The Visual Effects of “Black Sea”

Jude Law stars in Kevin MacDonald's submarine thriller "Black Sea"

The submarine movie is a staple of cinema. You might even say it’s a classic sub-genre, with films like Run Silent, Run Deep, The Hunt for Red October, The Enemy Below and Das Boot ensuring its continuing appeal over the years.

The latest director to dive into in the claustrophobic, pressure-cooker environment that is the submarine movie is Kevin MacDonald (Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland). His latest film, Black Sea, sees maverick Captain Robinson (Jude Law) leading a ragtag submarine crew into the ocean depths in search of a sunken German U-boat rumoured to be laden with Nazi gold.

Visual effects for Black Sea were delivered by Union VFX, whose team had worked previously with MacDonald on How I Live Now. VFX supervisor Simon Hughes oversaw the creation of 170 shots, on a project that ran for approximately a year, and kept a crew of around 30 VFX artists fully submerged in post for three months.

Watch Union VFX’s breakdown reel for Black Sea:

Preparing to Dive

“We referenced a lot of existing submarine films, including Das Boot and Below,” stated Hughes, “but we spent more time studying real footage – generally archive material from all sorts of sources. Reference material for the overall look was shared between us and the production designer, Nick Palmer, including salvage operation photos taken by divers in the Black Sea.”

As well as studying a host of maritime movies, the director drew additional inspiration from a science fiction classic. “For a sequence where a team of divers journeys from the sub to the U-boat, Kevin referenced Alien for its sense of claustrophobia,” Hughes recalled.

McDonald’s interest in the visual execution continued throughout the concept phase. “We did a lot of previs and concept design for Black Sea, and Kevin was very involved in this from day one – especially as it helped with the setup for the tank shoot,” Hughes remarked. “Kevin is very hands-on. Once we were up and running, however, he was happy to allow us to push forward and complete the shots without too much back-and-forth.”

The CG submarine created by Union VFX for Kevin MacDonald's underwater thriller "Black Sea" was based on the former Soviet vessel U-475 "Black Widow", now moored in Rochester, UK.

The CG submarine created by Union VFX for Kevin MacDonald’s underwater thriller “Black Sea” was based on the former Soviet vessel U-475 “Black Widow”, now moored in Rochester, UK.

How to Build a Submarine

The submarine featured in Black Sea was based on the former Soviet vessel U-475 Black Widow, now moored in Rochester, UK. Surveys were undertaken both inside and outside the vessel, and the interior was lidar scanned. “We sourced the technical drawings too,” added Hughes, “which we brought into Maya to build our model from. We also created a separate, damaged version of the sub, that we could reveal using a blend shape during the collisions.”

In all, the digital submarine took about two months to build. Certain parts of the vessel needed to have independent movement – such as cables, propellers and ropes. Most of these were animated in Maya; however, a few were simulated in Houdini, which was also used to add environmental effects.

“The sub needed to generate disturbances to particulate matter and seaweed, create bubbles and so on,” Hughes commented, “so we translated our Maya model to Houdini, which largely involved making sure that all the holes and seams were closed up, otherwise we would have seen FX simulations reacting strangely to the geometry.” Smoke passes were also generated at this stage, so that the compositors could control the turbidity of any given scene.

FX simulations were used to add particulate matter and bubble trails to the underwater scenes, as well as to create specific events such as explosions.

FX simulations were used to add particulate matter and bubble trails to the underwater scenes, as well as to create specific events such as explosions.

Canyon Encounter

As every fan of submarine movies knows, sooner or later the captain is likely have a close encounter with either the sea bed or an inconveniently situated rock wall. In Black Sea, it’s a perilous passage through an underwater canyon that puts Captain Robinson’s crew to the ultimate test.

“To get a feel for the canyon sequence, matte painter Lizzie Bentley did a couple of pieces of concept art,” Hughes recalled. “At the same time, our previs and FX lead, James Roberts, put together a previs sequence to establish angles and timings. This was done in Houdini, partly because that was James’s background, but also because we liked the look of the renders we got out of Houdini/Mantra. We did all this early on, so that as the edit progressed they had the shots in the cut.”

This early stage also saw Union spending roughly two months on R&D, exploring ocean and water effects in Houdini, and making the appropriate improvements to their pipeline in preparation for the demands of the show.

In post, the canyon terrain was created by CG supervisor, Mervyn New, using survey data from the Black Canyon in Colorado. Basic geometry was built up in Terragen, after which the model was further detailed using Maya and ZBrush, with texturing in MARI.

“Instead of over-texturing and sculpting the whole canyon, we waited until we had a first pass,” said Hughes. “After that, we isolated the areas that needed further texturing and sculpting.” Black Sea was the first feature for which Union VFX had used Solid Angle’s Arnold renderer. “We noticed a big improvement in render times and quality,” Hughes observed.

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At a critical moment, the submarine collides with the canyon wall. “That shot was entirely CG,” Hughes revealed. “That includes all the debris, falling rubble and smoke, as well as the relevant collisions between all these objects, were generated in Houdini. As there was such a high level of interaction in the shot, all the CG needed to be rendered in Houdini too, except for the sub itself. So we spent a fair amount of time moving between the Maya and Houdini setups, making sure we were getting the correct result.”

Maria Peralta Ramos, compositing lead, paid particular attention to developing specific underwater looks for the canyon sequence. “These were based on lens distortions and aberrations,” said Hughes. “It took a long time to get the right feeling of murkiness, but still retain enough image to tell the story. It was a challenging, but very rewarding sequence.”

Dive! Dive! Dive!

No submarine movie would be complete without the sequence where the crew has to venture out into the briny. Black Sea is no exception. For scenes in which Captain Robinson’s motley crew of gold hunters embark on a diving foray, the performers were shot interacting with three large set pieces submerged in a tank, with the scenes further enhanced by visual effects.

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“The practical set pieces comprised the front lower section of the submarine – including the first torpedo hatch and the opening hatch on the top deck – and the underwater ridge, which climbed up about ten feet,” said Hughes. “Two weeks were allocated to shoot the diving sequence, with tight turnaround times for moving the set pieces. It was a complicated scene to shoot, so we prevised the entire sequence, working from storyboards done by Dan Maslen.”

