Go behind the groundbreaking VFX of YT Industries’ Return Of The Goat II: New World Order
Return Of The Goat II: New World Order is a 20-minute film from mountain bike brand YT Industries starring none other than Hollywood character actor Mads Mikkelsen.
The film was directed by Otto Bathurst of Peaky Blinders fame and presented the team at London’s Absolute Post with a ton of extensive VFX. Among the project’s challenges were turning a man into a goat with CG, a limestone quarry into the Utah desert with set extension and a host of bells and whistles across CG, effects and colour. With a shot count of over 90, Return Of
The Goat II is among Absolute’s biggest projects to date.
To find out how the team at Absolute solidified their groom and creature FX pipelines whilst building upon the portfolio of their ever-evolving film and TV department, 3D World caught up with CG artists Ameen Abbas and Craig Healy. Read on to discover how the pair helped Absolute to make this ambitious film a reality.
The transformation sequence looks like the biggest VFX challenge in the film. How did you do it?
Before getting stuck in, we worked closely with the director, Otto Bathurst, developing many iterations of skull shapes and textures for the goat, before landing on an aesthetic. The entire pipeline was reliant on how the concept looked and behaved, so it was important that we started on the same page. The visual treatment needed a delicate balance between what the viewer expects and what the brand needed to convey. On one hand, it’s horror-themed with a satanic Baphomet as the hero character. But it’s also a branded film, meaning the goat form needed to be treated a certain way. Despite horror tropes, the transformation was a change our character goes through willingly and has done many times before, so it shouldn’t be grotesque, shocking, or too graphic. It needed to show control, evolution and strength.
Once we had our aligned vision, we began the 3D workflow with rotomation – a process that utilises tracking information from live-action footage and allows for animating 3D elements on top. Once the rotomation process was complete, our groom artist got to work creating guides and goat fur. We used our FX pipeline to do some research and development on soft-body/cloth-based simulations for the tearing of the skin until we found the perfect option via Houdini.
This scene was shot in a cavernous wine cellar in Slovenia and our team had taken lots of survey data, HDR panoramas and LIDAR scans on set, which helped us out. Our look development and lighting team were able to recreate the environment to perfection, producing replicated lighting for high-quality, believable renders.
Were there unexpected hurdles that you encountered?
One of the biggest hurdles for the final skin-tearing money shot was perfecting the talent’s gripping hand movement. In the live footage, the actor’s finger placement meant the gripping and tearing CG simulation had very specific challenges. To combat this, we created a pipeline that allowed us to adjust the connections between the hands and the peelable skin. This was done through painting strength maps directly onto the geometry, specifying how strong the constraints were at any specific location. Added to this was a stage of resculpting directly on the animation caches, creating additional detail of pinched areas and folds precisely where they needed to be.
We also worked hard to perfect the blood in this scene. Because of the movement of the head and the horns which grow
continually wider throughout the sequence, it was tricky to maintain the shape of the blood trickles and get the build-up caused by surface tension. To make this more art directable, we simulated the blood on a static mesh, which allowed us to control the length and speed of individual trickles. Problem solved!
What tools and software did you use on this project?
Houdini was our hero software for many FX elements. It has a large number of tools and its workflow is very procedural and flexible – perfect for the large number of iterations of horn growth, skin punctures, skin meniscus, skull aesthetics and blood we went through. We were able to dive into each shot and tailor the animations exactly.
For the horn growth, Houdini allowed us to create very specific connections between the animating horns and the skin, which gave us realistic results early on. The speed at which Houdini processes geometry also proved really helpful, allowing us to use much higher resolution geometry when trialling out different variations.
The setup we created also allowed us to swap out our mesh and simply re-cache with minimal extra graft, as well as allowing us to seamlessly create custom attributes that were useful for shading when we exported to Maya. For example, being able to isolate the inside of the skin, as well as the area around the horns, proved useful for mixing between shaders, as well as outputting custom matte AOVS for compositing.
Maya was also a total saviour. We used it to help with the initial animations, to create the rotomation geometry and to rig and animate the growing horns. The benefit of Maya is that once you’ve created an effective rig, you can art direct the movements much more freely compared to Houdini. The hand-animated approach makes it useful for artistic, specific movements.
“THE TRANSFORMATION SHOULDN’T BE SHOCKING OR TOO GRAPHIC. IT HAD TO SHOW CONTROL, EVOLUTION AND STRENGTH”