Dis­ney’s Crea­ture Fea­ture


Animation Magazine - - Visual Effects -

Dig­i­tal pix­ies, drag­ons and more were re­quired for



ice in Won­der­land,

The Cu­ri­ous Case of Ben­jamin But­ton. That would be cru­cial to trans­form­ing the hu­man per­for­mances that drive the film’s two-foot-tall pixie char­ac­ters, which Stromberg en­vi­sioned as buzzing like hum­ming­birds.

“We did a full per­for­mance cap­ture of the ac­tors in fly­ing rigs,” says Dig­i­tal Do­main vis­ual-ef­fects su­per­vi­sor Dar­ren Hendler. “From that, we got a mov­ing skele­ton that we re-pro­por­tioned to their pixie bod­ies. We’d also cap­tured mark­ers on the ac­tors’ faces and cal­cu­lated them in 3D space as a mov­ing point cloud. Then we did a fa­cial solver, where we took those mov­ing points and ap­plied them to the fa­cial rig that the an­i­ma­tors would later use. For ev­ery sin­gle frame, our fa­cial solver cal­cu­lated the ex­pres­sion we needed to have on our fa­cial rig to match what the ac­tor was do­ing.”

move to live ac­tion. By Ellen Wolff.

“That solver is def­i­nitely a pro­pri­etary tool,” says Dig­i­tal Do­main CG su­per­vi­sor Jonathan LItt. The sys­tem al­lowed the stu­dio’s Maya an­i­ma­tors to dial in ex­pres­sions and see the re­sults in nearly real time.

To cre­ate the char­ac­ters’ flow­ing tresses and lay­ered cos­tumes, Litt says Dig­i­tal Do­main used its pro­pri­etary Sam­son groom­ing tool. “These were the most com­plex hu­manoids we’ve ever done. We used a new gen­er­a­tion of Sam­son, which is al­most like Nuke for hair.”

The rest of the ef­fects work in Malef­i­cent, which Vil­le­gas es­ti­mates to­taled 1,500 shots, fea­tured keyframe an­i­ma­tion. Vil­le­gas tapped Dig­i­tal Do­main to an­i­mate dig­i­tal dou­bles of Malef­i­cent and to gen­er­ate her huge, CG wings. In prepa­ra­tion, Jolie was scanned at the In­sti­tute of Cre­ative Tech­nolo­gies at USC. But Malef­i­cent’s wings couldn’t just re­act to what her body was do­ing. As Hendler ex­plains: “Robert Stromberg’s man­date was that her wings had to have a per­son­al­ity of their own. If Malef­i­cent was sad, we needed to read that in her wings. Ev­ery feather was mod­eled in­di­vid­u­ally.”

The ebony feath­ers of the raven Di­aval, Malef­i­cent’s com­pa­triot, also pre­sented a chal­lenge to the Mo­tion Pic­ture Com­pany. “Black feath­ers are al­most all spec­u­lar, and re­ally hard to make con­vinc­ing,” says MPC vis­ual-ef­fects su­per­vi­sor Adam Valdez. “They gave him a sheen that was tricky to con­trol.”

Valdez’s lead team in Lon­don shared this an­i­ma­tion with MPC vis­ual-ef­fects su­per­vi­sor Seth Maury’s team in Van­cou­ver. As Valdez ex­plains, “MPC Lon­don was able to build crea­tures, do char­ac­ter test an­i­ma­tions, es­tab­lish the lookdev of those as­sets, and hand them to the Van­cou­ver team. Some of the best raven an­i­ma­tion was done there.”

Adding to the de­gree of dif­fi­culty was that Di­aval was a shape-shifter, trans­form­ing from a raven to a man, a horse, a wolf and ul­ti­mately a mon­strous dragon. “We re­ceived some re­ally cool de­signs and com­menced ZBrush sculpts to find his form,“Valdez says. “Drag­ons have been done so much. The is­sue was to do one that’s fresh. The main chal­lenge was an­i­ma­tion — how to put this gi­ant dragon into a cramped space; cre­ate a sense of ten­sion and make the au­di­ence be­lieve he can’t sim­ply over­whelm the soldiers he’s fight­ing.”

MPC cre­ated scores of dig­i­tal soldiers for Malef­i­cent by us­ing its crowd tool, Alice. They han­dled their char­ac­ters’ hair groom­ing with their pro­pri­etary tool, Fur­til­ity. MPC also an­i­mated a bat­tle that fea­tures crea­tures made from roots and bark. As Vil­le­gas says, “They look like they’re made out of trees in­ter­twined.”

The in­ter­ac­tion of so many vir­tual char­ac­ters was a key con­cern for Vil­le­gas. “It had to be strate­gi­cally thought out so we could have Malef­i­cent’s dou­bles from Dig­i­tal Do­main in­ter­act­ing with soldiers from MPC. That took some ex­tra do­ing.” Vil­le­gas him­self led an in­ter­nal VFX team in Los Angeles that han­dled a few hun­dred shots.

Even by com­par­i­son to the big vis­ual-ef­fects shows that Vil­le­gas has done in the past, he con­sid­ers Malef­i­cent a huge un­der­tak­ing. “Over 2,100 people from the vis­ual ef­fects world worked on this film.”

oped to cre­ate skin and mus­cles. An ex­tremely high level of de­tail was used by MPC’s artists due to the close-up na­ture of the cam­era work on the 350-foot crea­ture, par­tic­u­larly in tex­ture. VFX Su­per­vi­sor Ni­co­las Aithadi also worked with Ed­wards on de­sign, pre­viz and the first Comic-Con trailer where you see Godzilla emerge from the dust and rub­ble.

De­sign­ing Godzilla and then defin­ing his per­for­mance was, of course, the cen­ter­piece of the movie. The way Ed­wards plays the man vs. na­ture theme is like a thriller, teas­ing shots early on and build­ing sus­pense be­fore the full re­veal and not over­play­ing the spec­ta­cle.

“We found that it was al­ways ef­fi­cient graph­i­cally to show the spikes on his spine,” Rocheron ex­plains. “And when Godzilla looked to­ward the cam­era, we would pose him so he looked slightly down. You get that fairly ag­gres­sive feel­ing but, at the same time, we would po­si­tion the back and the spikes so you would get that kind of Mo­hawk. If you look at him up close, you can see all of Godzilla’s ex­pres­sions but fur­ther away you see him more as a sil­hou­ette that’s very graphic.”

By fram­ing Godzilla pri­mar­ily in sil­hou­ette (shot by cin­e­matog­ra­pher Sea­mus McGar­vey), the ex­pe­ri­ence is more in­tense. “We were us­ing back­ground en­vi­ron­ments and patches of light and fire to help shape the im­age as a strong com­po­si­tion,” Rocheron says.

Godzilla is a gi­ant lizard. But lizards don’t emote, so they stud­ied bears and other preda­tory crea­tures, re­ly­ing on real­is­tic body lan­guage, sub­tle fa­cial de­tail and breath­ing to pro­pel the per­for­mance. Godzilla ex­presses anger, sad­ness and tri­umph. “We spent a lot of time light­ing Godzilla and (his com­bat­ants, the MUTOS) so they reg­is­tered clearly,” Rocheron says. Bill De­sowitz runs Im­mersed in Movies (www.billdes­owitz.com) and is the au­thor of James Bond Un­masked (www.james­bon­dun­masked.com), now avail­able on Kin­dle with a new Sky­fall chap­ter.

MPC re- pro­por­tioned the ac­tors play­ing pix­ies ( above) while Dig­i­tal Do­main cre­ated the wings for Malef­i­cent her­self.

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