ARRIVAL: Philippe Théroux (VFX Supervisor) & Nicolas-Alexandre Noël (CG supervisor) – Hybride

In 2015, Philippe Théroux spoke to us about Hybride’s work on UNBROKEN. He then took care of the effects of TOMORROWLAND, JURASSIC WORLD, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS and WARCRAFT.

Nicolas-Alexandre Noël has been working at Hybride for nearly 10 years. He has worked on numerous projects such as AVATAR, PACIFIC RIM, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS and WARCRAFT.

How did you and Hybride get involved on this show?
We were approached by Louis Morin, with whom we had previously worked with on LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE.

How was the collaboration with director Denis Villeneuve and VFX Supervisor Louis Morin?
It was great collaborating with Denis Villeneuve and Louis Morin. They had a very hands-on approach and came to visit our studios so we could brainstorm with them during production in regards to look development, rigging, animation and alien environments.

What are the sequences made by Hybride?
Hybride – serving as the film’s main VFX vendor – skillfully crafted 245 VFX shots for a total of 25 minutes of screen time, including all the alien shots seen in the movie. Hybride artists were also responsible for the “logograms” – the written language used by the aliens as they attempt to communicate with the humans. Working with concept art supplied by the production team, Hybride artists took over the development of the transition effects, delivering a total of 70 logogram shots for the film. Other VFX by Hybride include look development and animation for the fog, where realistic interaction with the aliens was critical.


How did you work with the art department and Louis Morin for the aliens?
During pre-production our VFX artists met with designers who presented us with a reference book of different designs for the aliens. We based our researches on the production’s references and ideas, but we were also given a lot of freedom in regards to look development, skin texture, environments and alien movement. Once the studio saw the early motion tests, design modifications were requested to finalize the look of the aliens.

Can you explain their creation in detail?
One of the key challenges for the aliens was ensuring the lower section of the alien appeared to be a truly self-contained entity. To achieve this, we sculpted hollows that would suggest eye sockets into the knuckles around the ‘wrist,’ introducing a hint of a face into the hand-like extremity. We also needed to find a nice balance between an alien that is menacing, graceful and tall.


How was their presence and interactions simulated on-set?
We used techviz during the pre-shoot of the final sequence, which needed us to be very precise since Louise interacts directly with the alien. We also needed the alien’s and the character’s physical specifications so we could set the marker. The techviz helped us position the creature and the character’s eye line.

Can you tell us more about their rigging?
Rigging was a little bit tricky because the aliens had 7 “legs”, “fingers” each with 360-degree capability, which was a challenge on its own.


How did you manage the animation challenges without seeing their faces and with so many tentacles?
Not seeing the actual face makes conferring emotion to a creature challenging in itself but the biggest challenge was animating these tall creatures without revealing them until the very end. After doing a lot of tests, it resulted in an alien gait described by our animation team as “a giraffe on spider legs, with the weight of an elephant.”

Can you tell us more about the shading and textures work?
Again, we needed to do a lot of tests to find the right balance the skin textures of whales, squid and transparent deep-sea fish. We had a lot of references, but we didn’t want to go exactly to them, like ingredients for a recipe – we put them all together and added our own ideas to bring out the final look.

How did you approach the alien logograms?
Working with concept art supplied by the production team, we took over the development of the transition effects, delivering a total of 70 logogram shots for the film.


Can you explain in details about the design and the creation of the logograms?
We worked with effects artists to generate flowing segues blending one logogram to the next. We used animation controls to tailor Houdini fluid simulations, so that each time the ink settled into place it fell into the predetermined geometry of the next target shape. We needed it to look very natural, but we also needed to control it, but when you start to control it, then it starts to look mechanical. So it was a balance of letting it flow in an organic way, but controlling it enough that it would take the proper shape at the proper time.

Can you explain in details about the creation of this effect and especially her hair?
To create Louise’s floating hair, we used in-house fur tools alongside Fabric Software’s Fabric Engine to create a wafting digital hairpiece. Amy Adams performed on an empty blue screen set, with her hair held up by approximately 30 pins. Each pin carried a tiny marker, so we were able to resolve an accurate 3D track of Adams’ movements. At first there was an idea of having a bathing cap on her, but we decided to keep her hair there because it gave us a base for all the CG hair to be put on top. We then match moved the motion of her head to comp the CG hair over her natural hair, which also helped in creating a realistic motion of the CG hair flowing with the actress’ movements.


What do you keep from this experience?
It was a great experience and we’re very proud to have contributed to Quebec filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s film, which has been a huge success since its release, and we’re especially honored by the confidence Denis Villeneuve has shown us by entrusting Hybride with key scenes in the film.

How long have you worked on this film?
14 months.

How many shots have you done?
245 VFX shots.

What was the size of your team?
90 employees.

What is your next project?
VALERIAN (245 shots), THE GREAT WALL (137 shots) and others we can’t mention yet!

A big thanks for your time.

// WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Hybride: Official website of Hybride.





© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2017

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Vincent Frei

Founder & Editor-in-Chief // VES Member // Former comp artist

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