The previs footage incorporated clear indications of where the practical sets would begin and end. “We took our model of the sub, and highlighted the sections that would be covered by practical set builds in blue,” Hughes explained. “So, when we rendered the sequences, everyone could see when we would see the set pieces in frame. This allowed us to assess the VFX shots early on, and it helped Kevin, Nick, cinematographer Christopher Ross and Pinewood’s Diving Services to work out a plan for the shoot.”

During the shoot, magnetic tracking markers were attached to greenscreens positioned behind the set pieces; each marker carried an underwater LED light. “We had to be careful about when to use the greenscreens,’ Hughes observed. “When submerged, they influence the overall look of the scene far more than they would in a controlled lighting environment above water. Once we brought up the levels of murkiness, and lit the foreground in a diffuse and atmospheric way, we found the green could sometimes hinder the scene; in these instances, we reverted to using roto rather than key.”

Diving scenes were shot in a tank at Pinewood Studios against underwater greenscreens. Union VFX created CG extensions to add in both the missing parts of the submarine and the surrounding marine environment.

Diving scenes were shot in a tank at Pinewood Studios against underwater greenscreens. Union VFX created CG extensions to add in both the missing parts of the submarine and the surrounding marine environment.

The marine environment also complicated the task of matching Union’s CG cameras to their production counterparts. “We did an underwater lens grid shoot using the correct lenses in the same underwater housing as the production cameras,” Hughes recalled. “This was very important, because the housing – and the fact we were shooting underwater – added an extra level of distortion to the distortion already present in the lenses. Luckily we didn’t shoot with zoom lenses as well!”

In post, Hughes’s team composited the practical sets into their CG environments: “It involved a lot of roto, and then building a set of matte paintings for ground extensions, a lot of which were done shot by shot. We spent a lot of time nailing the correct balance of murkiness and lighting, including matching beams from the divers’ torches, and relighting our CG extensions with the beams.”

For a scene showing the submarine cruising along the ocean surface, a tug boat was photographed from a helicopter, then replaced by Union VFX’s CG vessel. Actors Jude Law and Branwell Donaghey were shot against greenscreen and composited in.

For a scene showing the submarine cruising along the ocean surface, a tug boat was photographed from a helicopter, then replaced by Union VFX’s CG vessel. Actors Jude Law and Branwell Donaghey were shot against greenscreen and composited in.

Coming Up For Air

Reflecting on the challenges of underwater filming for visual effects, Hughes remarked, “It’s about knowing when and where to use the greenscreen, how to get measurements of the set and camera, and how to set up basic things like tracking markers. That’s nothing new, but the difference is that it all needs to be relayed back to the diving team via a remote system. At the same time, multiple instructions are coming through to the team, who are only allowed in the water for a strict period of time.”

"Black Sea" teaser posterFor the Union VFX team, the “Black Sea” experience proved ultimately to be all about the ocean. “I learned a lot about creating underwater environments and CG oceans, how to blow things up underwater, underwater collisions, underwater filming, and how to manage the on-set VFX requirements whilst shooting in a tank or from a helicopter,” Hughes commented. “I also learned a lot about how to tell a story with VFX, and how to help the process along using previs, storyboards, reference and concept art, and just discussing the sequences to work out the narrative.”

Special thanks to Cheryl Clarke. Black Sea photographs copyright © 2014 by Universal Pictures International.

Inspiring Framestore

What drives people to work in the visual effects industry? The glamour? The technology? All those ravening monsters and exploding spaceships? Or is it just another job? In an ongoing series of articles, we ask a wide range of VFX professionals the simple question: “Who or what inspired you to get into visual effects?”

Here are the responses from the staff at Framestore.

Formative Features

Not surprisingly, many people working at Framestore confessed to being inspired by a favourite movie. Jason Fox, creative director, was greatly influenced by the films of the 1970s and 1980s. “I grew up on Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” he observed. “A diet of high adventure, fantasy and stories.” Mike Bain, head of CG, echoed Fox’s thoughts with a straightforward proclamation: “Star Wars!”

Posters from some of Framestore's inspirational VFX movies

Kyle McCulloch, VFX supervisor, agreed with his colleagues, recalling, “As a kid, I was completely enraptured by the fantasy films of the early 1980s: The Dark Crystal, The NeverEnding Story, Labyrinth – I knew I wanted to be a part of bringing these fantastic worlds to life!”

Behind the scenes on "The Dark Crystal" (Photograph copyright © The Jim Henson Company)

Behind the scenes on “The Dark Crystal” (Photograph copyright © The Jim Henson Company)

Nor was McCulloch the only person influenced by Jim Henson and his puppet-wielding peers. Chris Lawrence, also a VFX supervisor, said, “If there was one film that inspired me to get into VFX, it was probably The Dark Crystal. It was the wizardry of it all, and of course the wonderful creatures.” David Mellor, creative director, threw his hat into the same Muppet-filled ring: “I was enthralled by movies with fantastical puppet creatures as a child: The NeverEnding Story, The Dark Crystal, Star Wars and Labyrinth were constant repeat viewings.”

However, Mellor went one step on from puppets, continuing, “But the defining moment was seeing the first giant Brachiosaurus in Jurassic Park – especially as I was nuts about dinosaurs as a child. To see one moving in the real world was a spine-tingling and visceral experience. It was later I learned that ILM, Jim Henson’s Workshop, Stan Winston, Brian Johnson and Phil Tippett were responsible for much of that amazing work. Hats off and thank you!”

There’s more than one dinosaur fan at Framestore. Alexis Wajsbrot, CG supervisor, identified his watershed moment as “the first time we see the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.” Elaborating, Wajsbrot added, “I had the exact same reaction as Dr Alan Grant in the movie: I could not believe what I was seeing. I got out of the cinema and told my mother, ‘I want to make dinosaurs!’”

Stephanie Mills, Flame artist, was also in rapture over raptors: “Back in the ‘90s, I thought the VFX work in Jurassic Park was stunning. This inspired me to pursue a career in VFX.”

Jurassic Park T-Rex

The dinosaurs of “Jurassic Park” – both practical and CG – have inspired many to pursue a career in visual effects.

How Did They Do That?

In the Framestore offices, behind-the-scenes documentaries proved to be just as inspirational as the feature films they illustrate. Luke Drummond, lead compositor, said, “I loved seeing documentaries on how they made the VFX for Star Wars, Close Encounters and Indiana Jones.”

