Pietro Ponti started his career in visual effects in 2004. He has worked on many films like 10’000 BC, THE DARK KNIGHT, TERMINATOR GENISYS and FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM.
What is your background?
I started working for a small italian vfx shop called Ubik Visual Effects, where I learned that I loved working in movies. I proceeded then to try and move abroad to work on some bigger productions and to learn more about the VFX industry.
In 2006 I joined DNEG and worked with them for 10 years going from TD Generalist to CG supervisor in the process. There I worked on the last 4 HARRY POTTER movies, THE DARK KNIGHT, THE BOURNE LEGACY, THOR: THE DARK WORLD, TERMINATOR GENISYS and FANTASTIC BEASTS.
Since January 2017 I have been with Important Looking Pirates, as TD Generalist/VFX Supervisor.
How did you get involved on this show?
ILP was approached by David Vickery from ILM London, who asked us if we were interested in working on a sequence for this movie. From there we started the bidding process being awarded our first sequence. I joined during the bidding process as VFX Supervisor for ILP.
What was your feeling to be in the Jurassic Park universe?
It was extremely rewarding and exciting. As many others, JURASSIC PARK was part of my youth and passion for cinema and visual effects, so to be able to work on such an IP was truly special. Especially as we were able to work on some of the most iconic dinosaurs.
How was the collaboration with director J.A. Bayona and VFX Supervisor David Vickery?
We collaborated with David at the very beginning of the process, for the first few briefs and first tests. Though as soon as Alex Wuttke joined the show on ILM side, he became our point of contact and direct client, and we started having review sessions with him. From there he discussed and passed our material onto David and J.A. Respectively. Working with them has been a great experience for all of us at ILP. We had regular reviews and discussed often the overall plan, so it was always easy for us to know what was required from them.
What was their approaches and expectations about the visual effects?
From early on we had several conversations about our sequences, and the whole supervision team at ILM was extremely helpful to try and highlight what were the expectations for the different sequences from them and of course J.A. We were able to have great exchanges at the beginning of the process to try and settle on the look of the sequences, especially for the Submarine Attack which opens the movie.
We would find references and be provided references which we then shared to identify an early look for the submarine sequence. Conversely for the T-Rex Attack and the Blue sequence it was a job of blending visual effects on shot plates, so in that sense it was much more straightforward.
Technique wise they were really happy to discuss our approaches, but also allowed us a great degree of freedom, which made it real good fun for us to figure it all out, always having someone as experienced as Alex and his team to bounce ideas with. Their expectations were of course really high, but they really trusted us, and made the whole process really enjoyable as we are able to talk over rough comps from the very beginning, so the focus was very much on the creative side of the process, and our reviews always targeted to the look and the storytelling of our shots.
How did you organize the work with your VFX Producer?
Form the outset ILM required us to have a clear working schedule that outlined deadlines and deliveries for both Assets and Shots. With our production manager Kajsa Kurtén we then worked on a plan that would outline said deliverables and organized them in weekly targets. We organized the work so that we could at first focus mostly on our hero look development shots and at a later stage on filling the edit with a rendered version of each shot.
What are the sequences made by Important Looking Pirates?
We worked on the two opening sequences of the movie that bridge the Legendary logo to the the Title of the movie.
Submarine Attack and T-Rex Attack.
At a later stage we were able to win the award for a third sequence, which is the one of Blue, Zia and Franklin escaping from the subterranean lab.
Can you explain in detail about the creation of the dinos especially the T-Rex and Blue?
We received the T-Rex model and textures, as well as a basic rig from ILM. From there we started our ingestion of assets. We then proceeded to create blend shapes in house for our rigging system, matching to reference videos provided by ILM. As our look dev was done in Arnold and ILM’s in Renderman, we had a few back and forth as we fine tuned the balance of the asset, until our ldev matched theirs.
On top of that our T-Rex had to look wet in the rain, so that was a second stage look dev we carried out internally. For Blue we received model and textures as well, and we followed a similar process as for the T-Rex, by bouncing look dev with ILM and developing internally our blend shapes and rig. All of our lookdev work was achieved in Arnold for Maya.
