New mocap video of Andy Serkis as Snoke

andysnoke

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:

Inside Kong: Skull Island’s final battle

KongVFX

There are a number of fierce fight scenes in Kong: Skull Island – one of the most intense is the final battle between Kong and a giant Skullcrawler. ILM handled the complex sequence, which included not only extensive character animation, but also a photoreal jungle and water environment and plenty of effects simulations.

Academy Award nominee Scott Benza was ILM’s animation supervisor on Kong: Skull Island. The other Oscar nominees for this film in the VFX category are Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White and Michael Meinardus. Here Benza details how that final fight came together.

Continue reading Inside Kong: Skull Island’s final battle

The making of The Last Jedi’s crystal foxes

crystalfox

Towards the end of The Last Jedi, we meet on Crait a number of Vulptex creatures, fox-like animals with crystalline bristles. Although a detailed animatronic was made for the production, the Vulptices were ultimately crafted in CG by ILM.

Academy Award nominee Ben Morris from ILM was the overall visual effects supervisor on The Last Jedi. The other VFX Oscar nominees for the film are Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould. Here, Morris explains the design of the Vulptices, and how they went through both practical and digital builds.
Continue reading The making of The Last Jedi’s crystal foxes

Miniaturisation secrets: Eric Brevig on ‘The Indian in the Cupboard’

Indian_art3

Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, soon in theatres, marks the latest in a rich history of films that have dealt with miniaturisation – that is, showing shrunken-down characters in a real-sized world.

Films such as Fantastic Voyage, Inner Space, Willow, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Hook, The Indian in the Cupboard and Ant-Man are all ones that have used different visual effects techniques to go small. These techniques have ranged from forced perspective, over-sized sets, shooting on blue or greenscreen and of course digital means.

Visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig happens to have worked on a coupe of these types of films, including one of my favourites, The Indian in the Cupboard, which featured visual effects from Industrial Light & Magic. I asked him about his memories of that film and the methodology behind miniaturisation. Continue reading Miniaturisation secrets: Eric Brevig on ‘The Indian in the Cupboard’

‘Flubber’ turns 20: how ILM made the shape-shifting green goo come to life

Flubber_dance

Twenty years ago, the film release schedule was awash with CG and VFX-heavy projects. Industrial Light & Magic, which had had a hand of course in a number of these, further demonstrated a diverse visual effects skill set with its work on Flubber.

Brand new challenges for the studio came in the form of Flubber itself, which had to be both a transforming piece of sticky goo and a character with major personality, while also being reflective and translucent. ILM’s artists solved these issues in several ways, including taking advantage of Softimage’s MetaClay tools.

Philip Edward Alexy was a lead technical animator at ILM on Flubber, and he shared some memories of the show with vfxblog. The show was overseen by visual effects supervisor Peter Crosman, and by VFX supervisors Tom Bertino and Sandy Karpman at ILM. Alexy also shares some rare crew shots and behind the scenes stills from during production. Continue reading ‘Flubber’ turns 20: how ILM made the shape-shifting green goo come to life

The tech of ‘Terminator 2’ – an oral history

T2_BARS_V1
Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

Ever since James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released in 1991, I’ve been reading about the many ways ILM, led by visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren, had to basically invent new ways to realise the CG ‘liquid metal’ T-1000 shots in that film, of which there are surprisingly few. Tools like ‘Make Sticky’ and ‘Body Sock’ are ones that I’d heard referenced several times, but I’ve always wanted to know more about how those pieces of software were made.

So, over the past few months, leading up to the re-release of Terminator 2 in 3D, I’ve been chatting to the artists behind the technology who were there at the time. This was when ILM was based in San Rafael, and when its computer graphics department was still astonishingly small. Yet despite the obvious challenges in wrangling this nascent technology, the studio had been buoyed by the promising results on a few previous efforts, including Cameron’s The Abyss, and by the possibilities that digital visual effects could bring to modern-day filmmaking.

For this special retro oral history, vfxblog goes back in time with more than a dozen ILMers (their original screen credits appear in parentheses) to discuss the development of key CGI tools and techniques for the VFX Oscar winning Terminator 2, how they worked with early animation packages like Alias, and how a selection of the most memorable shots in the film – forever etched into the history of visual effects – came to be. Continue reading The tech of ‘Terminator 2’ – an oral history

The last-minute roto tool that saved the ending of ‘Death Becomes Her’

dbh_ending

I recently spoke to visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston about his work at ILM on Death Becomes Her for the 25th anniversary of the film. The interview received some surprising attention; the film might not have been a hit but the practical make-up effects by ADI and ILM’s innovative ‘digital wizardry’ both continue to be fondly remembered.

