This is how the best special effects of 2021 were made

Pending the announcement of the nominations for this year’s Oscars, the companies aspiring to the statuette for best special effects defend their candidacy in Variety

The VFX companies that created key sequences in Ghostbusters: Beyond, Shang-Chi and Army of the Dead. They talk about how the creation of the special effects of their respective projects was.

Ghostbusters: Beyond

The VFX team at MPC film (West side Story, Cruella) were responsible for the special effects of Ghostbusters: Beyond, MPC Film VFX Supervisor Pier Lefebvre, DFX Supervisor Sebastien Raets, and VFX Producer Sarah Moussaif worked alongside VFX Production Supervisor Alessandro Ongaro to help bring the director’s vision to life. . A team of VFX artists, production staff, and software developers spread across three continents collaborated to work on some of the most complex visual effects and animation in motion pictures.

The Technicolor Art Department was involved in the early stages of development, working on the design of Muncher, whose appearance is reminiscent of Slimer. Noting the character’s visual origin, art director Leandre Lagrange said: “A thorough investigation was conducted into the horde of ghosts seen in the original Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2”.

The team created several key pieces of art for the city chase scene with the Ecto-1 and Muncher, as well as the designs for the new custom proton trap and its effect on ghosts. They also explored the transformation of Gozer, the evil entity from another dimension, as he transforms into Gozer Spirit.

Bring back Ego Spengler

MPC Film’s biggest challenge was bringing Dr. Egon Spengler, played by the late Harold Ramis, back to the big screen. The team of character lab of the company began the effort by creating a library of reference material from the 1984 and 1989 films of the Ghostbusters; they were provided with access to digital scans of never-before-seen images. By studying the images, they were able to pick out key angles and facial expressions to begin creating an accurate likeness. Confident in the coincidence of young Ramis, the team inserted him into shots from the original Ghostbusters movie and arranged a screening for the filmmakers to see if they could tell which shot was from the film and which was the digital Egon.

Exploring the aging process required to match the concept art provided by the filmmakers, the Character Lab team received scans and photos of the stunt double who performed on set. The texture artists supplemented this with their own library of skin maps and photographs of a real model of a similar age. The Character Lab team then used nuanced facial modeling and rigging techniques to ensure the MPC animators could create a compelling and emotional performance; Photorealistic hair and skin were then developed. Particular attention was paid to the development of the gaze of the eyes. According to Lefebvre, “It was a great honor to be entrusted with bringing Egon back to the screen for Ghostbusters Afterlife, and we are humbled and delighted by the positive response from Harold’s family.”

egon spengler

Mini-Pufts wreak havoc

In one memorable sequence, the mischievous Mini-Pufts marshmallows wreak havoc at a Walmart, burning, mixing, and melting into each other. “It was one of those moments where you remember why you wanted to be an animator and work in VFX,” said animation supervisor Christophe Paradis.

“In our daily sessions with director Jason Reitman and supervising producer Alessandro Ongaro, our team was encouraged to bring their own ideas to the table”says visual effects supervisor Pier Lefebvre. “I think the choreography was the perfect combination of scary, evil, childish, wild, unhinged and funny, all while bringing personality to each marshmallow. Our inspiration for the scene included the 1984 film ‘Gremlins,’ released the same year as the original ‘Ghostbusters.’”.

With a bevy of frenzied marshmallows wreaking havoc on screen, it was important to direct the audience’s gaze to the right place by carefully pacing their actions.

All of the marshmallows were animated by hand, and the team referred to young children to recreate both the awkwardness and the cuteness in their animation. MPC worked closely with the director and production VFX supervisor to create the right feel and action for the shots, with additional banter added outside of the frame’s spotlight.

The approach was to treat the marshmallows as if they were actors on set and each had a personality of their own.

For the sequence, MPC provided the character assets, which were fed into their channel, manipulated, and animated. They also worked on some additional LookDev for realism and added burnt variations to the characters. VFX Supervisor Sebastien Raets says: “Some of the highlights of the show were seeing our animators recreate the movement of a young child. Going up to the roof of our studio in Montreal to light up marshmallows and, of course, seeing Bill Murray’s reaction when Ivan Reitman showed him the scene.”