David Hulin, creative director, was hooked on “making ofs” too: “As a kid I loved to watch the behind-the-scenes documentaries for the original Star Wars movies and early Harryhausen movies, but never dreamed it was something I could get into.”

For some, it was a more recent film that sparked their interest in visual effects. Mike Ralla, senior Nuke compositor, recalled, “A photorealistic VFX plane crash created by Scanline for Munich stunned me and re-ignited a childhood fascination: blowing things up. I was an intern at their Munich facility a few months later.”

Then there were those who harked back to the very earliest days of cinema. “My brother and I had a book about the making of the original King Kong,” recalled executive creative director Murray Butler. “I think that stayed with me a long time!”

The Tube of Youth

But it isn’t all about the big screen. Christian Manz, creative director, revealed, “My interest in VFX was confirmed by my love of the BBC series Doctor Who – from its Douglas Trumbull-inspired slit-scan title sequence to the early and experimental use of chroma key and Quantel Paintbox. Imagine my delight at getting to design and create the show’s title sequence myself in 2010 … in just ten days!”

Peter Capaldi in "Doctor Who"

The long-running TV series “Doctor Who” is one of many shows to inspire today’s VFX professionals.

Stephane Naze, VFX supervisor, was also glued to the tube. “At the age of 18, I became hugely inspired by Twin Peaks, and particularly by the universe of David Lynch,” he recalled. “From then on it seemed evident that I was destined to work in cinema.”

Framestore has another TV addict in the form of Mary Doyle, senior modeller, who said, “My inspiration was my early love of stop-frame animation. I especially loved the Creature Comforts series by Aardman Animation – Peter Lord and Nick Park were a huge inspiration to me.”

Hands On

If something inspires you, the logical next step is to try it out for yourself. Chris Lawrence described how a fascination with VFX “kicked me off down the path of doing my own (very bad) Plasticine stop-motion animation on Super 8 film, rendering wine glasses on my Atari ST, working on control hardware for a time-slice film camera, and ultimately begging the Computer Film Company for a job as a runner.”

Ben Cronin, VFX supervisor and head of Flame, was a creative dabbler too. “In my teens, I got fascinated with designing the decals for racing cars in a PC game,” he remembered. “That got me into messing around at school on an early version of Photoshop. I did some work experience with a film editor and finally, when I saw what all the artists were doing at Framestore, it inspired me to make a career of it.”

Rocket Raccon - animation and visual effects by Framestore

Rocket Raccoon is one of many talking animals brought to life by Framestore over the year.

However, few can rival the early creative expressions of Euna Kho, compositor, who explained, “I was around six years old when I started Photoshopping my pets with unicorns and castles. Fast-forward a few years and I was at university watching a compilation of talking animals on YouTube, and ‘DING!’ – I realised I could be doing this life-time hobby as a career! I went straight to my advisor the next day and switched my major. I graduated with a computer art degree and headed straight to Framestore – the magical land of talking animals!”

Top Teachers

Educational establishments are where many meet their mentors. Tim Osborne, Senior Flame artist and VFX supervisor, confirmed this when he explained, “I joined the industry many years ago from Ravensbourne College, when CGI was about to explode onto our screens. I was inspired by lecturer Colin Cheeseman, who showed us that the technology was just a tool to create whatever we could imagine – a philosophy more appropriate today than ever before. I owe my career to that man.”

Mary Doyle acknowledged a similar debt when she remarked, “I always loved to draw and make things, but it was a tutor during my graphic design degree at Nottingham Trent University – Rob Newton – who encouraged me to try Maya. Now, 13 years later, I’m very happy to have a successful career that I love.”

David Hulin’s path through education was more tortuous, but no less formative: “I studied for architecture but got derailed by an American illustration tutor who said that if she could do it all again she would do animation, due to its unlimited possibilities. That was good enough for me!”

Hulin further recalled a host of figures who’d helped him along the way. “After graduating in traditional animation I was very lucky to meet Arnon Manor,” he said. “Arnon very kindly put me forward for Framestore’s post-graduate scholarship programme and, after a brief transition from light-boxes to SoftImage, I was offered a position in the then-tiny CG department. I got to work with legendary figures like Andy Daffy, Andy Lomas, Max Tyrie, Virgil Manning, Michael Eames, and the Godfather of British CG: Dr Mike Milne. They taught me about CG, animation and filmmaking, but most importantly they taught me about bringing magic to life.”

Murray Butler placed the same kind of importance on his early years in the business. “Working as a Henry artist under Tim Webber in the ‘90s made me aware of how much I had yet to learn,” he reflected, “as well as how important VFX can be to telling a story.”

The industry hero of Vanessa DuQuesnay, Nuke compositor, was a little closer to home. “I got into visual effects by accident and haven’t looked back,” she remarked. “I had graduated university having done an English degree and I was feeling a little lost. My brother-in-law is also a compositor and he felt a little sorry for me and got me an unpaid job at his company to do roto on a film, just to keep me busy. I was amazed by what they were creating, and fell in love with the magic of visual effects.”

Wild Things

Many people work in the visual effects industry because it’s a passion they simply cannot suppress. Jason Fox stated, “Coming to the VFX industry is like going behind the curtain to help the wizard make wild new ideas come to life. Everything we do is designed to leave people breathless and stunned. How can that not be an exciting place to work?”

Paul O’Brien, VFX supervisor, was more contemplative, remarking, “Despite wanting to be a Jedi knight from the age of eight, blockbuster visual effects didn’t draw me into the industry. Coming from a graphic design background, the art and artistry of visual effects is what really caught my attention. Every visual effects artist likes to blow stuff up, but for me, helping filmmakers create more dynamic, beautiful and dramatic shots is great work. Some of the biggest visual effects shots are hardly ever noticed and shouldn’t be. Storytelling should come first.”

Ben West, creative director, was big on story too. “Steven Spielberg was an inspiration for me,” he recalled. “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial captured a sense of wonder and a fascination that remains with me today – it’s about believing in something out of this world and bringing it into reality. We are on the cusp of a huge shift in the way we experience films. The convergence of reality and the make-believe has never been closer. The one constant is our passion for stories that move us.”

E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial

“The one constant is our passion for stories that move us.” – Ben West, Creative Director, Framestore.

Alan Clappison, runner, agreed, commenting, “Every story told in film has been my inspiration. The skills of visual effects artists, and the tools available to them, get more powerful every day, allowing them to create worlds for these stories to exist in. To create these worlds is one of the greatest opportunities I could think of, because we all love to tell stories.”

