The VFX magic of ‘The Shape of Water’

Recently, I was able to interview several of the effects filmmakers behind Guillermo del Toro’s amazing The Shape of Water. You can check those pieces out at VFX Voice and Cartoon Brew. The film has also been shortlisted in the final 10 movies for consideration for the visual effects Oscar, and will be at the VFX Bake-Off today in Los Angeles.

Now the studio behind the film, Fox Searchlight Pictures, has released a two-minute VFX breakdown. It showcases the digital effects by Mr. X Inc, championed by Dennis Berardi (Senior Visual Effects Supervisor), Luke Groves (Co-Visual Effects Supervisor), Trey Harrell (Digital Effects Supervisor) and Kevin Scott (Animation Supervisor). And it also serves to show the impressive collaboration between Mr. X’s digital work and that of the practical creature effects, led by Mike Hill (Creature Lead Designer/Sculptor) and Legacy Effects’ Shane Mahan (Project Supervisor/Make Up Effects). Enjoy the video above!

Ten things I learned from ILM about ‘The Last Jedi’s’ space battles


Space battles are synonymous with Star Wars films. The original trilogy is fondly remembered for ILM’s use of motion control and miniatures. These days, like on The Last Jedi, digital ship models, photorealistic rendering and simulated crashes and explosions are of course the norm.

But to ensure the space battles in this latest Star Wars adventure echoed those memorable scenes from the first films, ILM employed several ways to bring them to life, even starting an in-house project to copy – at least to some degree – the look and feel of the original motion control miniature movements.

vfxblog recently visited ILM London to find out more on that process, plus a whole bunch of other things about the scenes in which Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) takes on the Dreadnought, and when Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) launches his spinning attack on the Resistance cruiser.

Continue reading Ten things I learned from ILM about ‘The Last Jedi’s’ space battles

Blade Runner 2049: going deep with DNEG


Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is one of the 10 films short-listed for the VFX Oscar. I’ve covered several aspects of the film so far including with overall visual effects supervisor John Nelson, but here is a brand new interview with Double Negative visual effects supervisor Paul Lambert. DNEG was responsible for views of future Los Angeles, Joi the holographic girlfriend of K, and a memorable ménage à trois featuring Joi and K and Mariette.

Check out the Q&A below, plus a befores and afters video breakdown of many of these visual effects and other shots in the film by studios including Framestore, Atomic Fiction, MPC and Rodeo FX. Continue reading Blade Runner 2049: going deep with DNEG

Crafting Crait: ILM’s VFX supe on how Rian Johnson wanted to go ‘redder, redder, redder’


Scenes of ships darting across a salt flat-like looking environment and tearing up shards of red crystals permeated the early trailers for The Last Jedi. But what was this world, and what was the major battle teased there?

The final film revealed the location to be Crait, the location of an old Rebel base where the Resistance now seeks refuge to send out a message for help. But the First Order launches a swift attack, and a battle along, and even below, its white surface plays out. Here’s overall visual effects supervisor Ben Morris from Industrial Light & Magic on what was required to bring the exciting Crait sequence to life – including its incredibly distinctive redness. Continue reading Crafting Crait: ILM’s VFX supe on how Rian Johnson wanted to go ‘redder, redder, redder’

How to: Rey & Kylo vs. Snoke’s Elite Praetorian Guard


The moment Rey and Kylo Ren take on Snoke’s Elite Praetorian Guard’s is one of the many highlights from Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. I’ll have more on how Industrial Light & Magic crafted Snoke soon, but here’s overall visual effects supervisor Ben Morris on how that lightsaber fight scene, which was overseen by ILM London VFX supe Mike Mulholland, came to be, including the curtain of fire surrounding them and the weapons used by the guards. Continue reading How to: Rey & Kylo vs. Snoke’s Elite Praetorian Guard

ILM’s ‘The Last Jedi’ visual effects supervisor on how that Holdo hyperspace scene surprised even him


In the coming days I’ll have a bunch of coverage of the visual effects of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, based on a visit I made to ILM London just before Christmas. First up is a look at that stunning and surprising hyperspace moment when Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) slams the Raddus – mid-hyperdrive – into Supreme Leader Snoke’s ship, the Supremacy.

The resulting white streak of an explosion is a heart-wrenching moment of sacrifice played out in complete silence. Overall visual effects supervisor Ben Morris from ILM initially thought the sequence might involve a ton of complex destruction effects simulations, but director Rian Johnson had something else in mind. Continue reading ILM’s ‘The Last Jedi’ visual effects supervisor on how that Holdo hyperspace scene surprised even him

Are you planning for FMX yet?


