Scott Meadows is working in visual effects for more than 20 years. In 2008, he joined Digital Domain to take the lead of the previsualization department. He works on many projects such as TRON: LEGACY, X: FIRST CLASS, ENDER’S GAME and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
What is your background?
I studied architecture in undergraduate school and received a master’s degree in visualization sciences at Texas A&M. I started as a 3D environment artist in Austin and then transitioned into previsualization when I moved to Los Angeles in 2001. After 8 years as a freelancer, I joined Digital Domain in 2008 as the pre-viz and layout supervisor for TRON. I then went on to form Digital Domain’s previsualization group in 2009. Since then we have worked on numerous projects, the most recent being BLACK PANTHER.
How was the collaboration with director Ryan Coogler and VFX Supervisor Geoffrey Baumann?
Ryan is a very thoughtful and collaborative person and extremely interested in the story and characters, specifically the emotion of the characters and how they informed the action. We used VCAM sessions to help him block the scenes prior to shooting. We also created maps and large drawings of the third act and talked him through the action before diving into 3D. Geoff is actually a Digital Domain alumni, so it was great working with him again. We worked closely with Geoff both in the storytelling and the execution of shots. Once Ryan approved a sequence, we created tech-viz, including camera position and lens information that would ultimately serve as blueprints for the crew when it was time to shoot.
Did you receive specific indications or references for the animation?
Ryan worked closely with the stunt coordinator on the film. Since three of the fights (M’Baku vs. Black Panther; Black Panther vs. Killmonger; and the Vibranium mine fight) were all highly choreographed scenes, they were stunt-viz’d first. Stunt-viz is a process in which the stunt team works out the actions, shoots them, and assembles a working edit of the fight scene. Our team used this choreography to motion capture the fights for pre-viz. This allowed us to get into shot design much more quickly than using traditional key framed animation.
Which character or vehicle was the most fun to animate, and why?
The Dragon Flyers were definitely the most fun. Inspired by dragonflies, these vehicles have a wide range of motion, from hovering to flying like fighter jets, which gave us the opportunity to create varied flight patterns. Their fan-shaped wings and insect-like design inspired us to animate the ships with sophisticated composition and action.
Can you describe your approach before creating a shot or sequence?
We began with broad strokes, and details came later. For the final battle we generated a giant drawing of the location and created chess pieces of the different characters to get the blocking. Then, we went into Maya to start moving the characters with simple animation until we got into a flow and the sequence started to gel. We then began layering in more complex animation and detail, designing the individual attacks and different moves that Black Panther would use.
What kind of freedom did you have to propose ideas?
Ryan, his editors and the entire Marvel team were very collaborative. Superhero movies can be challenging because of all the superhuman stunts and ideas that are possible. Pitching ideas was very much encouraged on the film and it was a great creative environment to work in.
Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleeping?
The third act was a challenge. With the characters and various story-lines happening simultaneously it was a complicated puzzle. We had generated a lot of different story beats, and the sequence was getting too long. We spent a lot of time in the edit room trying different versions of the sequence in order to get the right pacing. There were a lot of late nights, but it definitely paid off in the end.
What is your favorite shot or sequence?
My favorite sequence is the final battle because of the diversity of action, setting, and characters involved. While Black Panther is fighting his own men and the rhinos and Killmonger fights the Dora Molaje, Ross hijacks a Wakandan ship. Black Panther and Killmonger eventually find themselves in an underground battle along the high-speed mining trains of Wakanda.
How long have you worked on this show?
We spent a little over a year working on the project, which included on-set work in Atlanta. Once principle photography was completed we began post-viz on the Disney lot in LA.
What are the three movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
There are so many, but three movies that inspired me are BLADE RUNNER, STAR WARS, and TIME BANDITS. I have also admired the work of stop-motion animators The Brothers Quay and Jan Švankmajer.
A big thanks for your time.
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Digital Domain: Official website of Digital Domain.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2018