Listing her inspirational films as Pirates of the Caribbean, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Deeps Hargunani, VFX production coordinator, expressed her enthusiasm for the craft by looking to the future. “Speaking from inside the industry now, my initial curiosity has turned into fascination,” she asserted. “We are evolving at a fast rate, with new technology and more imagination than ever before. If we can convincingly show the world a movie like Gravity, I can’t wait to find out what we’ll do next.”

Alternative Arts

Alex Thomas, creative director, acknowledged that there are other passions than visual effects alone. “I enjoyed editing my first few film projects, so was headed in that direction when I realised how big a role technology was increasingly playing,” he revealed. “I could see that VFX would be integral to the future of storytelling. I have never been a VFX or sci-fi junkie, and it still really is all about the story for me.”

"Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" - original book coverSome people working in visual effects draw their inspiration not from film at all, but from some related art form. For example, Catherine Jackson, producer, was inspired by a certain boy wizard. “I grew up reading the Harry Potter books, imagining how characters like Dobby could possibly be brought to life,” she commented. “At the age of around 14, I found out that a family member had a job at a place called Framestore, where she was working on the second Harry Potter film. I immediately asked if I could do work experience there. Five years later I was working at Framestore as a runner during my university summer holidays, and now I’m entering my second year as a producer.”

For Andy Walker, CG supervisor, an enthusiasm for 1980s science fiction films was supplemented by a fascination with computer games. “When cut scenes began creating CG imagery, it really inspired a world of possibilities,” he observed. “Games as early as Worms – followed by cinematics such as the intro to Wipeout 2097 – showed that CG could create amazing worlds which had never been seen before. It just needed the complexity to catch up to see it on the big screen.”

Then there’s music. Matt McHugo, head of MCR, remarked, “I have always had a keen interest in music promos. Chris Cunningham’s work for Bjork and Aphex Twin inspired me to continue my studies in Media Production at UWE in Bristol. I then charmed my way into MPC through summer work experience.”

Watch Bjork’s music video All is Full of Love, directed by Chris Cunningham, post-production by Glassworks:

Michael Ralla, senior Nuke compositor, dreamed of taking his love of music one stage further. “As a teenager, all I wanted was to become a professional Metal drummer with wild hair and a lot of groupies,” he confessed. “After some parental intervention, that idea evolved into studying sound engineering. An accident forced me to readjust, and I figured that working with video is essentially the same – both processes are about altering waves; it’s just that the wavelengths are different.”

What’s Visual Effects?

Much as the industry is full of VFX junkies, there are still those who ended up working in the business purely by chance. “When I was a child I wanted to be a film producer, but by the time I finished university I had no idea what I wanted to do,” remarked Oliver Bersey, VFX supervisor. “I applied absolutely everywhere, and someone was stupid enough to give me a job here. That’s when the fascination started. Oh, and I’ve never seen a Star Wars film.”

But the final word must go to Amandla Crichlow, management PA, who confessed that she applied to Framestore simply because “I was broke and I needed a job.” Expressing solidarity with Bersey, she added, “And I’ve never seen Star Wars either.”

Framestore Logo

Framestore was formed in 1986, and has offices in London, Montreal, New York and Los Angeles. In recent years, its film division has created visual effects for features including Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Parts 1 & 2), War Horse, Gravity and Guardians of the Galaxy. Recent advertising work includes campaigns for brands including Sony, Honda, Pillsbury and M&Ms. Thanks to all the staff from both its Film and Integrated Advertising divisions who contributed to this article.

Special thanks to Rob Goodway and Stephanie Bruning.

Cosmic Zooms and The Theory of Everything

Visual effects for "The Theory of Everything" were created by Soho-based Union VFX.

Visual effects for “The Theory of Everything” were created by Soho-based Union VFX.

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”

So said the renowned theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Mine – a presentation he delivered via video at the University of Cambridge in 2012 during a symposium held to celebrate his 70th birthday.

Hawking’s remarkable story is dramatised in the Working Title production of The Theory of Everything, directed by James Marsh. Visual effects for the BAFTA-nominated biopic were provided by Union VFX, including a two-minute end title sequence that imagines a trip not only through deep space and a black hole, but also into the depths of the human nervous system.

This juxtaposition of elements both cosmically large and biologically small is the perfect analogy for Hawking’s life. For most of the time his mind has been exploring the farthest reaches of the universe, his wheelchair-bound body has been constrained by a form of Motor Neurone Disease called ALS.

Union’s lead visual effects supervisor on The Theory of Everything was Adam Gascoyne, but before he shares the film’s VFX secrets, let’s take a look at some other movies that have taken us to infinity and beyond.

A Brief History of the Cosmic Zoom

Many filmmakers have tried to communicate the incomprehensibly vast size of the universe to a wide-eyed audience. One of the most famous examples is Eva Szasz’s Cosmic Zoom. Made in 1968, this 8-minute short uses animation to transport viewers from the very edge of the universe to a single atom inside a human cell.

Watch Cosmic Zoom:

Nine years after Cosmic Zoom, modernist designers Charles and Ray Eames served up Powers of Ten, which presents a vision of the cosmos that continually expands by a factor of ten, every ten seconds. The result? A space-going safari that whisks you far beyond the most distant galaxy before returning you to somewhere much closer to home, yet equally alien – the microscopic interior of your own body.

Watch Powers of Ten:

While not nearly as old as the universe itself, the concept of the “power of ten” shot goes back a long way in cinematic terms. You’ll find a dazzling example in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1946 film A Matter of Life and Death, in which a celestial court case is convened to decide the fate of an English airman overlooked by heavenly bureaucrats. In a show-stopping pull-back incorporating paintings by Percy Day, the huge judicial amphitheatre recedes into the distance until it is finally revealed to be no more than a tiny mote afloat in the glowing heart of a vast spiral galaxy.

A-Matter-Of-Life-And-Death-Cosmic-Zoom

Galaxy pull-back from “A Matter of Life and Death”

So effective is the shot that visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin (The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Interstellar) named it his favourite VFX shot in the Empire magazine article Cinema’s Greatest Effects Shots Picked By Hollywood’s Top VFX Specialists.

