José Manuel Weil started his career in visual effects in 2007 at Scanline VFX. He worked on 2012, THE AVENGERS, CLOUD ATLAS and SNOWPIERCER. As a VFX supervisor, he took care of the effects of movies like POINT BREAK, THE SHALLOWS and ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.
What is your background?
In 2007, I joined Scanline VFX as a CG generalist and was soon promoted to the senior position. After three years of experience as a lead artist, I was called to work as CG Supervisor on several shows – including credits like THE AVENGERS, SNOWPIERCER or CLOUD ATLAS. This means I have a strong background in CG, specialized in shading, lighting and rendering. I was always interested in look development and solving technical problems, which means a strong and constant exchange with all departments.
While still working as a CG Supervisor and Lead Artist from time to time, I was promoted to Visual Effects Supervision helming Scanlines visual effects on more than ten feature films, including, THE SHALLOWS, POINT BREAK and STARS WARS: ROGUE ONE (together with ILM). When I’m working as CG sup only this is more focused on the technical part and as vfx sup this combines the technical with the creative aspects and I really love this.
How did you get involved on this show?
We worked as a Sub vendor for ILM, which means we worked closely together with Alex Wuttke and David Vichery.
What was your feeling to be in the Jurassic Park universe?
JURASSIC PARK is still not only one of my favorite movies it is also from the CG point of view one of the most impressive movies ever. Needless to say that a dream came true for me and our entire crew to be part of this unique JURASSIC PARK / WORLD universe.
How was the collaboration with director J.A. Bayona and VFX Supervisor David Vickery?
Our contact person regarding all creative decisions was Alex Wuttke and like all the time, when we are working directly with ILM, it was again a very nice and pleasant experience. On the one hand we always got straight and clear feedback and at the other hand they gave us huge trust to find the right solutions. Since we joined the show at an advanced point these aspects were very important regarding the short deadline. The ILM crew gave us all required information and material we needed and this was also a huge help to work on our hero shots.
What was their approaches and expectations about the visual effects?
Well, we are talking about JURASSIC WORLD 2 and ILM. So for us it was very clear that we were talking about the highest expectations and that we have to deliver the best quality in a short period of time. Always in a creative and constructive dialogue with Alex, but also independent and supportive. We are very proud that the results finally matched all expectations.
How did you organize the work with your VFX Producer?
I worked closely together with our Executive Producer Jasmin Hasel. She acted as a senior producer on the show and was responsible for bidding and scheduling the shots. She was in constant dialog with the ILM prod crew and we met internally at least once a day, talking about priorities and resources.
How did you split the work amongst the Scanline VFX offices?
All shots were done in our Munich office.
What are the sequences made by Scanline VFX?
Most of our work / shots, especially our hero shots were included in the Nublar escape sequence and the Aftermath (when Jeff Goldblum aka Ian Malcom talks about). Next to that we did some random, smaller shots like Set Extensions in Elevators etc.
Can you explain in detail about the creation of Isla Nublar?
We got concept paintings from ILM to get an idea what they were looking for. These included an overall look and a perspective to get an idea of the framing an the camera position. In the next step we were looking for references to get an idea how to start with the modeling of the island. As soon as we knew that a lot of shots were filmed at the Hawaiian Islands we were looking for references from these islands.
We started to layout a rough model with the characteristics of these islands and tried to match this as close as possible to the painting of ILM. Within this process it was very important to work in a realistic scale to get the proportions right. After receiving the model and the shot cam approval we were able to start with texturing and adding vegetation.
For texturing we were using World Machine in addition to Mari and Photoshop. The advantage of World Machine is that we were able to create textures as well as displacement maps, which we were using to get the height information of our island. We got textures fitting our geometry and we could use them together with our other textures. As a result the textures were way more convincing than just a painting on the geometry. We were using masks and maps which we build in WM as well and also hand painted masks for the lava done in digital matte painting department.
The Vegetation was done with Speed Tree, GrowFX and Forest Pack. In a first step we rendered beauty layers and passed them to our lookdev Dept. to check and define what we should optimize in CG and what could be done in matte painting and comp on top. Our look dev and Compositing artists did a great job and tweaked the CG results as long as we were happy with – before showing to ILM. All FX were done in fume FX and Flowline, like the fire, smoke and the huge ash cloud at the volcano. After finding solutions for all the technical challenges we were refining the elements and addressing the feedback from ILM until final.
How did you handle the creation of the various and rich vegetation?
We were using SpeedTree and growFX to create the assets for the vegetation. In a first step we did a little library which we were using to scatter them on the island. The scattering was done in Forest Pack, because the software is made for handling a huge amount of trees. We were able to render the beauty of one scene. For all scenes with animated vegetation this was a bit trickier.
For one shot we had to animate the trees because they had to react on a shock wave. While our FX artists were working on all kind of effects for the island itself – like lava, fire, smoke, ash cloud etc. I decided to try the tree animation with Speed Tree and GrowFX itself instead of simulating them. Creating and layouting trees could be done directly in 3ds max and also very easy with GrowFX. Changes can be made almost in real-time.
In Speed Tree we blocked the first movement of the trees, before importing them in 3ds max where we placed them and shifted the animation to match the exact force direction and timing. In the end this method was working quite well and we were able to create all vegetation without putting even more work on our FX dept.
Can you tell us more about the lava creation and animation?
The exploding lava shots where really fun to work on! In one shot we should see from a top positioned camera the jungle of Nublar Island and how the ground is opening and lava shoots out. All surrounding vegetation should shake as a reaction of what is happening.