Can you tell us more about their rigging and animation?
The rigging of the T-Rex and Blue, started out of the basic rig that ILM provided for us, but we then had to adapt them and rework them all for our needs to fit them into our pipeline. Especially the blend shapes and the muscle rig and system were something we worked on for quite sometime, always improving all the different details, tailored to our needs specific for the sequences we worked on.
Adrian Tsang and Gustav Ahrén on our team did a fantastic job in recreating the look and motion ranges from the references we received from ILM, necessary for our shots. Their collaboration with our animation supervisor Niklas Andersson, helped us achieve something we are really proud of. The muscle system was a mixture of a muscle rig that Gustav developed and some skin simulations achieved partly in Ncloth and partly in houdini’s Carbon plugin.
Animation wise, Niklas had daily reviews with all of his team where they went through every shot to keep behaviour and key poses consistent across the sequences. That way the T-Rex and Blue had their basis consistent throughout and specific detailed animations per shot were built on top of that.
Once production started ramping up, Niklas started having weekly catch ups with Jance Rubinchik, ILM animation supervisor, whom helped us to quickly achieve the vision from the creatives. That said we also had a certain degree of freedom and creativity, especially on some of the full CG shots in the tug of war between helicopter and T-Rex, where we helped designed the look of the final shots.
The Mosasaurus is really massive. How does that affects the animation work?
The Mosasaurus is indeed really big. The main challenge was definitely in getting the size of the dinosaur to be sort of aligned between shots but also retaining the most effective look for the different scenes. On top of that it was a of course a question of selling the scale of the dino by ensuring that its movement were fluid and majestic and not falling into behaviours and speeds which would kill the Mosa’s scale.
At a later stage in production, David asked us for a chart of size comparison of all our Mosasaurus shots and that led to a few changes to try and make sure we were not going too far out in the different shots. Luckily the Mosasaurus jump ended up being the reference size for the rest. Our animation team did a great job and really nailed the behaviour of the Mosa, keeping it feeling massive and nimble underwater.
How did you share assets with ILM?
Sharing assets with ILM was pretty much a one way street, where they actually provided us with the starting point for T-Rex, Blue and Mosasaurus. Sometimes we had to provided some of our assets back for other vendors such as the Lagoon gates, but it was very straightforward as they provided us clear guidelines on how to prep these deliveries. Apart from that it was all based on render reviews, which made it all that much easier.
Can you explain in detail about the water simulation?
We had two massive shots were Mosasaurus jumps out of the lagoon. For these two shots our FX supe Juri Bryan, worked in Houdini to create the most detailed and accurate simulations possibles in the time available. Especially the first shot when the Mosasaurus breaches and then reenters the water to swim away, took a very long time to simulate as we had a very deep tank to get all of the underwater displacement following the initial jump. On top of the base flip simulation we then run several seeds of whitewater and underwater bubbles to add details and complexity to the overall simulation. All of the FX caches then were rendered in Arnold, taking advantage of all the attributes that were output from the flip simulation for better shading and blending of the water surface with the other elements such as foam and sprays. The ocean surfaces where handled with our own ILP ocean tool, and blended with the simulations in FX. We also ran several passes of rain impacts, mist and whitewater on top of the ocean surface for added details.
How did you create the submarine and the huge underwater environment?
The submarine was modelled traditionally but still matching the buck they built on set for the actors, that way we were able to pretty much replace 90% of it in every shot. In many shots we retained only the actors from the plates. We then shaded the submarine with several procedural shaders in Arnold which allowed us a greater freedom of control over the texturing of the submarine, so that modelling iterations never required extensive re-uving, as we kept on adding details to the submarine model until the 11th hour. Our Creature Supervisor Adrian Tsang created a really nice rig of the submarine that allowed us to reposition and reframe shots, whilst retaining the relationship between the actors and the submarine’s bubble. That way our animators were able to really layout and recreate shots as required by the director.
The underwater environment started in layout and animation where the animators had proxy objects that represented the kelp, Indominus bones and lagoon floor. That way they were able to layout the environment along with the submarine and camera.