Take the Ultimate Trip

Cosmic explosion from "2001: A Space Odyssey"

The cosmic explosions from “2001: A Space Odyssey” were created by mixing oil- and water-based compounds in a black tank.

Many films have made the connection between great and small through the very mechanics of visual effects. The Stargate sequence from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – in which astronaut Dave Bowman experiences a hallucinatory trip across space and time courtesy of a monolithic alien portal – features a number of shots created by photographing the reactions of such everyday ingredients as black ink, banana oil and white paint in extreme close-up.

Similarly, Kal-El’s journey from Krypton to Earth in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie was visualised by photographing microscopic marine life, in an underwater shoot undertaken by Oxford Scientific Films off the coast of Bermuda.

More recently, Douglas Trumbull – the visual effects innovator behind the 2001 Stargate – blew the dust off his microscope when he was called in by visual effects supervisor Dan Glass to help create an 22-minute “creation” sequence for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life.

"The Tree of Life" - Douglas Trumbull and the Skunkworks Lab team.

For “The Theory of Life”, a team led by Douglas Trumbull built a custom table with a pump that produced a radial flow of water emanating from the centre. With a high-speed camera recording the results, pigments and other materials were injected into the flow.

The result is a cosmological smörgåsbord chronicling the evolution of the universe from the Big Bang through the appearance and development of life on Earth. An eclectic mix of visual effects vendors contributed to the sequence, with Trumbull’s team building on his earlier experiments using such diverse materials as toothbrushes, milk, dry ice and fluorescent dyes.

Thanks to these and other cinematic excursions, the cosmic trip has become a trope familiar enough to be relegated from the main body of a film to its opening titles or end credits. Recent examples include Thor and Star Trek Into Darkness, both notable for their spectacular tours of exotic planetary systems and galaxy-spanning gas clouds.

Thanks to digital techniques, however, creating such monumental voyages no longer requires a wetsuit and a ticket to Bermuda. Here’s a video by Andrew Kramer of Video Copilot, explaining how his team created the title sequence for Star Trek Into Darkness using Adobe AfterEffects and Element 3D:

The Theory of Everything

Union VFX completed a total of 160 visual effects shots for The Theory of Everything, from design and previs through to final execution. “This is our first project with James Marsh and we worked very closely with him to develop a visual interpretation of Hawking’s theories,” remarked Adam Gascoyne. “We tried to come up with a look and feel for the period and wanted the visions to be very subtle in keeping with the context of the film.”

"The Theory of Everything" - cosmic zoom

Visual effects supervisor Adam Gascoyne described the “cosmic zoom” sequence for “The Theory of Everything” as “a waltz through the universe.”

For the end title sequence, Union created nebulae and starfields in Houdini, with composites and grading carried out in Nuke. “It was a waltz through an imaginary universe,” Gascoyne explained. “We used Hubble telescope images as a base for look development, but really made shapes and formations that worked for the title sequence. The main motivation for the move through the universe was the orchestration and the placement of Matt Curtis’s title cards. For reference, we watched a number of movies – including 2001 and The Tree of Life – but only for look and feel; from there we completely made it up!”

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Union’s contributions to The Theory of Everything also include a post-production redesign of the monitor used by Hawking to communicate, and various crowd replication shots, digital matte paintings and greenscreen car interiors.

As well as these invisible effects, Union also added a few more creative visual touches. “We did simple things like reversing the motion of cream being added to coffee – using Houdini fluid simulations,” Gascoyne commented. “Then there was the animation of embers flying out of a fire, and the explosion of the pupil in a human eye, representing Hawking’s heat radiation theory. These effects have considerable visual impact on an already compelling story.”

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To Springfield and Beyond

In a “couch gag” from season 15 of the classic animated series, The Simpsons, the show opens with the camera expanding its field of view from the small town of Springfield, zooming out to the edge of the universe until galaxies shrink to the size of atoms … which turn out to be the very particles making up the bright yellow skin on Homer’s head.

As a three-time guest star on The Simpsons (there’s even an action figure based on his cartoon persona), Professor Stephen Hawking might well agree that if you’re looking for a single visual effect that’s truly embedded itself into popular culture, there’s nothing bigger – or smaller – than the cosmic zoom.

Special thanks to Cheryl Clarke. The Theory of Everything photographs copyright © 2014 by Universal Pictures International. 2001: A Space Odyssey photograph copyright © 1968, 2001 by Turner Entertainment Company. The Tree of Life photographs copyright © 2011 by Fox Searchlight.

“Big Eyes” – VFX Q&A

"Big Eyes" - Cinefex VFX Q&Q with Mark Stetson of Zoic Studios

Most Americans who lived through the 1950s and 1960s will be familiar with the paintings of Margaret Keane, an artist who specialised in pictures of teary waifs with extraordinarily large eyes. Yet for an entire decade the paintings were passed off as the work of Margaret’s husband, Walter Keane. Only after Margaret went to the press in 1970 was it proved in a federal court that she was the originator of the artwork – and thus was a pop-culture legend born.

In Tim Burton’s film Big Eyes, Amy Adams delivers a Golden Globe-winning performance as Margaret Keane, with Christoph Waltz as her manipulative husband. While Burton’s cinematic canvas is considerably smaller than on many of his other films, a number of visual effects shots were required to not only create Big Eyes’ period settings, but also to give audiences a glimpse into the imagination of the artist herself.

Visual effects for Big Eyes were handled by Zoic Studios, with Mark Stetson and Ralph Maiers acting as co-VFX supervisors, delivering a total of 155 shots. In this Q&A session, Mark Stetson reveals how his team transformed present-day Vancouver into the San Francisco of yesteryear, and what it took to give Amy Adams a set of giant-sized baby blues.

Watch VFX breakdowns by Zoic Studios for Tim Burton’s Big Eyes:

How did you get involved with the project, Mark?

Well, the short answer is that the show’s executive producer/first assistant director, Katterli Frauenfelder, called me up. The longer answer is that I’d worked with Tim Burton and the production designer, Rick Heinrichs, on two previous films. My former company, Stetson Visual Services, made the miniatures for Edward Scissorhands, and we built (and blew up!) the old abandoned zoo park for Batman Returns.

Also, here at Zoic Studios our matte department is headed up by legendary matte artist Syd Dutton, who served as VFX art director on the film. Syd grew up in San Francisco in the 1950s and 1960s, and he vividly remembers the life and culture of the city during the time of the story. I myself remember enough of Margaret Keane’s work and American culture of the period to make the story a very personal experience.

