- Warner Bros
- Jonathan Liebesman
- VFX Supervisor (Method Studios)
- Olivier Dumont
- VFX Producer (Method Studios)
- Aurelia Abate
- Method Studios
- London, Los Angeles
Method Studios in Los Angeles and London were excited to join forces on the larger-than-life 3D visual effects in Warner Bros.’ Wrath of the Titans - the second installment in the franchise. Olivier Dumont rose to the occasion as Method’s VFX Supervisor alongside his team of talented artists.
THE LA AND LONDON PARTNERSHIP
The LA facility’s main sequence involved creating the awakening of the monstrous Kronos, father of Zeus, and included 114 shots featuring a fully CG rock giant in an entirely CG environment. The action takes place in a huge collapsing chamber, with Perseus and Andromeda freeing Zeus as Kronos awakes. The monster is brought to life with glowing lava and causes the cataclysmic destruction of the Underworld. Digital doubles of leading actors were created and composited into scenes along with fire, smoke, explosions and flowing lava.
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.
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."
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.”