The Art of Pro­duc­ing Per­fect Par­a­sites

Two-time Os­car-win­ning vfx su­per­vi­sor Paul Franklin shares the se­crets of cre­at­ing su­per sym­biotes for the hot fall movie Venom.

Animation Magazine - - Front Page - By Trevor Hogg

Two-time Os­car-win­ning vfx su­per­vi­sor Paul Franklin shares the se­crets of cre­at­ing su­per sym­biotes for the hot fall movie Venom.

VFX su­per­vi­sor Paul J. Franklin is no stranger to cre­at­ing the vis­ual magic of science fic­tion, fan­tasy and su­per­hero movies. He won two Os­cars for his work on Chris Nolan’s In­ter­stel­lar and In­cep­tion and was nom­i­nated for his vis­ual ef­fects work on the helmer’s ac­claimed pic The Dark Knight. This year, he re­turns to the su­per­hero genre with Zom­bieland di­rec­tor Ruben Fleis­cher’s take on the anti-hero movie, Venom.

In this much-an­tic­i­pated film, an alien par­a­site in­hab­its the body of in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Ed­die Brock (Tom Hardy), which leads to a bat­tle of wills be­tween them. “There are two dif­fer­ent forms of Venom,” ex­plains Franklin. “There’s the sym­biote, which is an oily, gelati­nous, slug-like amor­phous crea­ture that has no skele­ton that is a con­stantly chang­ing shape and swash­ing around be­fore bond­ing with the host. Af­ter the bond­ing takes place, he pro­duces this thick, rub­bery ex­oskele­ton that emerges out of the skin of Ed­die Brock and trans­forms him into Venom, which is a large, phys­i­cally mus­cu­lar char­ac­ter.”

Early on in the pro­duc­tion of the project, it was de­cided that mo­tion cap­ture was not go­ing to work. “While Venom is hu­manoid in shape, he’s able to move at an in­cred­i­ble speed and has ex­tra­or­di­nary agility,” notes Franklin. “The most im­por­tant thing was to have some sort of po­si­tional ref­er­ence so you could frame up for the shot. Of­ten what we did was to get a 6’10” stunt per­former and build him up even higher [Venom is 7’6”] with a Wif­fle ball on a stick stick­ing out of the top of his hel­met. We had mo­tion-cap­ture ref­er­ence mark­ers all over the suit so we could at least track his body move­ments and get a proper idea of where he was. But we never used the per­for­mance of our stunt dou­ble as the prin­ci­pal source of an­i­ma­tion. It was down to the char­ac­ter an­i­ma­tors to come in there and take the thing over.”

Ev­ery shot of Venom in­volved ex­ten­sive ef­fects an­i­ma­tion, es­pe­cially for the goo. “You wanted to al­ways feel that this char­ac­ter could morph into ten­ta­cles and slimy ten­drils,” ex­plains Franklin. “We had this con­stant ef­fect ani- ma­tion pass run­ning, par­tic­u­larly over the head, that cre­ated the move­ment of the edges of the eye and the way that the strains of goo stretch be­tween the jaws as he opens his mouth, which is a char­ac­ter­is­tic of the comics.”

Beef­ing Up for the Big Screen

Of course, comic-book artists have the ad­van­tage of be­ing able to draw what­ever they want on a frame-by-frame ba­sis. The vfx team didn’t have that lux­ury since the shots need to be con­sis­tent so that the au­di­ence feels like they’re watch­ing the same char­ac­ter and not com­pletely dif­fer­ent ver­sions in each se­quence. “Un­der­neath all of that is what you would usu­ally ex­pect to do for a crea­ture an­i­ma­tion, such as mus­cle and skin sim­u­la­tions,” says the vfx su­per­vi­sor.

Deal­ing with an al­most en­tirely black char­ac­ter that pri­mar­ily ex­ists at night­time was also a

tricky predica­ment. “What de­fines a black-painted metal ob­ject is not the di­rect il­lu­mi­na­tion, but the re­flec­tions of the en­vi­ron­ment around it,” states Franklin. “What we needed to do was to dress the re­flec­tions into the sur­face in or­der to give us a read on the shape. Ini­tially when driv­ing it from the HDRI maps that we cap­tured on­set Venom came out look­ing like a highly pol­ished 1950s car driv­ing down the strip in Ve­gas. It didn’t make him look threat­en­ing, and made his shape hard to read.”

Franklin and his team ended up light­ing Venom in much the same way they’d light a car for a com­mer­cial where big re­flec­tion cards and bounce pan­els are used to cre­ate re­flec­tions that sculpt the shape of the body. Then they added a sep­a­rate set of low light re­flec­tions from the en­vi­ron­ment that en­abled them to see his physique and the in­tri­cate or­ganic pat­tern­ing that moves over his sur­face.

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters fur­ther were the mas­sive white eyes of Venom. “What we found is that we had to dress the re­flec­tions care­fully into them to keep them alive and avoid them look­ing like plas­tic,” re­calls Franklin. “Venom looked best when he was in a com­plex light­ing en­vi­ron­ment.”