When animation was done they would cache it all out and we brought the proxy geo in Houdini were we had a procedural setup to create detailed floor of the lagoon which would adapt to the position of the bones and reshape itself accordingly. Then we created highres kelp assets that lighters could instance on the scene based on our layout. We then rendered the whole scene in deep with volumetrics to get the underwater feeling and visibility but this was all lit in a neutral state, meaning in CG we did not have any color shifting. Our artists, used a combination of Megascan textures and models to add details to the lagoon floor.
Regarding the Indominus bones, the look that J.A. wanted was to give the idea that the Mosasaurus had been chipping away at it over time, and so that some meat and flesh was still left on it. We hand sculpted fleshy skin hanging on the bones which we then simulated in Houdini’s carbon plugin to get some nice movement in the current. We also rendered several passes of particulate billowing in the water and dust kick-ups from the submarine. At comp stage taking advantage of the deep data, we were then able to use a tool David Wahlberg on our team developed, that took care of the color spectrum falloff in deep water, based on light position and distance from camera. This was an approach bourne out of the incredibly insightful chats we had with ILM at the beginning of the process especially with their 2D supervisor John Galloway.
The sequence is seen by night and underwater. How did you handle the challenge of the lighting?
For the lighting of the sequence it was all a balance between the clear vision that J.A. had for this sequence, in terms of mood, and the amazing references we could gather from great documentaries such as GHOST OF THE ABYSS. Using such great reference as starting point, we tried to recreate cinematic lighting were we had light sources outside of frame that helped outline silhouettes and the perception of depth of the underwater environment. These lights though decayed quickly to leave entire portions of the frame in complete darkness, as light underwater is absorbed and dies off much faster.
The mood J.A. was after was very much something that resembled space to begin with, where is really hard to tell where is up or down,and the sense of solitude is really strong. A lot of the lighting and look was also handled in comp and our 2D Supervisor Björn Jankes did a great job in trying to capture the look of the lensing and flaring that the show’s cameras gave, and recreate those digitally.
What was the main challenge on the show and how did you achieve it?
The biggest challenge was to wrangle all of the CG elements and renders that went into the Submarine Attack. It was extremely heavy renders, with many components that went through several softwares at different stages. Thanks to our leads Per Bergstén and Linus Gustafsson on CG side and Viktor Andersson on comp side, we were able to tame the beast, but it was not easy. The scenes in Maya were to the edge of what Maya can handle and the comps in deep required several stages of baking elements to keep iterations relatively constant. That said having such a heavy CG approach really helped the get a lot of the look in line early on, even if it was quite heavy to manage.
Which sequence or shot was the most complicated to create and why?
The submarine attack takes top prize here for sure. As we decided to go full deep on this sequence, and it was pretty much a sequence of full CG shots, it posed a lot of technical and creative challenges. Also the end frames where extremely slow to render so it took some creative organization to make sure it all came out on time and looking sharp.
Is there something specific that gives you some really short nights?
Render times. It actually gave me short nights, looking at the farm.
What is your favorite shot or sequence?
Hard to say as we were really lucky in terms of which sequences we were able to work on. Definitely the T-Rex chase has a special spot as it is so iconic and has such a beautiful atmosphere. It was really nice to be able to work on that sequence.
What is your best memory on this show?
Absolutely collaborating with our great team at ILP. There are some incredibly talented artists and they really put their heart and soul into this project. We were not a massive team, and that made it so that I could work closely with each one of them. I learned a lot, it was great fun and it made for some great memories. It was a very rewarding experience.
How long have you worked on this show?
Roughly 9 months.
What’s the VFX shots count?
ILP delivered 87 shots.
What was the size of your team?
It varied in size across the project, but in total 56 people at ILP worked on it.
What is your next project?
ILP secret stuff.
What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
Hard, but these are good ones for that from my youth!
- THE NEVERENDING STORY
- JURASSIC PARK
A big thanks for your time.
// WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Important Looking Pirates: Official website of ILP.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2018