In 2013, Fabrice Vienne explained to us the work of Rodeo FX on PACIFIC RIM. He then worked on a large number of shows such as WARCRAFT, GAME OF THRONES, DOWNSIZING and FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD.
Can you tell us what Rodeo FX did on this episode?
We did all kinds of effects ranging from simple assets like in the Orrery sequence by extending the background of the city of Chicago and its skytrain, the Ardham Lodge ruins, FX like fire effects in the Ardham Hallway corridor, and the cosmic transitions of Hippolyta around the world.
Another more complex sequence was that of the battle between the Amazonian female army and the former Republic of Dahomey.
What kind of references and influences did you receive for the various environments?
The client provided us with all the necessary material, concepts and reference images, plus 3D scans for the characters and film set.
Can you explain the environment creations in detail?
For Chicago, we were lucky to use assets that were already created for other episodes. Our team created 3 unique environments—that of the Champs Elysée theatre, the Dahomey village, and the portal interior, each with its own methodology.
For the theatre, we took a more traditional approach to matte painting while using the maximum potential of the lidar scans provided by the client. Once the lidar was placed in layout, it made it easier to create a more realistic lighting atmosphere.
For the Dahomey environment, we created some CG assets of the main buildings and reused some props from our CG bank. We created a layout still based on the concepts and images provided by the client and for the mountain extension, we went with a mix of 3D terrain generation and a skydome environment, all managed from Clarisse.
The cameras in the shoot were located in a 3D space in a logical way with respect to the continuity of the shots to allow us to have a single working environment for all shots without having to move things around. For the environment inside the portal, it was a totally procedural approach in FX with Houdini. In order to have a camera placement consistent with the environment, we went back and forth between the artist FX and the artist layout to have the best camera placement in relation to the desired effect. With one artist, we made the lookdev and lighting at the same time to be sure the results were what the client wanted.
Which one was the most complex to create?
The transitions between each world and lifetime. Arnaud Brisbois, VFX Supervisor for this episode, imagined the technical concept of the effect based on the client’s concept references. It’s always a challenge to make a complex effect based on a still image so that it turns out like the image the client has in his/ her head!
At the beginning the client wanted a glittery effect to finish with a more cosmic effect—these terms leave a lot of room for interpretation. Our team loves that kind of challenge though and we have some talented FX artists that can evolve an image to a reality. Once the client was satisfied with our approach, we just had to finalize the last little details in the comp for final delivery.
Many of your sequences have a crowd. Can you elaborate about the mocap processes?
For the battle sequence, given the nature of the actors’ actions, we decided to do our own mocap sessions with professional stuntmen. We used our Xsense Link suit mocap equipment and thanks to our Live Action studio, we did it all in one day. We then cleaned up our best selections of usable data for the shots and also used our animators for other mocap collections such as the Champs Elysée theatre sequence where the entire crowd was replaced.
How did you create the various digital doubles?
For all our digi-doubles, we start with a client’s 3D scan then create our assets on the basis of one model per type of character containing all the cloth variations and props. This way, we can select variations in the clothes and props that we want later. Our skeletons are designed to do as much animation by keyframes as mocap.
Due to Covid, how did you adapt your methodology?
Since mid-March, the entire staff at Rodeo FX has been working through tele-work. This was done quickly after the government’s decision to shut down all non-essential activity and Rodeo was right in the middle of many projects in full production.
So when I worked on episode 7 of LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, we were already prepared and my whole team was working in “COVID mode” from home. So it hasn’t changed the way we work. It just requires a little more communication and a lot more time on video conferencing.
Can you tell us more about the vignette animations?
Always for the sequence of the battle of Dahomey, we had to think of a different methodology for the addition of fighters close to Hippolyta. Due to a very short production time, we couldn’t afford to proceed with a traditional pipeline which consists of working shot by shot starting with the animation and then adding the cloth simulation. We had to reduce the amount of people working per shot.
This is why we decided to create an animation and action library called a « vignette » containing the different types of animation (actions), the variations of cloth and the cloth simulation ready to be put in the scene by the artist’s layout via Houdini. This way we could quickly approve a layout with a first pass without the cloth simulation and update the vignette automatically by approving the last cache submission of the ‘vignette’ containing the cloth simulation. All available quickly for lighters.
Which sequence or shot was the most challenging?
All the transition shots through the portal.
Is there something specific that forced overnighters?
With the delivery speed of this project, the time factor was a stress, but it went really well because of an extraordinary team.
What is your favorite shot or sequence?
The Dahomey sequence was my favorite because we had to adapt our pipeline specifically for this sequence…and that’s what I like about our job, it always pushes us to go beyond our limits. This sequence really forced us to think differently and that’s the depth and richness of our profession.
How long have you worked on this show?
What’s the VFX shot count?
125 shots for episode 7.
What was the size of your team?
A big thanks for your time.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Rodeo FX: Dedicated page about Lovecraft Country on Rodeo FX website.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2020