how DNEG Does… crea­tures

Part 2 of 3D World’s spe­cial se­ries on DNEG jumps into the stu­dio’s renowned crea­ture work

3D World - - CONTENTS -

Part 2 of our spe­cial Dou­ble Neg­a­tive in­sider ex­plores the work of the stu­dio’s crea­ture team, on block­buster hits from Ant-man and the Wasp to Dead­pool 2

The robot Jaegers and mas­sive Kaiju mon­sters in Pa­cific Rim: Up­ris­ing. Gi­ant and small ver­sions of Ant-man in Ant-man and the Wasp. The alienesque sym­biotes in Venom. The crazy crit­ters of An­ni­hi­la­tion. Wade Wil­son’s baby legs in Dead­pool 2.

That’s only a small por­tion of the many in­cred­i­ble crea­tures and char­ac­ters that vis­ual ef­fects stu­dio DNEG has made for some of its re­cent projects, many of which are some of the big­gest block­busters of the year. In this sec­ond part of the in­sider se­ries on the stu­dio, 3D

World finds out more about where crea­ture work sits in the DNEG pipe­line, with high­lights from Ant­man and the Wasp and Dead­pool 2.

Fea­tures of the crea­tures team

It’s the job of the crea­ture team at DNEG to take mod­els made by the stu­dio’s build depart­ment and con­struct a set of rigs around them. An­i­ma­tors give the model a pri­mary per­for­mance, with mus­cle, skin, cos­tume and hair rigs made by the crea­ture team pro­vid­ing sec­ondary move­ment and fi­nal out­put ge­ome­tries.

Since so much of that work in­volves re-cre­at­ing nat­u­ral hu­man and an­i­mal traits, “crea­ture artists need to have an ex­cel­lent un­der­stand­ing of anatomy, the be­hav­iour of skin, fat and mus­cle un­der ev­ery con­di­tion,” says DNEG crea­ture su­per­vi­sor Adam Van­ner, who over­saw the work on Dead­pool

2. “They also need a cre­ative eye to push the per­for­mance laid out by the an­i­ma­tion team to the needs of each shot.”

Rig­ging be­comes a key as­pect of crea­tures, since it in­ter­acts with so many parts of the pipe­line. “We need to make sure that there is ex­cel­lent di­a­logue be­tween rig­ging, an­i­ma­tion and crea­ture artists,” states Van­ner. “We need to make hun­dreds of judge­ment calls along the way so re­view­ing the work and progress is key. For ex­am­ple, one of the hard­est ar­eas to tackle is rais­ing the arms high above the head. If we know we never see this, we can spend more time on de­tail­ing the poses which we will see.”

Rig­ging and other crea­ture-build­ing as­pects are gen­er­ally han­dled in Maya and Hou­dini, but like many stu­dios, DNEG has its own pro­pri­etary rig­ging set­ups (their mod­u­lar rig­ging sys­tem is called Pinoc­chio, while their hair­groom­ing tool is called Fur­ball).

“We also have tool­kits for solv­ing and learn­ing pose net­works, build­ing com­plex cloth and mus­cle set­ups, sculpt­ing and sim­u­la­tion,” adds Remi Cauzid, a DNEG crea­ture su­per­vi­sor on Ant­man and the Wasp. “In the last few

years we’ve started to use Ziva Dy­nam­ics which is a mus­cle and skin sim­u­la­tion sys­tem for Maya. As it’s com­mer­cially avail­able it has the ad­van­tage that crew new to DNEG don’t need to learn a whole new sys­tem if they have al­ready used it at a dif­fer­ent stu­dio.”


For Ant-man and the Wasp, DNEG not only had the chal­lenge of craft­ing sev­eral dig­i­tal dou­ble mod­els – each with cloth, hair and mus­cle sims – it also reg­u­larly had to make them grow both larger and smaller than hu­man size. Sim­u­la­tions be­gan in Maya us­ing ncloth and nhair, with an in-house mus­cle sys­tem run­ning on Maya nodes. “We went for sim­plic­ity as the chal­lenge was in ‘scale dif­fer­ences’ – as­sets had to grow and shrink,” ex­plains Cauzid. “So we went for a well-known tool we had the con­fi­dence in, that was ver­sa­tile enough to give us a wide range of looks.”