I first heard about FMX in 2011, just as I started writing full-time about visual effects. I went there – it’s in Stuttgart – and was immediately hooked. There’s a ton of super-cool visual effects, animation and CG presentations.

You could go to JUST THOSE all week if you wanted to. But why the conference is even better is the breadth of other things going on: recruitment, AR/VR/tech demos, in-depth software/hardware talks, screenings – and maybe the best thing: people. I’ve made a whole bunch of friends there who I probably see only once a year. And you get to meet a lot of industry members and artists. It’s worth it just for that.

Six-odd years later, I’m now on the Program Board for FMX, and I’ll be running a track at the conference in April 2018 called ‘Then & Now.’ I’ll talk more about what this will ultimately involve soon, but the first announced speaker in that track is the amazing Phil Tippett. That might give you a bit of insight into what Then & Now is all about.


Things start at FMX on April 24, 2018, which is definitely not very far away in terms of planning ahead. Find out more about some of the announced sessions in this press release, and keep an eye on for more announcements.

Hope to see you there!

Breaking down the beautybot


Earlier this year I caught up with Imageworks visual effects supervisor Mark Breakspear to discuss his studio’s work on Kingsman: The Golden Circle. The home entertainment release of the film is now here, and Imageworks has shared with vfxblog a fun look at the beautybot effects.

Watch Breakspear and animation director Max Tyrie talk about the complex artistry behind the beautybot from The Golden Circle, in this video. The film is out on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on December 12.


SIGGRAPH Asia tech papers preview: 3D avatars from a single photo


Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of reading about and watching the results of digital human and faces research led by Hao Li. He is, simultaneously, CEO & Co-Founder of Pinscreen, Inc., Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southern California, and Director of the Vision and Graphics Lab at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies.

Most recently, Li and his collaborators have been demonstrating tools to produce 3D human avatars directly from facial scans and even just single photos. Their latest research, titled ‘Avatar Digitization From a Single Image For Real-Time Rendering’, is being published as a technical paper at SIGGRAPH Asia in Bangkok (27 – 30 November). I had a quick chat to Li on what the research is all about, and where his startup Pinscreen is up to. Read on to also find out how to get a discount to SIGGRAPH Asia. Continue reading SIGGRAPH Asia tech papers preview: 3D avatars from a single photo

‘Thor: Ragnarok’s’ Sakaar chase scene was also a courtship dance


Stuck on Sakaar but looking to get back to Asgard, Thor, Valkeryie and Banner steal one of the Grandmaster’s ships, the Commodore. In a high octane chase scene through the city, they escape Sakaar fighters and exit through a wormhole.

Digital Domain crafted visual effects for the Thor: Ragnarok sequence, overseen by overall visual effects supervisor Jake Morrison. In this special vfxblog, Morrison and DD’s VFX supe Dave Hodgins explain how the exciting chase was pulled off. Continue reading ‘Thor: Ragnarok’s’ Sakaar chase scene was also a courtship dance

What went into those cool title and UI designs in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’?


The explosion in visual effects work in comic book films is perhaps only matched by the explosion in design work also seen in those movies – everything from logo reveals, to main-on-end titles, screen UIs and other designs.

One of the studios behind much of this work is Perception, based in New York. It recently tackled Thor: Ragnarok’s logo reveal, main-on-ends and other design elements seen in the film, which took on a very ‘Kirby’ and sometimes retro feel. vfxblog asked some of Perception’s key creatives how they accomplished the designs. Continue reading What went into those cool title and UI designs in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’?

Behind the scenes of that super-cool Bifrost scene in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’


One of the scenes, as brief as it is, that really caught my eye in Thor: Ragnarok, was the Bifrost journey taken by Thor, Loki and an uninvited Hela. A mid-journey fight ensues, which ultimately sends Thor and Loki to the planet Sakaar.

We’ve seen the Bifrost before, but this time visual effects supervisor Jake Morrison and visual effects studio Rising Sun Pictures made it somewhat more crystalline. They also dealt with what happens when a character strays through its edges, coming up with a technique that included just the right amount of camera shake. Morrison and RSP 2D lead Jess Burnheim break down the work for vfxblog. Continue reading Behind the scenes of that super-cool Bifrost scene in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

Pixar previews their real-time graphics talk at SIGGRAPH Asia

Presto screenshot. Image courtesy Pixar.

One of the featured sessions at SIGGRAPH Asia in Bangkok (27-30 November) is How Real-Time Graphics Helps Pixar Make Feature Films, being presented by senior graphics software engineers David Yu and Pol Jeremias-Vila.