Another ILMer on the show, Alex Seiden (who had worked on Terminator 2 and would go on to contribute to Jurassic Park), contacted me with a super-fun story about his last minute work on Death Becomes Her’s end scene – where Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn’s characters are at this point only their heads talking to each other, after they both take a major tumble down some stairs at a funeral. The shot was a long one – over 20 seconds – and was filmed as separate motion control passes that needed A LOT of hand roto in a very, very short space of time.

Below, Seiden relates how he helped make that possible. But first, watch the scene.

Continue reading The last-minute roto tool that saved the ending of ‘Death Becomes Her’

Head stretching and stomach holes: re-visiting the visual effects of ‘Death Becomes Her’

Death_Becomes_Her_V1
Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

“Bob had said to Meryl Streep: ‘Whatever Ken asks you to do, no matter how silly, just go with it. You can trust him.’ Because she must have been thinking, ‘What am I? What is this stupid thing?’ – Death Becomes Her visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston.

By the early 1990s, ILM had already been innovating in digital visual effects in a major way with films such as The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Then came along Robert Zemeckis’ Death Becomes Her. It would be released in 1992 and go on to win the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, thanks to more innovation from ILM and practical creature effects by Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc.

Death Becomes Her celebrates its 25th anniversary this week, and vfxblog goes retro on all the head twisting and stretching and stomach hole making work in the film with visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston. We discuss his long-time collaboration with Zemeckis, coming up with on-set solutions, experimenting with software and human skin texturing, and what’s changed in visual effects from then up until today. Continue reading Head stretching and stomach holes: re-visiting the visual effects of ‘Death Becomes Her’

‘Men in Black’ and its crazy collection of real and CG creatures

MIB_V1
Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

“I’ve always told people that when you have a movie that’s fairly complicated be sure to have a talking pug dog in it, because then you can fix things after with the same pose.”Eric Brevig, Men In Black visual effects supervisor

Twenty years ago, Barry Sonnenfeld delivered the quirky action sci-fier Men in Black, starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, to adoring audiences. It is a film also adored for its combination of practical and digital effects, mixing Rick Baker’s makeup and creatures through this Cinovation Studios, with Industrial Light & Magic’s CG and miniatures handiwork. Several other studios – practical and digital – also contributed.

To celebrate the film’s two decade anniversary, vfxblog spoke to visual effects supervisor Eric Brevig about Men in Black’s aliens, humans who are actually aliens, and about the range of models and miniatures used in the show. We also dive into the major plot changes and plot fixes enabled via visual effects, plus the secrets Brevig learnt from Sonnenfeld in making comedic moments. Continue reading ‘Men in Black’ and its crazy collection of real and CG creatures

Before you see Tom Cruise’s ‘The Mummy’, re-visit the digital make-up, mocap and other VFX innovations from the 1999 film

THE_MUMMY_V1
Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

You’ve got a character that needs to be desiccated and completely non-human in its position but has to be believably human in the way that it moves. Well, that’s motion capture in a nutshell.John Berton Jr., ILM visual effects supervisor, The Mummy

In 1999, director Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy burst onto cinema screens with visual effects from Industrial Light & Magic. The film’s fun-natured approach to what had previously been a horror genre of ‘mummy’ films was welcomed generously by audiences. As were ILM’s VFX, which took advantage of new approaches to motion capture, particle sims and CG.

The visual effects supervisor was John Berton Jr., who would go on to supervise the film’s sequel, The Mummy Returns, and Men in Black II at ILM, before becoming a freelance supe on films including Charlotte’s Web and Bedtime Stories. He is now a visual effects supervisor at Lytro, exploring the world of light fields.

With a new Mummy film about to hit, vfxblog went back in time with Berton to see how ILM conquered then-new challenges and how visual effects were very much part of the storytelling process in Sommers’ adventure. And in a special bonus addition to this interview, ILM’s visual effects art director on The Mummy, Alex Laurant (now principal art director, Microsoft / Windows Experiences), has generously provided a wealth of concept art, storyboards and other imagery from his work on the show.

Continue reading Before you see Tom Cruise’s ‘The Mummy’, re-visit the digital make-up, mocap and other VFX innovations from the 1999 film

‘The Lost World’ turns 20: Animation director Randal M. Dutra reflects on those early days of the digital age

Lost_World_V1_Full
Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

How Steven Spielberg came to adopt CGI dinosaurs for 1993’s Jurassic Park is an often-told story, including in several interviews I’ve done recently. Ultimately, the move from stop-motion to digital dinos paved the way for an explosion in CG characters in blockbuster movies.