“We knew Ant-man and the Wasp would scale from 0.01% of their sizes to about ten times big­ger than a reg­u­lar hu­man,” con­tin­ues Cauzid. “Gavin Thomas, our se­nior rig­ger on the show, did an amaz­ing job pro­vid­ing down­stream artists in crea­ture FX (CFX) with sta­ble data to run sim­u­la­tions. Then Dameon Oboyle, our CFX lead, and his team were able, in a first pass, to keep a con­sis­tent look for the sim­u­la­tions. No mat­ter what the size, there had to be con­sis­tency to the fab­rics. Then de­pend­ing on the shot re­quire­ment, they were able to go for a ‘macro’ or ‘mega’ size look.”

The char­ac­ter Ghost was one in the film that did not need to be scaled, but in­stead had a unique phas­ing ef­fect. Her cos­tume worn on set was also reg­u­larly aug­mented or com­pletely re­placed in CG. “When you see her, she is a mix be­tween plate and CG side to side to cre­ate her ‘ghost im­age’,” says Cauzid. “This was done thanks to a lot of col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the body track, an­i­ma­tion and com­po­si­tion de­part­ments. Body track was pro­vid­ing us with ac­cu­rate ver­sions of the real Ghost, so we could dig­i­tally en­hance her. An­i­ma­tion was cre­at­ing Ghost al­ter­nate per­for­mances and com­posit­ing was mix­ing all of the work to get the de­sired ef­fect. While all of this was hap­pen­ing, the light­ing, look-dev and sim­u­la­tion de­part­ments had no room for mis­takes. The CG ver­sion had to look great: ren­ders and sim­u­la­tions of the fab­rics needed to match the re­al­ity per­fectly.”

The crea­ture team’s char­ac­ters are right there on the screen, but of course it takes weeks and some­times months to pro­duce them. Get­ting to the end in­volves a lot of trial and er­ror. The team has sev­eral ways of re­view­ing work and putting crea­tures through their paces to en­sure the fi­nal shots will look cor­rect.


“At the be­gin­ning of Ant-man

and the Wasp,” says Cauzid, “we used generic light­ing – it gave us a good va­ri­ety of sit­u­a­tions on stan­dard turnta­bles. We also tested mo­tion and cloth sim­u­la­tions us­ing a stan­dard ‘dance’ to go through ex­treme po­si­tions (stretch, twist and bend).”

“Once the as­sets were ap­proved,” the crea­ture su­per­vi­sor adds, “we had a setup to test for sta­bil­ity and com­pat­i­bil­ity. While we had to go closer and closer to the CG ver­sion of Ant-man and the Wasp in the shots, the as­sets were ren­dered again and again in the same setup. This al­lowed us to make sure the look matched the previous ver­sion us­ing the new ‘up­res’ maps or mod­els.”


A di­verse ar­ray of crea­ture chal­lenges met DNEG on Dead­pool

2. One of the main tasks was to pro­duce dig­i­tal dou­bles and cos­tume cloth sim­u­la­tions for Wade Wil­son as Dead­pool him­self and his X-force team mem­bers that matched ex­actly to the live-ac­tion per­form­ers. These came into play, in par­tic­u­lar, for a para­chute jump scene that ends hor­ri­bly for many of the X-force team.

“At DNEG we al­ways try to make sure our set­ups for hero char­ac­ters and props can be seen very close up, be­cause even if this is not ini­tially re­quired the needs of a shot can change dur­ing pro­duc­tion,” says Van­ner. “For cos­tume, es­pe­cially Dead­pool’s suit and the parachutes, the big­gest chal­lenge is to get fine wrin­kles. With this in mind, we sim­u­late all but the mi­cro­scopic wrin­kles that never change.