Eye­balling It

Sub­tle sur­face re­lief was in­cor­po­rated into the de­sign in­spired by the hu­man eye­ball. “You sell the emo­tion through the shape of the eyes,” he adds. “A car­toon ap­proach was adopted be­cause we had to over­drive those eye shapes in or­der to get a read on them. Then, to fi­nally stop it from feel­ing static and dead, ef­fects an­i­ma­tion added this con­stantly mov­ing, rip­pling edge to the eyes so that there’s al­ways some­thing go­ing on with them.”

The length of Venom’s teeth needed to be con­trolled on a shot-by-shot ba­sis. “The teeth have a slightly un­clean tex­ture, be­cause if we made them bright shiny-white he looked like had just been to the den­tist and had ve­neers put on,” Franklin ex­plains. “The sig­na­ture hang­ing tongue was used ju­di­ciously. We gen­er­ally use it to em­pha­sis a point. Venom is rel­ish­ing a mo­ment where he’s about to bite some­one’s head off or is en­joy­ing him­self. We looked at Clint East­wood and Jack Palance when they’re de­liv­er­ing lines through their teeth in films like Dirty Harry or Shane. If we tried to close his mouth com­pletely it looked odd be­cause his teeth are huge.”

Riot is the other sym­biote fea­tured in the movie which bonds with Dr. Carl­ton Drake. Por­trayed by Riz Ahmed, he is the head of a ne­far­i­ous sur­vival­ist cor­po­ra­tion known as the Life Foun­da­tion. “Riot only ex­ists in a cou­ple of comic-book pan­els so we were given more free­dom to be able to fur­ther de­velop the

Strange Beast: Ac­cord­ing to vfx supe Carl D. Franklin, the trans­for­ma­tion ef­fects fea­tured in Venom re­quired a lot of creative R&D since the crea­ture lives in­side the main char­ac­ter in a liq­uid state, and then, co­a­lesces on the out­side of his cloth­ing. char­ac­ter,” re­marks Franklin. “He has an an­gu­lar rough bro­ken gun­metal fin­ish to his sur­face which worked out well. It played to the strengths of the light­ing and ren­der­ing. Riot doesn’t have any­where near as much dia­logue to de­liver as he is fu­ri­ous the whole time.”

Pro­jec­tiles in Mo­tion

Sym­biotes are able to form var­i­ous shapes. Venom tends to form ten­ta­cles and shields with his goo, while Riot has the abil­ity to form axes, knives, darts and spears. He can throw pro­jec­tiles from his body, which be­comes an im­por­tant part of the story.

DNEG pro­duced pre­vis for a key mo­tor­cy­cle chase. “Spiro Razatos, our sec­ond unit di­rec­tor, took that and ran with it,” states Franklin. “Pretty much all of the beats that we cre­ated in the pre­vis have their coun­ter­parts in the real world but once you get to the live-ac­tion unit you be­gin to find that re­al­ity im­poses re­stric­tions upon you. Maybe the bike can’t go as fast as you had it in the pre­vis, or the jump can’t be quite as high, or maybe they can do some­thing much more vi­o­lent and ag­gres­sive than what you had in pre­vis. It was a lot of painstak­ing match-mov­ing body track­ing, in­ter­ac­tion and cleanup to con­nect it all to­gether.”

Al­though the story is set in San Fran­cisco, the 13 weeks of prin­ci­pal pho­tog­ra­phy took place in At­lanta. Franklin notes, “The good thing is that a lot of ac­tion hap­pens at night, so it’s much more for­giv­ing. At­lanta is the home of the Coca-cola Com­pany so we had to get rid of some gi­ant Coca-cola signs that are land­marks. Ed­i­to­rial did a lot of work by clev­erly in­ter­spers­ing lo­ca­tion ma­te­rial from San Fran­cisco.”

Look­ing back at all the ef­fects Franklin and his team cre­ated for the movie, he says mak­ing the sym­biotes feel real and ex­tra­or­di­nary at the same time was the big­gest chal­lenge. “We un­der­stood it would be an is­sue right from the start,” re­veals Franklin. “Some of the things that re­quired quite a lot of creative R&D were the trans­for­ma­tion ef­fects. The con­ceit is that crea­ture lives in­side of him in a liq­uid state, oozes out of the skin rapidly, soaks through the cloth­ing, co­a­lesces on the out­side of the cloth­ing and en­cap­su­lates him. That’s easy enough for me to de­scribe, but to vi­su­al­ize and show it in an ef­fi­cient and com­pre­hen­si­ble man­ner re­quired an aw­ful lot of ef­fort.”

In to­tal, Venom is in the re­gion of 1,100 vis­ual ef­fects shots. “The mo­tor­cy­cle chase is par­tic­u­larly dra­matic and ex­cit­ing,” shares Franklin. “I’m go­ing to get a kick when peo­ple see Riot’s first ap­pear­ance in the film; that will make a few peo­ple jump out of their seats.”

Sony re­leases Venom in the­aters on Oc­to­ber 5.

“Mak­ing the sym­biotes feel real and ex­tra­or­di­nary at the same time was the big­gest chal­lenge … We un­der­stood it would be an is­sue right from the start.’

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