What happens in Vegas

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In the third act of Blade Runner 2049 we arrive at a stark orange-y Las Vegas, now a wasteland where the replicant and Blade Runner K (Ryan Gosling) has sought out the old-school Blade Runner Deckard (Harrison Ford).

Much of the visual effects work in that sequence was handled by Framestore (overseen by visual effects supervisor Richard Hoover), who worked with overall supervisor John Nelson on creating the distinctive Vegas buildings and incorporating the orange-y feel that had been inspired by Sydney dust storms.

Nelson tells vfxblog – from a conversation at the VIEW Conference in Turin, Italy – more about how that sequence was brought to life, including early discussions about whether the Vegas strip could have been made with miniatures, and some of the challenges of working with that colour scheme. More

More Joi: how the giant ‘Blade Runner 2049’ hologram shot was pulled off

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As a follow-up to my earlier coverage of Double Negative’s ménage à trois hologram work for Blade Runner 2049, overall visual effects supervisor now shares with vfxblog how Dneg also carried out the stunning giant hologram scene also featuring Joi.

This time, actress Ana de Armas is playing Joi as a hologram advertisement as she sizes up to a dejected Ryan Gosling as K. The sequence involved a greenscreen shot for de Armas, and a separate shoot with interactive lighting for Gosling. Dneg then weaved its hologram magic for the final shots, as Nelson runs down here. More

How ‘Blade Runner 2049’s’ virtual ménage à trois was made

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The ménage à trois between K (Ryan Gosling), his companion hologram Joi (Ana de Armas) and Mariette (Mackenzie Davis) in Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is a stunningly realised sequence. It involves the real human Mariette interacting with K, while also ‘merging’ at times with Joi.

The sequence involved significant visual effects planning and execution, undertaken by overall visual effects supervisor John Nelson and Double Negative, with Paul Lambert as Dneg’s VFX supervisor. In the first piece of my coverage of Blade Runner 2049, John Nelson breaks down how they made these amazing shots possible (Nelson recently spoke at length about the visual effects of Blade Runner 2049 at the VIEW Conference). More

VIEW preview: ‘Guardians Vol. 2’ VFX supe Christopher Townsend talks shot iterations

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It’s not very long until the VIEW Conference in Turin, Italy, which kicks off 23 October. One of the amazing things about this event is the high calibre of speakers – we’re talking major visual effects supervisors, animation directors and leaders in VR and other creative content industries.

Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Christopher Townsend is one of those incredible speakers whose keynote on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will be a highlight of VIEW. His talk, which will also be presented with Trixter animation supervisor Simone Kraus, is affectionately called, ‘The making of a really colourful movie’ – which is exactly what Guardians Vol. 2 is.

When the film came out, I had a chance to chat to Chris about supervising the VFX – and one thing I asked him was in reference to a post from the director, James Gunn, on a shot that had been approved that was in its 749th iteration. I thought I’d share some of Chris’ thoughts about the iterative nature of VFX. More

Beautybots and robot dogs: just another day in the life of Sony Pictures Imageworks

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Sony Pictures Imageworks is behind a whole range of shots in Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle, from robot dogs, to the beautybot (inspired by Claudia Schiffer), the surrounds of Poppy’s diner environment, a robotic arm, the destruction of the Kingsman mansion and that crazy one-shot fight scene at the end.

Visual effects supervisor Mark Breakspear tells vfxblog how working on some of these hilarious shots was different from the usual VFX assignments – a bag of weed transforming into a forest environment was one of many challenging tasks Imageworks had to pull off, for example. And that was nothing next to mincing one of the bad guys… More

Learn the (VFX) secrets of ‘mother!’ with visual effects supervisor Dan Schrecker

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When I was interviewing visual effects supervisor Dan Schrecker about the VFX of Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, I was still getting my head around the movie. I knew I loved it, but I wasn’t clear on everything that had happened (I don’t think you’re meant to be, by the way).

The result, though, from talking to Dan, was that as he guided me through many of the sequences that VFX had had a hand in, I found our discussion almost as gripping as watching the actual film! Suddenly, major plot points and thematic elements became obvious, and I enjoyed hearing about the problem solving involved in simply getting mother! made.

I hope in reading this Q&A you might find that too. Of course, I suggest you see the movie first – not just because of obvious spoilers but because a lot of what Dan and I talk about probably won’t make sense otherwise.

In the interview, Dan describes how the visual effects requirements evolved through planning, production and post. There’s a great story about using VR to plan the shoot in the house, and other anecdotes on specific VFX design decisions and changes made along the way. Here’s your last chance to back out now, so again, beware of spoilers… More

“That gives you goosebumps” – the VFX perspective on THU with Rise FX’s Florian Gellinger

Florian Gellinger from Rise FX.