That included Jurassic Park’s sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, released 20 years ago this week, in which the director and visual effects studio Industrial Light & Magic returned with even more photorealistic digital dinos.

One artist who was there on both films, straddling the stop-motion and CG worlds, was Randal M. Dutra. He was at Tippett Studio for Jurassic Park and heavily involved in early movement tests and the use of the innovative Digital Input Device (DID). Then Dutra moved to ILM to work as Animation Director for The Lost World. On the film’s 20th anniversary, vfxblog finds out more from Dutra about his dinosaur experiences.

ANIMATIC-2
Dutra animating the T-Rex attacking the Ford Explorer for the “T-Rex Main Road” Animatic. July/August, 1992.

Continue reading ‘The Lost World’ turns 20: Animation director Randal M. Dutra reflects on those early days of the digital age

Full liquid metal, now in 3D: re-visiting the freakin’ T-1000 walking out of the fiery truck crash

img_1955
Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

If you’ve never seen James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day – either on the big or small screen – now’s the time to embrace this wonder of filmmaking and effects. The movie has been digitally re-mastered and received the ‘full liquid metal 3D’ stereo conversion treatment by Stereo D. The new release just premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival and will have public release dates around the world in August.

Twenty-six years ago, T2 helped usher in a new wave of digital visual effects artistry thanks to the pioneering computer graphics work by ILM, capitalising on their work for The Abyss, and then which the studio took even further on Jurassic Park.

Terminator 2 GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

It was the liquid metal T-1000 played by Robert Patrick that represented the majority of this CGI work in the film. Indeed, a hero reveal of the ‘cybernetic organism’ emerging from the flames of a burning truck wreckage became one of ILM’s signature shots for years to come.

Two of the principal artists behind that work were animation director Steve ‘Spaz’ Williams and associate visual effects supervisor Mark Dippé. In this special vfxblog interview conducted at SIGGRAPH Asia 2016 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Terminator 2, Williams and Dippé recount their efforts to create that memorable shot, known as CC-1.

Continue reading Full liquid metal, now in 3D: re-visiting the freakin’ T-1000 walking out of the fiery truck crash

You’re a wonderful human being: re-visiting CG Jabba 20 years later

jabba_v1
Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

You might have seen former ILM visual effects and animation supervisor Steve ‘Spaz’ Williams pop up on vfxblog quite a lot recently. That’s because he was involved in a number of seminal VFX films celebrating their various anniversaries of late, including Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park.

Williams was also involved in another landmark – and somewhat notorious – moment in visual effects, when George Lucas revisited his original Star Wars trilogy for the ‘Special Edition’ releases. In particular, Williams was asked to animate a digital Jabba the Hutt for a deleted scene from A New Hope when the gangster confronts Han Solo on Mos Eisley.

The scene had been shot for the 1977 release using a stand-in actor (Declan Mulholland) for Jabba, with plans to realise the sequence with a puppet or stop-motion character. But, as Williams recounts in this chat with vfxblog, it wasn’t until the ‘Special Editions’ – released 20 years ago this week – that Lucas felt he could take advantage of advancements ILM was making in CGI to complete the scene and have Jabba moving along the ground, unlike how audiences had previously witnessed the creature in Return of the Jedi. Continue reading You’re a wonderful human being: re-visiting CG Jabba 20 years later

Behind the ILM Mars Attacks! tests that convinced Tim Burton to go CG

mars_attacks_vfxblog
Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

1996 was a break-out year for digital visual effects, with advancements in front and centre CG characters (Dragonheart), heavy environments and digital compositing (Independence Day), and photoreal CG simulations (Twister).

Another film that took advantage of the the state of VFX was Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks!, a quirky off-shoot of the 1960s Topps trading cards. Although its martians were initially imagined by the director to be stop-motion characters, Industrial Light & Magic would ultimately produce a series of tests that convinced Burton to realise them in CG. The newly formed Warner Digital Studios also crafted other key CG shots.

On its 20th anniversary, vfxblog revisits ILM’s breakthrough animation tests for the martians with Mars Attacks!’s visual effects supervisor Jim Mitchell and animation supervisor David Andrews (who actually has a VFX supervisor credit on the film). Plus, Mike Fink, then VFX supervisor at Warner Digital, looks back at the saucer and robot effects for the cult classic. Continue reading Behind the ILM Mars Attacks! tests that convinced Tim Burton to go CG