Finally, Zoic Studios has offices in Vancouver, with a features VFX team including VFX supervisor Ralph Maiers and VFX producer Lauren Weidel. That whole team had recently worked with Katterli on another project. Happy with that experience, Katterli was the first to suggest Zoic Studios for the visual effects for Big Eyes. The fact that I also had a happy history with Tim made it a great fit.

How long were you working on the film?

Katterli’s first call came in May 2013. Tim kept polishing the movie through the summer of 2014, which resulted in a few added shots as cuts and takes changed. We got the final approval for our last shot in November 2014.

Washington Square Art Show - original plate

Scenes of an art show in San Francisco’s Washington Square were shot in several park locations in Vancouver – original plate.

Washington Square Art Show - final composite

Washington Square Art Show – final composite with digital environment extension by Zoic Studios.

How closely did you work with Tim Burton?

I worked as a department head on the film, so I had a lot of interaction with Tim, Rick Heinrichs, Bruno Delbonnel, J.C. Bond and the rest of the filmmakers. On this film, the whole crew was small and Tim was pretty approachable.

When I first interviewed with Tim for Big Eyes, we talked briefly about the miniature effects my company had created for Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns, and visual effects in general from the electro-mechanical, photochemical era. He asked me, “Do you miss those days?” I said I really missed the tools and processes of making tactile things by hand, with a team. But we do make better shots now, and standards of production quality are much higher.

I think those shared experiences helped make Tim comfortable with us, knowing that we had those skills to draw from and knowing that he would be looking for economies in the VFX work for Big Eyes. Tim was very conscious that the production would be much more constrained, and he was responsible to those constraints.

Was there much discussion about how “Burtonesque” to make the film, visually speaking?

Discovering how Tim was planning to give Big Eyes his unique perspective was really the fun part of this project. It was easy to see why Tim has an affinity for the themes in Margaret Keane’s life and work. It was also essential to appreciate the work of Bruno Delbonnel, the cinematographer, and to understand how Bruno and Tim’s styles and themes intersect.

Most of the time, Tim was restrained and subtle in applying those themes to the real places where this true story unfolds, but within the apparent reality of the world of Big Eyes, Tim’s story is still told through very carefully composed shots. The shooting style which Tim and Bruno used – mostly a single camera mounted on a tripod – may have been a creative choice but it also made low-budget VFX work much more achievable.

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There are some shots that stand out as having Tim’s stamp. For example, Tim kept to a really stark vision of the numbing suburbia that Margaret escapes at the beginning of the film. And then, Tim’s choice to freely place the Golden Gate Bridge in a convenient place to establish Margaret’s arrival in San Francisco was a surprise to all of us. The Furniture Factory interior scene with all the painters trapped in their crib cages, the New York Times exterior establishing shot, and the swinging San Francisco nightlife scene are all quite surreal.

Margaret Keane leaves suburbia to drive to San Francisco - bluescreen plate.

Margaret Keane leaves suburbia to drive to San Francisco – bluescreen plate.

Margaret Keane leaves suburbia to drive to San Francisco - final composite.

Margaret Keane leaves suburbia to drive to San Francisco – final composite.

The enlarged eyes of Margaret Keane’s paintings are similar to Johnny Depp’s “Mad Hatter” eyes in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Did you draw any lessons from that film?

Ha-ha! Close! Actually we looked at how Tim had transformed Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen of Hearts. But Tim never mentioned either of them. Margaret Keane is a living artist and there’s a lot of material out there about her and her work. Tim owns a few Keane originals, a couple of which he shared with us. Then, when we scouted San Francisco locations, we visited the Keane Eyes Gallery there. It was pretty amazing to be surrounded by so many of Margaret’s pieces.

How did you tackle the “hallucination” scenes, in which Margaret Keane imagines that the people around her – and ultimately she herself – have enlarged eyes?

This was a very low-budget film, so we kept all our visual effects solutions as simple and straightforward as possible. As we were prepping the film, Tim said he was planning to do a couple of shots where the audience experience how Margaret “sees” her world. Using our VFX producer Lauren Weidel as a test subject, VFX supervisor Ralph Maiers and compositing supervisor Kenton Rannie developed a series of looks to explore how far they could distort a human face to the proportions of a big-eyed waif, without breaking the mood by making it too grotesque.

Watch Zoic Studios’ original test shot for the “big eyes” effect:

Drawing on our experiences with digital cosmetic work, we made a series of still frame grabs as target looks, which Tim reviewed. When we got close to what he was after, we used facial tracking, warping, scaling, and painting and patching techniques to make the gag work in motion. Tim was most restrained with Amy Adams’ face. His dictum conforms with one of the primary rules I tell new VFX artists: “Protect Your Actors!”

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A large part of your work involved turning present-day Vancouver into 1950s and 1960s San Francisco. Where did you start?

Syd Dutton dove right into the research, pulling much of what he needed right from his own library. Syd has some great books of the San Francisco scene from that period, many of which Tim also used as reference. The production designer, Rick Heinrichs, also kept us pointed in the right direction with his research. Funnily enough, the best reference we found for the images of suburban hell, from which Margaret escapes at the beginning of the film, were from Edward Scissorhands.

North Beach Nightlife - concept art by Syd Dutton.

North Beach Nightlife – concept art by Syd Dutton.

Syd then created a series of concept sketches, based on location photos around Vancouver and enhanced with backgrounds that he’d found: photography from 1950s and 1960s San Francisco. Key scenes that he illustrated included the view of the Bay Bridge and Coit Tower from Walter’s apartment, the art show scene in Washington Square (based on two or three alternate park locations around Vancouver), the view of Alcatraz in the bay beyond a Vancouver police station, and the neighbourhood around the Keane Art Gallery, shot in the Gastown area, and developed to look like San Francisco’s North Beach. These illustrations were a huge confidence builder for Tim and the producers.

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Soon Rick Heinrichs was feeding us photos of locations from other scenes, using Syd and the rest of the Zoic team as a resource to develop the location requirements for sequences including the suburban hell from which Margaret escapes as the film opens, the furniture factory where she finds her first job, the Hungry I nightclub where the Keane paintings find their first success, and others.

Once the concept art was approved, where did you go from there?