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Weta Digital company responsible for the VFX of the new Planet of the Apes trilogy or The Lord of the Rings, were in charge of the effects of Shang Chi and the legend of the ten rings, which explain how they did to animate the rings in the movie. “The rings were a bit more complicated (to make), honestly, than I thought they would be. From a CG perspective, it’s not much of a challenge to get a realistic looking ring. It’s metal, we’ve seen something like that before, and they don’t deform, but their movement was very, very specific to each character. They became a character of their own.

Every time they are being manipulated by Shang-Chi, for example, they had more fluidity in their movement. He used them defensively, and they would fly around him in a way that was almost like he was dragging them through water. So we did a little bit of research and exploratory work with that, and we also wanted to make sure they were hitting the emotional beats, so there was a little bit of a delay between Shang-Chi’s movements and the rings themselves.”

Bringing the dragon from the movie to life

“For the dragon [Gran Protector], we got some very early illustrations. It was one of the first things I saw when I got to the movie. Chris Townsend, VFX Supervisor at Marvel, introduced some of the artwork they had done before coming to us and said, “This is the Dragon and this is the Dweller.” And honestly, we didn’t stray too far from that initial artwork. Marvel was very happy with the initial designs. I have never seen them more confident in a design fresh out of the gate. So there was very little that we had to modify from that first piece of art.

There were some evolutions in the dragon design [Gran Protector] when it comes to storytelling. The dragon itself is a water dragon, so we wanted to show that it was powerful and could manipulate water. At one point, the dragon itself emitted energy in the same way that weapons made from dragon scales do. The weapons have this golden energy flowing through them, and the dragon itself was completely golden for a while, buzzing with energy. It was pretty crazy. We had progressed quite a few shots with that, and then decided it was too visually distracting to have that amount of “shimmer” in shots. So we redialed that and got rid of most of it.

We did a lot of exploring with real life materials. For the scales, we started with things like quartz and porcelain, just to see if we could come up with some real-life equivalents that would help ground it in truth. But we ended up finding a perfect reference somewhere else. Many albino lizards have white scales with a hint of blood that can be seen under the scales, just a bit of red here and there, and adding that extra translucency to the dragon really helped bring it to life. Its body is also covered with a dynamic moss, so when you are close, you can see the moss fluctuating in the wind.

There is also a lot of wear and tear. They wanted her to feel old, but not old, which is a tricky balance. It’s supposed to look old through weathering and scarring, but not wrinkled or faded with time.”.

Creating the post credits scene

The end credits scene is something Weta’s visual effects supervisor, Sean Walker, has rarely talked about. Walker and his team were called in to deliver the sequence featuring Bruce Banner and Captain Marvel in holographic form with Wong.

Wong makes his second cameo appearance in the film, grabbing Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina) at a bar and leading them through a portal to meet the Avengers as they discuss the history of the 10 rings and their importance. “I just sat down with two composers and two effects artists, and I just said, ‘Make something up and let your imagination run wild.’ In four days they came up with the whole sequence.”, dice Walker.

Walker points out that Captain Marvel’s costume was digital because it only exists in digital form. Also, it was the first time Walker had done holographic effects. The sequence was shot in multiple layers with Liu, Awkwafina and Wong on one set, Larson on another and Ruffalo “in their own lab, but we had to bring them all together in one final shot”.

Army of the Dead

Director Zach Snyder set army of the dead in a zombie apocalypse. But there was a little problem: the film was set in Las Vegas and key sequences were needed on a rooftop. The team received negative responses from all hotel/casino management teams. “They wanted nothing to do with us”says visual effects supervisor Marcus Taormina. Not only was the production unable to access the roofs, but they were also unable to access the casino properties.

Snyder took his team to Atlantic City, NJ, and Albuquerque, NM For realism, the VFX team created a digital map of the Las Vegas skyline and reproduced it in VFX.

Taormina says creating the zombie tiger design was the biggest challenge because there had to be a sense of credibility to the animal. Snyder gave Taormina a 2D concept of ideas for Valentine’s face, and the VFX team began modeling and sculpting it in 3D, making it feel real. The VFX team finally found help from an unlikely source: big cat rescue from Baskin. Now famous for the series tiger king from Netflix. The Big Cat Rescue team helped Taormina get closer to the tigers, engaging them during feeding times so they could get the necessary shots of real-life dimensions to build and create a photorealistic Valentine.

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