“We rig a lay­ered ap­proach in ncloth via our pro­pri­etary tool Cloth Rig Builder, so we start with a low-res­o­lu­tion sim­u­la­tion. Be­cause it’s low res­o­lu­tion, we can turn ev­ery­thing up to the max, high col­li­sion and sub­steps, so it’s very sta­ble. We then add on one or two lay­ers with ex­tra mesh sub­di­vi­sions. We nor­mally con­strain or in­put at­tract the high­res­o­lu­tion layer, of­ten called the ‘wrin­kle layer’, to the base layer. As the col­li­sions are al­ready solved in the base layer we can of­ten dis­able col­li­sions. One key trick is that we

turn the com­pres­sion re­sis­tance down in the base layer and then high in the wrin­kle layer. This forces com­press­ing cloth to turn into wrin­kles. The re­sult is cloth you can get very, very close to, yet is fast to sim­u­late.” For hair sim­u­la­tions in Dead­pool 2, DNEG used a heav­ily mod­i­fied nHair setup that al­lows artists to see the sim­u­la­tion driv­ing the stu­dio’s Fur­ball hair sys­tem within the rig. “Set­ting the rigs up is very au­to­mated,” notes Van­ner, “so we ac­tu­ally sim­u­lated the Peter char­ac­ter’s mous­tache when he was skydiving, just be­cause we could – it was one check­box, so why not!”

Some­times DNEG’S crea­ture work is not for whole dig­i­tal as­sets, but just por­tions of them. Such was the case for the char­ac­ter Ca­ble’s arm in Dead­pool 2. The arm con­sists of nu­mer­ous over­lap­ping ca­bles that di­rectly segue into real skin. Says Van­ner: “Our rig­ging lead, Steven Bills, did a great job of man­ag­ing the com­plex­i­ties of the setup. A lot went into plan­ning where each ca­ble would be at­tached and where it would slide when un­der com­pres­sion. We had imag­ined it would be a very tax­ing task with a lot of corrections needed in shot, but he did such a good job that the rig pretty much al­ways worked from an­i­ma­tion with min­i­mal tweak­ing needed by crea­ture or shot-sculpt artists.”

In­deed, the im­por­tance of col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the crea­ture team and oth­ers at DNEG can­not be un­der­stated, ac­cord­ing to Van­ner. For ex­am­ple, he says, “the rig­ging team is right next door to an­i­ma­tion to help this key part­ner­ship work as best as can be. It’s essen­tially a ser­vice in­dus­try and rigs need to work for an­i­ma­tors, so rig­gers and an­i­ma­tors get to know each other and so­cialise a lot to­gether.”

The crea­ture team also col­lab­o­rates sig­nif­i­cantly in terms of an­i­ma­tion and CFX. “As a crea­ture su­per­vi­sor,” states Van­ner, “I of­ten sit in on an­i­ma­tion dailies – this is where Eric Bates, the an­i­ma­tion su­per­vi­sor on Dead­pool

2, re­views his team’s work. It helps smooth the path for change as I can high­light is­sues be­fore they get to CFX.”

“In re­turn,” says Van­ner, “Eric sat in on crea­ture dailies and would see and shape the progress of the work we were do­ing on his team’s work – his in­put was in­valu­able. Catch­ing prob­lems early by keep­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion flow­ing, and keep so­cial­is­ing, are prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant pieces of ad­vice I can give to any­one work­ing in a team.”

Top left: ant-man in small-scale form. Di­alling in smaller val­ues for sim­u­la­tions proved a chal­lenge for the DNEG crea­ture team

Above left: the san Fran­cisco car chase in ant-man and theWasp sees ant-man grow in size. this is the orig­i­nal plate

Above mid­dle: the large ant-man re­quired sub­tle cloth sim­u­la­tions for his suit that needed to still look re­al­is­tic at this big­ger scale

DNEG’S crea­ture work for the show also in­cluded swarm­ing ants that aid ant-man in car­ry­ing out his mis­sions

An orig­i­nal plate of Ghost, whose cos­tume was some­times aug­mented and some­times com­pletely re­placed to en­able her phas­ing ef­fect

The fi­nal phas­ing shot of Ghost

DNEG dig­i­tal dou­bles helped re­alise the para­chute jump scene in Dead­pool 2, with crea­ture work en­abling cloth and hair sims

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