Syd and I developed a rhythm of sharing VFX concepts between Rick, Bruno and Tim. For Syd, the real fun was in blending details from different historical locations to convey the romance of the period to a modern audience. He was decidedly not literally accurate, and he had an intuitive feel for what was important to Tim. Often simply inserting a steep side alley was enough.

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As Tim started approving the location-based concepts, producer Lynette Howell asked for a set of Syd’s illustrations to forward to The Weinstein Company, as part of Rick Heinrich’s plan presentation, which led to the green-light for the film. We very proud to be so closely involved in the process, and I was very happy with the location choices that this development work led to. It gave us some influence over how the locations were chosen and shot, and also gave us a preview of how the shots would be finished.

Additionally, I think the costume design by Colleen Atwood, and the cars found by Picture Car Coordinator Rick Rasmussen and the rest of the transportation team, went a long way to setting the scene in the period, so we had a great canvas to start our matte shots.

At one point we get a view of the 1964 NYC World’s Fair. What was involved with recreating this historical panorama?

I grew up on the East Coast in the 1960s, and actually visited the New York World’s Fair in 1964. I dug out my Kodak Brownie snapshots of my trip there and shared them with our team. One or two of which may have been useful, but at that time I was fixated on the Chrysler Turbine Car.

Rick Heinrichs gave us some concept sketches for the interior of the Hall of Education, which CG supervisor Richard Patterson and his team executed. Only the floor, the actors and the painting were real. Syd sketched up the exterior view from the Hall of Education scene. This evolved over many weeks as a digital matte painting, as we worked to integrate as many fair icons as we could into the scene.

The footage of Lowell Thomas’s introduction to the fair was edited stock footage, which required heavy restoration. Our lead compositor John Fukushima spent a long time with this sequence, using Nuke comp and retiming tools.

It started as an HD transfer of 16mm film. We were unable to find any of the original negative, so we were left with the HD QuickTimes. Extensive stabilization was required, and faded color, low contrast, muddy resolution and physical damage all needed to be repaired. A lot of the backgrounds were replaced with painted interpretations of the scene.

Neither we, Tim nor the editor, J.C. Bond, could say how the restored footage would sit within the film, in terms of look and finish. We knew that it would be some kind of cutaway, as if we were viewing a news serial, but all Tim could ask us to do was to make it look as good as the Alexa footage that Bruno shot around it. That was too tall an order, but I must say that looking at the original footage and the restored footage back-to-back is astonishing.

You mentioned that Burton added new shots as he polished the film. How much extra workload did that generate for Zoic?

Shortly after Tim had screened the film for Harvey Weinstein, I was in London on another assignment, and I visited Tim Burton at his editing suite there to see how the VFX work was looking in the cut. Tim told me that he was thinking about adding several establishing shots to the film, all of which would require visual effects.

Hawaiian vista - concept art

Hawaiian vista establishing shot – concept art by Syd Dutton.

He gave me some reference photos he’d found to show how he wanted San Francisco to look for the new shots, and a diagram of a shot he had in mind to establish Hawaii later in the story. Syd Dutton took those cues and developed new concept sketches that quickly got us on track with Tim’s thinking. The shots included two additional establishing shots in Hawaii (the Honolulu overlook and the radio station – matte artist Jim Hawkins helped with this one) and a totally fabricated and stylized shot of the 1964 New York Times entrance in Manhattan.

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Also included was a shot establishing a fictitious French restaurant, Chez Henri, where Walter and Margaret have their first date (I made up the name based on the name of the maître d’ in the film). This was set on Powell Street in San Francisco, on the site of the famous Omar Khayyam Restaurant and surrounded by otherwise authentic establishments of the period.

"Chez Henri" - original plate

During post-production, additional establishing shots were photographed in San Francisco, including the exterior of the fictitious French restaurant “Chez Henri” – original plate.

Chez Henri - final composite

“Chez Henri” – final composite.

The final two shots were an establishing shot of the China Dragon Restaurant (I made up that name too, based on the dragon motifs in the interior location) set in a Chinatown location authentic to the period, and a very stylized shot portraying the Hungry I nightclub in the midst of the swinging nightlife of San Francisco; that was an amalgam of Kearny Street, Broadway, and the International Settlement.

I travelled back to San Francisco and Hawaii to shoot plates, then to Vancouver, where line producer Brendan Ferguson and production manager George Horie had fired up a film unit for a day and night of greenscreen photography, to add people and cars to the scenes. Those shots were the biggest and most challenging of the film for us. They were also the most satisfying, because Tim gave us a lot of responsibility for their design and execution. We packed a lot of production value into a very slim budget and schedule for those shots.

What will you take away from your experience on Big Eyes?

I’m never happy with everything on any show. The work is never done completely to my own satisfaction. I think on my feet, to try to pack as much as I can into a low-budget feature with high standards, and I always feel like there are things that I missed on such a short schedule and tight budget. I guess I learned exactly what I forget each time I start a new project, big or small: to let go.

I also had one of the most embarrassing moments of my career on Big Eyes. As I was leaning in close to Amy Adams on location to shoot reference shots of her hair for roto patching, Katterli whispered, “Mark! Your pants are split all the way up your backside!” And they were. They were a new pair of cargo pants I had bought just for the project! I kept shooting, of course. The kind wardrobe department team stitched them up on the spot, as I was wearing them, right there on the Washington Square Art Show set in Lumberman’s Arch Park in Vancouver!

Special thanks to Lauren Weidel, Jenna Wigman and Joe Fordham. Photographs and videos copyright © The Weinstein Company 2014 and courtesy of Zoic Studios.

“Horns” – Makeup and Visual Effects

Daniel Radcliffe sports KNB's demon makeup in "Horns"

What would you do if you were suddenly granted the power to read minds? And what if the secrets you discovered were in fact their owners’ deepest, darkest desires?

These are just two of the unsettling questions faced by Daniel Radcliffe in his lead role as Ig Perrish, in the Lionsgate production of Horns. Adapted from the novel by Joe Hill and directed by Alexandre Aja, Horns is released on Blu-ray and DVD today.

The satanic horns of the film’s title materialise one morning when Ig, wrongly accused of his girlfriend’s murder, wakes to find them growing inexplicably from his forehead. Using their supernatural powers, he embarks on a personal crusade to track down his girlfriend’s killer.

Horns features makeup effects and prosthetics by KNB EFX, supplemented by visual effects from Tippett Studio.