It can be hard sometimes to nail down exactly what Trojan Horse was a Unicorn is. Of course, that’s its appeal – it’s an ‘experience,’ as co-founder André Lourenço describes it, for all kinds of creatives in digital illustration, design, concept art, 3D, CG, games, animation…and visual effects.

To that end, visual effects supervisor and Rise FX co-founder Florian Gellinger was one of this year’s Knights at THU. It was his first time attending, and I cornered him for a brief Q&A on the final day for his thoughts – as a ‘VFX person’ – on the week that was. More

Here’s a way to be part of Trojan Horse even if you’re not in Portugal

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Trojan Horse was a Unicorn or THU is about to kick off in Portugal. If you’re a regular reader then you might know I’ve been the last two years to this design, animation, concept art and VFX event (although listing those things doesn’t really fully cover what THU is all about – I think of it as the BEST motivational event for creative people I know about).

Not everyone can go to THU, partly because it always sells out ridiculously quickly. But one innovation they’ve been bringing for the past 2 years is THU TV, a mix of livestreaming interviews and coverage, and catch-up shows, direct from the event in Troia.

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This year, I’m going to be hosting some of those interviews. They’ll be a mix of casual chats and conversations with people from design, animation and VFX (I’ll post the schedule when I can). Some other fantastic presenters, Christopher Nichols from Chaos Group, and Haje Jan Kamps of Techcrunch LifeFolder fame, will also be hosting sessions. And you can watch them by signing up to a THU TV ticket right here: http://trojan-unicorn.com/tickets.

It’s 59.90 Euros for live coverage of 5 days of THU Talks and Masterclasses, live talkshows (that’s the thing I’m part of), and VoD on Vimeo after the event.

I think THU TV is a pretty great way to stay in touch with what’s happening in the creative industries, learn some new things, be inspired, and feel like you’re there at THU in spirit even if you can’t be in person.

VIEW Conference preview: Making a digital Hugh Jackman

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Between the 23rd and 27th of October, the city of Turin in Italy will be host to the VIEW Conference. Now in its 18th year, VIEW offers an intimate setting with a wide-ranging set of speakers from the visual effects, animation, games and interactive media industries.

One of those speakers is Image Engine visual effects supervisor Martyn Culpitt, who worked on director James Mangold’s Logan, one of the biggest films of the year. It’s also a film that surprised many with a seamless use of digital doubles for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and X-24 characters, and the digital double for the character of Laura, played by Dafne Keen.

At VIEW, Culpitt will be exploring Image Engine’s CG digi-doubles work and other visual effects in Logan, in detail. I caught up with the visual effects supervisor for a preview of his VIEW talk and a discussion about his thoughts on the state of digital human performances. More

So, about those iPhone Animojis…

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Apple’s animated emojis – Animojis – for the iPhone X just announced today are getting lots of attention, partly because the tech behind them likely extends from the company’s acquisition of Faceshift in 2015.

While that’s certainly not been officially confirmed, back then, Faceshift was doing some very cool things with driving animated avatars directly (ie. in real-time) from video of your own face, coupled with depth sensing tech – effectively the same thing that happens with these Animojis via the iPhone cameras.

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Several tools have of course also been developed elsewhere that use input video and facial performance to drive animated characters, but for fun, I thought it might be interesting to go back to specific pieces of computer graphics research from 2009, 2010 and 2011 that each partly served as the origins of Faceshift.

Other continued research efforts also played a part in the development of Faceshift, but these papers below (which also have accompanying videos), were key and show how the facial animation of CG avatars would be driven in real-time from video captured of human performances.

FACE/OFF: LIVE FACIAL PUPPETRY
Thibaut Weise, Hao Li, Luc Van Gool, Mark Pauly
Proceedings of the Eighth ACM SIGGRAPH / Eurographics Symposium on Computer Animation 2009, 08/2009 – SCA ’09

ROBUST SINGLE-VIEW GEOMETRY AND MOTION RECONSTRUCTION
Hao Li, Bart Adams, Leonidas J. Guibas, Mark Pauly
ACM Transactions on Graphics, Proceedings of the 2nd ACM SIGGRAPH Conference and Exhibition in Asia 2009, 12/2009 – SIGGRAPH ASIA ’09

EXAMPLE-BASED FACIAL RIGGING
Hao Li, Thibaut Weise, Mark Pauly
ACM Transactions on Graphics, Proceedings of the 37th ACM SIGGRAPH Conference and Exhibition 2010, 07/2010 – SIGGRAPH 2010

