteran Aaron Sims.

In recent times, ASC has worked on designs and visual effects for such projects as The Mist, It, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonder Woman and Stranger Things 2. To do that, they follow what’s dubbed a ‘Sketch-to-Screen’ workflow involving concept design, key scenes and layout, 3D asset modeling, lookdev, rapid prototyping and previs, rigging, animation, compositing and final rendering.

Sims is going to be talking about that process – and a bunch of other aspects of ASC’s work – at the upcoming CG Futures event in Melbourne on 2-4 March. vfxblog got a special sneak preview of a Sketch-to-Screen futuristic robot project that will be shown at CG Futures, which Sims runs through below. Continue reading Aaron Sims on the secrets of crafting compelling characters

‘We tried a million things’ – the oral history of Sphere’s sphere

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

Barry Levinson’s 1998 film Sphere, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this week, brought with it a diverse array of visual effects straddling both the practical and digital worlds. Its central ‘character’, the sphere itself, was a CG creation by Cinesite, and proved to be one of the toughest design challenges on the movie.

Overall visual effects supervisor Jeff Okun and Cinesite laboured for months over the appearance and textural qualities of the sphere, which needed to be other-worldly, ‘perfect’ and non-reflective – all at the same time. In this oral history of the sphere, vfxblog looks back with members of the visual effects team on the film at how the CG creation was realised – even actor Samuel L. Jackson hilariously weighs in.

Note: Okun’s comments are taken from the fantastic documentary appearing on the Sphere DVD called ‘Shaping the Sphere: The Art of the Visual Effects Supervisor’, while Jackson’s words are from those he made during the audio commentary on the Sphere DVD. Continue reading ‘We tried a million things’ – the oral history of Sphere’s sphere

Industry news: Iloura merges with Method Studios, and the lost Pirates 3 interview

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Sister visual effects studios Iloura and Method, both owned by Deluxe, are combining under a single brand – Method Studios.

Iloura, an Australian VFX studio with a 30 year history in Melbourne and Sydney, had in particular been knocking it out of the park recently with killer work on projects such as Game of Thrones, Fury Road, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and many other feature films and TV shows. And Method, itself a studio with a rich 20 year history, continues to be a major contributor to big visual effects films, including Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

You can read more about Iloura and Method’s long histories in VFX and about their new combined pipelines at methodstudios.com, but after hearing about them coming together into one brand, I wanted to share a fun story about one of my first interactions with Method from more than a decade ago.

The first time I tried to cover a project by Method Studios, it actually didn’t work out. Well, an interview happened, but I never published it. This was in 2007 for the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, in which Method Studios contributed 13 shots of miniature Jack Sparrows (Johnny Depp) hanging around the dreadlocks of the larger Jack.

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It was a cool sequence – dubbed ‘Little Jacks’ – and one that involved, I thought, some nice compositing to integrate live action miniature Depps into the plates. I was publishing occasional interviews on vfxblog back then, and after some Method employees answered my questions, I looked to put the piece online.

Except, there was a problem.

I wasn’t able to get any images from that scene (this was a Disney issue, nothing to do with Method). Without any visual aids to go with the story, I never published it. Back then, it was hard to source images (sometimes it still is). And although YouTube had been around for a couple of years, it was extremely rare for specific clips to be available at the time.

Ten years later, that’s all changed. So now, here, only a decade late, is my first ever vfxblog interview with Method, with plenty to illustrate it from At World’s End. And I hope to continue to cover the great work of Method, including by the teams in Sydney and Melbourne from the former Iloura offices, into the future. Continue reading Industry news: Iloura merges with Method Studios, and the lost Pirates 3 interview

5 visual stories from 5 VFX Oscar nominees

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Over the past year I’ve been able to cover the visual effects in all of the films nominated for the VFX Oscar – Blade Runner 2049, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Kong: Skull Island, The Last Jedi, and War for the Planet of the Apes. Now in this special series of visual stories, I’m pin-pointing a specific scene or character from each nominated film with just one of the nominees from that movie. Find the stories below:

How the orange haze of Blade Runner 2049’s Las Vegas meant 13 hour renders

The story behind those crazy dioramas in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Inside Kong: Skull Island’s final battle

The making of The Last Jedi’s crystal foxes

The art of translating humans to apes