Makeup Effects and Prosthetics – KNB EFX

The primary task for KNB EFX was to create the various sets of horns worn by Daniel Radcliffe during his gradual transformation from Ig Perrish into a fully-fledged demon.

“We did four different stages of horns that we attached to Daniel, as well as a fantasy drug-dream prosthetic makeup,” recalled KNB EFX on-set makeup effects supervisor Mike McCarty. “We did a burn suit and accompanying makeup, the final demon look with its huge set of horns, a few blood gags, an exploding head and some mechanical snakes. We had Daniel in and out of prosthetics at least 35 times over the course of the shoot.”

The makeup and prosthetics team benefited from the company’s long association with director Alexandre Aja. “KNB EFX has done all of Alex Aja’s projects since The Hills have Eyes (2006),” McCarty remarked. “I’ve personally been on set for most of them: Mirrors, Piranha 3D, Maniac, Horns, and his current project, The 9th Life of Louis Drax. As Alex likes to say, we’re part of the family.”

Despite their fantastic aspect, the look of Ig’s horns was developed using real-world reference material. “We looked at a lot of horns in nature, and went back and forth with what our conceptual designer John Wheaton came up with,” McCarty explained. “We got notes from Alex, and ultimately ended up using various stages of ram horns as reference.”

Daniel Radcliffe in "Horns"

After the initial sculpting stage, the horns themselves were cast using dental acrylic.

“Dave Grasso and Jaremy Aiello handled most of the sculpting duties in the shop,” commented McCarty. “Then Jason James ran the horns out of acrylic and attached them to a wire rig we made on Daniel’s head cast. The horns were set at the perfect angle so we could just plop them into place, and they would naturally rest there.

“Then we hid the wire rig under Daniel’s hair. We had a few hair clips attached to the rig as well, so when he shook his head, they wouldn’t move. Once we had them secured, we hid the edge with a small prosthetic to blend them and make it look like they were coming out of his skin. Mike Fields and myself shared the application duties, and so did it twice as fast as it would have taken one artist.”

For a scene in which Ig gouges his horns into a plaster wall, a more resilient solution was required. The solution was to produce a robust, wig-covered helmet, on to which the horns were screwed.

To effect Ig’s climactic transformation into demon form, Radcliffe wore a full-body foam latex suit. “The suit created the burned look, and then we had a cowl, some face pieces and some hand pieces, which we blended into the suit,” explained McCarty. “The huge horns were super-lightweight. We just clipped them into place on a helmet under the cowl. We painted bright neon orange paint into the cracks in the suit. VFX were able to key on this and add fiery lava to make it look like he was burning from within.

“The whole final demon makeup took us only two hours; it was applied by Mike Fields, Maiko Gomyo and myself. If you can do something that extensive and still keep makeup chair times down, it’s better for the actor – especially when they have a such a physical day ahead of them. And Daniel Radcliffe was a joy to work with.”

As well as Radcliffe, McCarty and his team also had the opportunity to transform Joe Hill, during a visit by the author to the set. “Joe wanted to try the horns out, so we glued a small set on him,” McCarty recalled. “That was kind of cool. He was really glad KNB EFX was involved, and he loved everything we were doing. That was a nice justification for the hard work we had put in.”

Cyberscanning and Lidar – Industrial Pixel

Character scanning and lidar for Horns were undertaken by Industrial Pixel.

“We scanned Daniel Radcliffe, Heather Graham, and the majority of the cast,” said the company’s president Ron Bedard. “We scanned Daniel in make-up in three different looks – including his prosthetic horns, and the “nubs” on his back where the wings were to go.

“It was definitely a challenge, as we were scanning outdoors in a small town called Squamish. We were in an old tennis court and it was raining cats and dogs. But we thrive on challenges like this.”

Industrial Pixel also lidared the abandoned Britannia Mine, located north of Vancouver. “I believe that was used for a set extension as well as tracking,” commented Bedard. “It was damn cold and dark. There was water dripping everywhere. I’m sure Jason from Friday the 13th was hiding out there!”

Daniel Radcliffe and Heather Graham star in "Horns"

Tippett Studio – Visual Effects

Tippett Studio delivered around 170 visual effects shots for Horns, in a timescale of less than three months, a tight schedule due to their being called in at the eleventh hour to take over the visual effects work from another facility.

Shots included wire removals, 2D comps of set extensions, character make-up augmentations, and fully articulated, animated and rendered snakes. Visual effects supervisor duties were shared between Matt Jacobs and Chris Morley.

“We were moving at a very fast pace from start to end,” commented Jacobs. “I think that can only happen when you work well with the director, and he trusts that you will make his movie look good. Luckily, I’d worked previously with Alex, as well as with the production VFX Supervisor, Derek Wentworth, on Piranha 3D.”

Daniel Radcliffe in "Horns"While the Tippett Studio team received a number of assets during the handover, others still had to be created. “The direction was very clear,” Jacobs observed. “The show had been in production for quite some time, and Alex knew what he was looking for.”

During the demon transformation scene, Ig briefly grows a pair of wings. “Our CG supervisor, Aharon Bourland, created the look of the wings,” said Jacobs. “Right out of the box, they looked realistic. The wings are very pale, and the way the light passes through them makes them look like a practical wing shot on set.”

The CG wings were built using Tippett Studio’s proprietary feather system. “Using RenderMan’s plausible shading, millions of individual curves created the barbs,” Jacobs explained. “Render times were brought down by baking curves into area shadow maps, and only tracking against the base geometry. Transparency color was also baked in to simulate light scattering through the wings.”

Having created Ig’s wings, the VFX team’s next task was to set them on fire. “The feather shader read an animated coordinate system that drove the burning,” Jacobs related. “The wings themselves were eroded away with procedural noise. We also passed off point clouds that the FX animators could use to create embers coming off the burning wings.”

"Horns" poster

Despite the challenges of the breakneck pace, Jacobs reflected that tight deadlines can have their advantages: “We actually learned to work a little faster. We did that by not getting hung up on things that were less important. All too often these days, people are fixated on finding out what’s wrong and going over every pixel in the picture. That didn’t really happen on this show. When the pictures look great, and tell the story, you’ve succeeded.”

Special thanks to Niketa Roman and Howard Berger. Images copyright © 2014 Lionsgate Entertainment Inc.