REALTIME PERFORMANCE-BASED FACIAL ANIMATION
Thibaut Weise, Sofien Bouaziz, Hao Li, Mark Pauly
ACM Transactions on Graphics, Proceedings of the 38th ACM SIGGRAPH Conference and Exhibition 2011, 08/2011 – SIGGRAPH 2011

A hot tip for VIEW: get there a day early for the workshops and masterclasses

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Most of the incredible visual effects and animation talks at the upcoming VIEW Conference in Turin, Italy start on Tuesday 24th October. But if you’re in town on Monday 23rd October, I would definitely suggest heading to the masterclasses and workshops.

Now, if you already have a ‘full access’ pass to VIEW, then you’re all set for both the masterclasses and workshops. Otherwise, you can buy individual tickets to attend the workshops and masterclasses. There’s a lot of diverse subjects to choose from, and a lot of short or longer ones, too, from digestible 2 hour sessions to half-days and full days! Many are on that first Monday, while others continue through the week.

Here’s my take on just a few of the must-see masterclasses and workshops to check out at VIEW. More

Behind the scenes of the miniature effects in ‘The Orville’

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In a new official video from Fox, The Orville creator Seth MacFarlane and visual effects supervisor Robert Legato discuss shooting the model of the titular spacecraft in the film. The ship is also brought to life by CGI but it’s so great to see that practical effects are a big part of this show. Some of the make-up and creature effects also look fantastic.

Quickshots: The small VFX detail in ‘Game of Thrones’ this season that says so much about the show

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Episode 4 (‘The Spoils of War’) of season 7 of Game of Thrones features one of the most exciting battles of the entire series so far. Known as the ‘Loot Train Attack’, the battle sees Jaime Lannister’s ground forces receiving the brunt of a fiery attack from Daenerys Targaryen, who is riding her dragon Drogon.

The sequence includes an impressive array of practical fire stunts, digital armies and set extensions, and of course a CG dragon. But it was one small touch added by the visual effects team that caught the attention of many viewers. This is the brief moment that Drogon’s wing, as the dragon makes a run above a stream towards the battle, neatly clips a tree on the river bank.

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It’s a small thing, but a hallmark of the attention to detail that is part of the visual effects in Game of Thrones, led by visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer and visual effects producer Steve Kullback. Here, Bauer explains to vfxblog how fellow visual effects supervisor Eric Carney, along with Iloura and Image Engine, made that very cool shot possible.

Joe Bauer: Well, Eric Carney was our supervisor on the ground in Spain where that was shot, because we were prepping all the big sequences to come and future episodes. He was our man executing all of our planning on the set.

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Shooting with a camera drone.

That coverage was done with a drone, and I know they had some technical issues when they got out there. We had quite a few tries to get the nice steady plates, and ultimately we did. And then really it was a matter of putting the dragon model into the scene. First of all, it involved 3D tracking the footage, and then putting the dragon model in and realising that the wings would bisect a tree. So the shot was really just out of necessity.

We had a LIDAR scan of the area, which is a digital model of the whole environment in the planning stage, but then the blocking sort of evolved in the shooting when they got there. The dragon ended up further up the stream that was feeding the little lake. Ultimately, we just had to deal with that tree.

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The continued approach as Daenerys nears the battle.

Iloura made a digital branch and Image Engine was responsible for the dragon. It goes by in very few frames, but it’s interesting that people noticed that. We thought we were being quite clever disturbing the water underneath the dragon. I guess either people accepted it, but that was a complete contrivance, too, because you’d have to break the sound barrier, I think, before the water would behave that way.

Anyway, we’re a bunch of geeks and fans too, and anything cool that we can imagine or think of cramming into any sequence, we tend to go for it.

Below, watch the featurette released by HBO that focuses on the Loot Train Attack.

From storyboard to final in ‘GOTG Vol 2’

James Gunn narrates a scene from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 where the Ravagers take on Rocket in the forest – breaking down the shots from storyboards to previs/postvis and final (with VFX by Trixter). This clip is from the film’s DVD/Blu-Ray release.

Here’s one of the best interviews I’ve heard Christopher Nolan give about his thoughts on film, digital and VFX

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I recently listened to this interview on BBC’s The Film Programme between host Francine Stock and Christopher Nolan on the director’s latest project, Dunkirk. It’s a great interview, in which Nolan discusses how he constructed the time-bending narrative in the film, how he used sound and score, and his thoughts on – and this is what interested me the most – shooting with photochemical film and the use of visual effects.

