The Moving Picture Company, Framestore and Method Studios employ new techniques and state-of-the-art technology to create fierce creatures, animated environments and a fiery monster for Wrath of the Titans. Barbara Robertson meets the artists behind the effects
Set 10 years after Clash of the Titans, the sequel Wrath of the Titans finds Hades (god of the underworld) and Ares (god of war) teaming up to sap Zeus’s life force, release the imprisoned Titan leader Kronos, achieve immortality, and rule the world.
Can demigod Perseus, now a simple fisherman, rescue his father from the Tartarus prison, and save the world? Not if a two-headed, fire-breathing creature, a family of giant Cyclops, an army of insanely vicious Makhai warriors, and a 1,200-foot-tall pyroclastic monster can stop him.
Critics hated it. The aggregate review site Rotten Tomatoes tallied a low 25 per cent approval rating from the reviewers. But they slammed Clash, too, and it scored $492 million at the box office. And of the 20,000 plus Rotten Tomatoes users who rated Wrath, 70 per cent liked it.
A Collaborative EFFORT ON EVOLVING IDEAS “Wrath was both very challenging and very interesting," says Dumont. "Very challenging because nowadays productions have to adapt to a continuously evolving cut which allows the director to really push the story telling as far as possible; and interesting because we felt very much a part of the team thanks to Nick Davis (production's Visual Effects Supervisor) and Rhonda Gunner (production's Visual Effects Producer). We had this constant free dialog about new ideas and designs to help the story. Not that Jonathan Liebesman, the Director, didn't have any - he had plenty!"
Dumont continues, "As an example, when we started work on Kronos, he was supposed to stay pretty static. Jonathan thought this wasn't bringing enough tension to the scene and wanted several full CG shots in which Kronos is brought to life and moving. This was work we didn't anticipate but the design of those shots was so appealing that the challenge was totally worth it."
FIREY EFFECTS Method worked on lava elements in multiple shapes and scales - it could be as small as a drop of rain or as big as a volcanic boulder. Different setups and approaches were needed for each formation as well as having the ability to merge varying techniques within the same shot.
“This show really pushed the R&D of specific effects, namely falling and breaking rocks, smoke, dust and fire simulation - but greatest challenge was the lava”, comments Dumont. This element was a recurrent feature in Method’s sequences with the pyroclastic flow for the final destruction of the Kronos wall being the most demanding.
This moment happens when Kronos frees himself causing the mountain he is embedded in to collapse. The main difficulty here was to achieve a believable scale and after looking at hundreds of references, the team came to an agreement with Nick Davis that a collapsing glacier provided the right visual direction. The Method crew mimicked the glacier by building custom tools which allowed big pieces to fall and collapse into smaller chunks which fell further and collapsed into even smaller pieces. Kronos himself was rigged in such a way so that the shifting of his body caused lava to flow from the cracks that were generated from this movement - a bit like tectonic plates shifting on Earth.
3D MODEL DETAIL The team in London had the huge task of showing the outside of Tartarus as well as the introductory fly-through shot to the Underworld. In order to accommodate all the camera views, Tartarus was built completely in 3D as was the underground cavern. Dumont explains, “We used some projections for very specific reasons but you can fly across the chamber and get up close to the different sections and still make out all the details. Around 7000 thousand pieces were sculpted and textured before merging them together.”
21 of the 163 final shots Method produced were delivered by the team in full CG stereo. This was a complex task as the scenes needed to be rendered and composited in stereo rather than just converted. Dumont states, “True stereo is big challenge in itself as it doesn't allow for any imperfections - a glitch you wouldn't notice looking at the mono version is screaming in the stereo version.”
WEAPONS OF DESTRUCTION
Another VFX task for the Method team was the weapon transformations and enhancements. The gods carry weapons that are small if not activated but become fully extended with glowing parts when they are using them. The Method artists specifically worked on Zeus' thunderbolt, Hades' pitchfork, Poseidon's trident and Ares' hammer.
When Zeus and Poseidon are under attack they have to defend themselves against flying fireballs made of lava. These are a mix between fire, liquid lava and embers and leave splatters and trails on the ground. Method added explosions to the scenes which needed to match the practical effects shot on set.
ROCK SOLID PIPELINE
Nick Davis comments, “The Method teams had the creativity and shared infrastructure to accomplish an extraordinary amount of work in a brief time span which was a great relief to me and the production. They delivered on all accounts.”
While Dan Seddon (Method's CG Supervisor) and his team were developing the tools to build the CG setups, Robin Graham (Method's 2D Supervisor) was writing tools to help organize the thousands of CG elements yet to be received. Using Nuke and referencing an online list of approved shots, compositors knew exactly what to work on next.
The main challenge for the lighting crew was to keep up the consistency between each of the scenes as artists understandably have their own approach. Continuity between shots was enforced thanks to a robust publishing and communication system and holding many meetings to make sure everyone was talking the same visual language. Creative suggestions were always welcome and the final result bears the input of many artists’ ideas.
Another useful system enabled compositors to see very quickly their shot in context with two or three shots around. This, along with the online sharing of common set ups, proved to be indispensible as continuity was key on so many progressive sequences.
Dumont concludes, “There were many challenges on this project. It was a fluid production pipeline, not only between our Method teams, but with the entire production. Our ideas and designs for effects and character animation were welcomed, which made it a gratifying and inspiring process.”
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For the Underworld establishment sequence, Method London’s challenge was to get across the massive scale of the CG environment which included detailed matte paintings and the creation of a stone pillar tower which Zeus is later bound to. The London team was also involved during pre-production and created concept images for the production’s art department.