At the beginning we got a live action plate with SFX and the idea was to implement our effects into the plate. After having a closer look it was clear, that it will be very hard and inflexible to roto all the existing trees and paint out all the SFX in a first step. That’s why we quickly decided to replace at least all the parts affected by the SFX on set and where we would need additional animations and simulations of the trees anyway. We ended up in a full CG shot. The whole forest was done in Speed Tree, GrowFX and Forest Pack. The breaking ground elements were done with TP and all lava, dust and dirt simulations with Flowline.
Besides the look and the timing of the FX the movement of the trees was very important. Therefore the plate was at least a perfect reference. This shot had a very though timing, but happily we got really fast and nice looking results for the lava. The difficulty was to get the right timing and speed without losing the special look and behavior of lava. All shading for the effects like the cooling of the lava while it is flying was done in Flowline as well.
In addition to the lava, there are many clouds. How did you manage them?
It was a combination of simulated effects and footage mapped on cards in comp. For the FX clouds we created a little library first – with different variations of smoke and dust clouds as well as fire. Later we mapped them on cards during compositing. For shots with more perspective and parallax we have created the effects for each shot camera in FumeFX and Flowline. For example the volcano pyro cloud.
Did you receive specific indications and references for the lava and the clouds?
We got some very nice concept paintings from ILM which helped us a lot to get an idea in which direction the client wanted to go. Alex Wuttke gave us creative freedom and trust to handle the shots and at the same time we always got nice references and clear feedback on our versions. The whole process was very straight forward and really inspiring to me.
With so many simulations, how did you prevent your render farm to don’t burn?
Luckily we have an enormous render farm at Scanline! After collecting so much experience within the last years we are really good prepared to handle huge shows with heavy and time intensive renderings. But nevertheless we definitely need to keep an eye on how many simulations and renderings we can push through the render farm overnight and so we had to make sure that our wrangler team always had the right prios.
In the end this is always about strong coordination and supervision to take care on the farm and to make sure that no useless or non-optimized simulations or renders rob the space. Next to that it is very important to have a well optimized schedule and internal organization to avoid peaks on the farm which could affect deliveries as well. Through all this hard and concentrated work we delivered all shots tech final in time.
Can you explain in detail about the creation of the Arcadia and the Ocean?
The ocean and all water elements in our shots were done with our in-house software Flowline. For one shot the ocean had to be very stormy. We started with a minor turbulent briefing, but in the end J.A wanted to have a very dramatic look. This was quite challenging regarding our overall timing, but our experienced FX / Flowline supervisor Ivo Klaus was able to find very quick solutions.
For the Arcadia we received the basic model from ILM which we had to adjust for the closer shots. We had to bring in more detail and structure in general and also put in further work in shading and texturing. For example we brought in some movement in the ropes and rigs of the huge ship and we also worked on the detail of the floating bridge when the Arcadia is heading towards the cam, away from the destroyed island in BG.
How did you share the assets with ILM and the other VFX vendors?
We are using nearly the same commercial CG software package which allows us to share assets with ILM very easily. Since we have worked together on several shows in the past this workflow is quite well established.
How did you create the massive Mosasaurs inside the big wave?
This is a funny story! Luckily we did a very similar shot for another show within the last years, so we exactly knew the possible difficulties when we were bidding this shot.
The camera: since this was a stock footage plate we had no concrete cam info. On top of that it was a handheld cam on the ocean with nearly any fixed points – kind of worst case for a matchmove artist. But we were very happy to have our experienced Comp Artist who was able to create a working 2D track in Comp.
For the Mosasaurs we used the model and textures which we received from ILM. We decided to do a static rendering of the animation from a perspective at the end of the shot – after the cam did the pan to the left and ended more or less static. This rendering was combined with the plate and the corresponding 2D track in Nuke. The final integration was also done in comp with keying the reflections and highlights from the ocean and putting them on top of the render again. The volume effect to let the Mosasaurs look like he is in the water was done with the z depth. The interaction with the water and the small splash when he is breaking through the surface was again done with our in-house software Flowline.
Can you tell us more about the Pteranodons at the end of the movie?
I personally really like these shots with the Pteranodons because they are so beautiful & epic. We got the plates and a corresponding briefing from ILM. In a first step our matte-painter did his magic by replacing the whole background with this great and epic sunset. In a second step we received the cam and the rendered Pteranodons from ILM and we implemented them on our end. We mainly concentrated on overall look dev and matte painting work and finally the strong contrast between the sun and the Pteranodons is just looking great.
What is your favorite shot or sequence?
I really like the island shots. The wide shot where we see the whole destroyed island Nublar for the first time is my favorite one. This shot was full CG.
What is your best memory on this show?
Being on the show itself will always be an extraordinary memory 🙂
How long have you worked on this show?
We started with a smaller crew on two very FX intensive trailer shots in the end of 2017. From October 2017 until beginning of April 2018 we finally got more and more work awarded and ramped up our team accordingly.
What’s the VFX shots count?
We ended up with a total shot count of 32.
What was the size of your team?
Around 40 people were working on the show in total. Not always in parallel of course. The main team was about 20 artists and leads.
What is your next project?
I am currently working on a TV show – called THE FIRST. Very exciting story about the first human mission to Mars, while exploring the challenges of taking the first steps toward interplanetary colonization. The story focuses not only on the astronauts, but also on their families and loved ones, as well as the ground team on Earth.
A big thanks for your time.
// WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Scanline VFX: Official website of Scanline VFX.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2018