I loved Dunkirk. Everything about the way it is told and the way it was produced makes it such a fantastic cinema-going experience. I feel like I know a lot already about Nolan’s desire to keep using film, and to shoot things as practically as possible, even though of course his movies do rely on plenty of digital visual effects. But I’d never heard him talk about these desires quite like this, so I transcribed the relevant section below (apologies right now for any errors in my transcription).

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I feel like there’s a slight conflation in the interview of the idea of shooting on film and the use of ‘CGI’ in filmmaking, but I absolutely get what Nolan is saying about the ‘feeling’ from what you see on screen. And in terms of visual effects, by shooting so much practically, any visual effects artist will have a very obvious target to match in anything that needs to be generated digitally, or composited from multiple plates, or cleaned-up with digital tools. In fact, that’s why the VFX in Nolan’s films are so seamless, I think. They have to match what was shot, or what’s the point of including them?

Anyway, have a listen to the interview, or read the transcript below, and tell me what you think in the comments. More

Quickshots: Attack of the Megaptor

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ILM and VFX partner Hybride collaborated to produce a high-energy bus chase scene in Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Here, Valerian and Laureline race to board a bus that is then attacked by a menacing Megaptor creature. ILM visual effects supervisor Philippe Rebours runs down the work involved.

On-set shoot: When they’re outside the bus we shot that on the set where it was a school bus that has been set-dressed and you see them jumping into it. Then we swap to three shots where it’s fully CG where he transforms into this armour bus, and then you see them driving away. At that point, we’re inside the bus. For that, we shot it completely blue screen.

The interesting aspect is, because a school bus is pretty small, they built another bus that was slightly bigger, but using the same seats and the same stage and they recreated the front with the wheel and all this kind of stuff, except that there was a little bit more space so the mercenaries who were helping Valerian and Laureline, they could stand up and shoot.

 

So, we are on this blue screen and with this open-cut bus. The actors would shoot pretending that the creature is arriving and little by little we would remove some elements as if the creature is punching through the roof. So, we’d remove a portion of the roof that we replace with CG, and then we remove some of the seats because the creature was going to throw them away. By the end of the sequence, the full interior is CG interior.

Crafting the creature: From the artwork we saw that there was a sort of shell on it that looked very much like a crab, but he had other areas that move freely and he has these spikes as well. What we did is, for on the look itself we took photos of elements and we say, ‘Okay, the shell looks very much like crab. Use the foot of the crab as reference,’ but we had turtles for the skin in between.

 

Animating a Megaptor: We had a professor, Dr. Stuart Sumida, who is a biology professor at the California State University, who came and he gave a talk on how animals move and why, based on their skeletons. We looked at the Megaptor skeleton physiology and then the way he has to – his front legs are really strong, really heavy, and the back legs are a bit smaller, let’s say. That told us that we wanted to go towards hyena moves because they generate power from their front limbs, but the posture was very much like a bull dog, so it’s a mix of those two for the movement.

Quickshots: ‘Valerian’s’ multi-world oner

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Weta Digital’s Valerian visual effects supervisor Martin Hill discusses that insane ‘oner’ of Valerian (Dane DeHaan) dashing through multiple worlds.

Martin Hill: What’s happening in that sequence is, Valerian’s trying to get from one place to another as quickly as possible – that being a straight line. He’s just travelling in a straight line as fast as he humanly can with his exoskeleton power suit, or armour.

Essentially, anything that we could get in camera we would. There was a particular sense of movement that Luc wanted through the shots where the gravity was a bit different, he had his power suit on and so he wanted a particular gait we knew we couldn’t really get.

We did shoot Dane bounding against a blue screen for that shot. We shot him running towards the wall, and then we decided, on the day, at what point we would take over and go digital for performance reasons only. Then, halfway through the sequence, there’s a big orbit around his head where it’s back on Dane and then we’re just filling in the rest of the uniform and his body.

One of the big challenges was, we needed to create all these different worlds and they all needed to be distinct and they all needed to be their own things. What was very important was making sure that they all looked like they were still part of the same cinematic universe. That really boiled down to working with the art department, working with the set designers, costume designers and Luc and making sure that we didn’t have the same themes running through all the environments. The same is true for the characters. A lot of it comes down to colour pallet and composition.

Designing Baby Groot

Marvel has released a short featurette from its Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 Blu-ray/DVD focusing on designing Baby Groot, and it includes comments from overall vfx supe Christopher Townsend and the concept art and practical build required for on-set shooting. Check it out below.