The Art of Digital Make-up
MPC, Mr X Inc, Outpost VFX and Mastersfx on their make-up mastery
Our idea was that everything added onto Kuze could be practical and we would use CG when we had to subtract volume to his body
Before the advent of digital visual effects, practical make-up effects were almost the only method available to bring a fantastical creature to the screen, or to age and de-age actors. Now, of course, monsters, hybridhumans and a whole cast of characters can be achieved completely with computer graphics.
But a growing trend has been to actually combine practical and digital make-up, often augmenting an existing make-up appliance or even removing part of a character’s face, to craft even more compelling characters. Sometimes this is done to preserve the essence of the original actor, sometimes it’s for aesthetic reasons, and sometimes it’s simply down to logistics. 3d artist asked several visual effects studios, including MPC, Mr. X Inc, Outpost VFX and Mastersfx how they’ve each been handling digital make-up effects on recent productions.
mpc masters The art of digital make-up
A slew of recent films – Ghost In The Shell, The Mummy and Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – showcased visual effects studio MPC’S approach to the art and craft of digital make-up work.
Each film, in general, featured actors with at least partial practical make-up and prosthetics that were then augmented in some way.
For Kuze (Michael Pitt) in Ghost In The Shell, MPC worked to add robotic and damage elements to the character’s face. “Our idea was that everything added onto Kuze could be practical and we would use CG when we had to subtract volume to his body,” outlines MPC visual effects supervisor Guillaume Rocheron. “For the face, we used prosthetics to create the cheek plates and used tracking markers to add the panel lines indentation in CG. The design of
Kuze changed as we were in post and we ended up replacing his body and most of his face in CG to give him a lot more negative space than originally anticipated, but the prosthetics and appliances really helped Michael to portray the physical stiffness of his damaged robotic body.”
The Kuze work highlights the importance of being able to meticulously track the existing live-action performance when any digital make-up is going to be added. It’s something MPC also had to do for The Mummy, in which Sofia Boutella played title character Ahmanet. The tracking of her on-set performance to add in mummy-like wounds and markings was aided by the use of Nuke’s Smart Vector toolset.
“This enabled us to generate better vector data that we could use to drive our geometry in Maya though a new MPC in-house custom deformer,” says MPC CG supervisor Francesco Pinto. “This allowed us to store the 2D screenspace coordinates into the vertices position of any desired mesh.”
“The first step was matchmoving her skull,” adds Pinto, “which included locking down the bridge of her nose and her eye sockets, at the same time vectors would be generated in Nuke using the original high-resolution plate which sometime required specific colour correction and additional mask creation to achieve cleaner results. Once the matchmove and the vector were ready for production, MPC’S techanim team used the Opticalflow deformer in Maya and some artistic fixes to transfer Sofia’s expressive performance to a matching model of the actress’s face, without CG augmentation. This would then drive the final Mummy face rig that gave us control of additional subtle movements such as muscle tension/release and skin deformation.”
Like Kuze and Ahmanet, Captain Salazar (played by Javier Bardem) in Dead Men Tell No Tales was designed with some ‘negative space’ in the face in mind, while also featuring significant scars. It meant MPC had to track the actor’s head – which was made up with practical appliances and occasionally blue screen pieces – and work out which parts of the face would blend with CG.
“To do that,” explains MPC CG supervisor Mathieu Assemat, “we would very precisely roto-animate the head, and then the tech animation team accurately 3D tracked the sections of skin where we wanted to blend the original footage and CG.
“The roto-prep department then re-built the background when we see it through the hole in his head. It was then down to MPC’S lighters and compositors to nail the lighting and blend it to the now cleaned plate.”
We would very precisely roto-animate the head, and then the tech animation team accurately 3D tracked the sections of skin
An additional challenge moved from just make-up effects to ‘hair and make-up’, since Salazar’s hair was intended to appear as if it was underwater and therefore floating to and fro. MPC artists first considered some reference, but this proved tricky to source, as Assemat details: “Underwater hair moves slowly and floats but also when you are underwater you move slower due to the higher density of the environment.
“If you were to move at normal speed, which is what happens in Pirates, the hairs get dragged by the motion and we would lose the underwater behaviour that we wanted to re-create. We used different simulation techniques to achieve the final result, such as adapting the speed of the character to have the movements and reactions we wanted.
“We even animated the strands of hairs to drive the simulation.”
We used different simulation techniques to achieve the final result, such as adapting the speed of the character
Well-known monster-maker Guillermo del Toro was always going to look to employ a practical creature suit for his film, The Shape Of Water. But sometimes there are things that even the most advanced prosthetics and animatronics cannot do, and where CG can add subtle nuances to already strong performances – in this case, Doug Jones in the practical suit for ‘Amphibian Man’, which had been overseen by designer Mike Hill and Legacy Effects’ Shane Mahan. Mr X Inc was then responsible for the digital augmentations.
“We wanted the audience to accept the creature’s performance as entirely stagecraft, and we went to great pains to disguise the
seams between the practical and the CG differently in each shot to reach that goal,” says Mr X visual effects supervisor Trey Harrell. “Interestingly, what are commonly referred to as ‘digital make-up’ techniques weren’t used directly on the creature’s face – they were used to feather the edges of the replacement areas and blend in the practical paint work with the animated performance.”
To ensure that Jones’ original performance on the set of the film would be retained, and that their digital work would match to the practical suit, Mr X scanned the actor using a bespoke 56 DSLR camera photogrammetry rig called X-scan. “We captured Doug several times over the course of the shoot both in and out of costume,” explains Harrell.
“The hero scans of the creature suit and prosthetic were used as a guide for our idealised hero sculpt and texture pass, while we used Doug’s face out of make-up in a range of FACS poses to guide the creature’s performance.”
Tracking was, as expected, a major part of making the practical and digital work mix. “We
this frame above shows mr X’s animation playblast for The Shape Of Water. Close approximation to Jones’ and the suit’s dimensions were enabled via an in-house scanning rig