I got the chance to ask them a few quick questions about what real-time graphics and effects initiatives are in use at Pixar, and what their talk will involve at SIGGRAPH Asia. Continue reading Pixar previews their real-time graphics talk at SIGGRAPH Asia

A visual journey through the screen graphics of ‘Blade Runner 2049’


Territory Studio is behind some of the coolest UI and screen graphics you’ve seen in recent films, from Prometheus to Ghost in the Shell and now Blade Runner 2049. What better way to see what they did for the Denis Villeneuve film than just let them show off their visuals. Here’s a look at designs and finals from the film, along with their notes on how they were made. Continue reading A visual journey through the screen graphics of ‘Blade Runner 2049’

Crafting the insane action behind ‘Thor: Ragnorak’s’ end battle


WARNING: Contains some plot spoilers.

Amongst the many and complex visual effects sequences in Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, the final battle on Asgard is perhaps the most epic. Here, the evil Hela (Cate Blanchett), her d-guards and massive dog Fenris take on Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and several other characters, including a giant version of the fire demon fire demon Surtur.

It’s a sequence that involved significant fight choreography, CG character animation, enormous destruction and a surprising twist in Thor’s superpowers. Here’s a look at how Framestore, working with overall visual effects supervisor Jake Morrison, pulled off some of the battle’s key moments. Continue reading Crafting the insane action behind ‘Thor: Ragnorak’s’ end battle

Ian Spriggs on CG portraits and designing characters for Neill Blomkamp


Ian Spriggs is a character artist with experience at several visual effects studios and most recently at Neill Blomkamp’s Oats Studios. Here, he has taken on some of the most elaborate modelling and texturing tasks of his career. Spriggs is also well-known for his CG portraits and self-portraits, including one of Blomkamp himself.

I sat down with Spriggs for THU TV at Trojan Hose was a Unicorn, and you can read a transcript of our conversation below, where we dive into his portrait work, coming on board and Oats and crafting the incredible Zygote creature for one of Blomkamp’s shorts. Continue reading Ian Spriggs on CG portraits and designing characters for Neill Blomkamp

Reflecting on ‘Valerian’: concept artist Ben Mauro


At Trojan Horse was a Unicorn in Portugal recently, I got to sit down with Ben Mauro, an art director, concept artist, creature designer and illustrator whose work has appeared in such films as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Lucy, Elysium, Chappie and the Hobbit films, plus several games and other places.

Our conversation appeared as a live THU TV episode, with Mauro discussing his work in particular on Valerian and generally what it’s like to be on a production all the way through. For vfxblog readers, I was able to present some of Ben’s thoughts here in a Q&A, and show a few of his many designs for Valerian, below. Continue reading Reflecting on ‘Valerian’: concept artist Ben Mauro

vfxblog readers get a discount to SIGGRAPH Asia


One of the reasons I try and get to different conferences is that there often ends up being presentations on VFX and animation that you get early access to or don’t get shown anywhere else.

That’s exactly what looks set to be shown soon at SIGGRAPH Asia in Bangkok, taken place between 27 and 30 November. During the week, in addition to a whole bunch of technical papers and courses, will be featured presentations on films such as Coco, Blade Runner 2049 and Thor: Ragnarok.


For Coco, a large contingent from Pixar will be on hand to go behind the scenes. Framestore is showing its Blade Runner 2049 VFX, which included the Vegas sequence. With Thor: Ragnorak, presenters are coming from Framestore, ILM and Method Studios.

If you’re thinking of heading to SIGGRAPH Asia, vfxblog readers can sign up with a 10% discount. Head to and use the code EP107010MS71.

Hope to see you there!

Let’s all move to LA, in 2049


Los Angeles in 2049 is an over-populated metropolis, threatened by rising sea levels, and featuring vastly different scale buildings, from sprawling favelas to mile high pyramids. That’s how the city is presented in Blade Runner 2049, which had to show a location 30 years into the future from the original Blade Runner and had the benefit of using modern visual effects to make it possible.

Overall visual effects supervisor John Nelson was tasked with helping to realise much of that imagery. He and director Denis Villeneuve would push for LA views to be crafted via a combination of real photography, miniatures and CG. Some aerial plates were filmed in Mexico City, miniatures were crafted by Weta Workshop, and most of the CG shots and visual effects for LA were completed by Double Negative.

Here, Nelson tells vfxblog about the philosophy behind that approach and some fun details about combining real, miniature and digital. Continue reading Let’s all move to LA, in 2049