Beautiful on the Inside?
You’d think that with a mother who looks like Angelina Jolie, Grendel might have been a handsome brute, but no such luck. Brian Steiner, CG supervisor at Imageworks, worked on Grendel’s look development.
“Doug Chaing had done concept work but there were a lot of images and we’d hear, ‘We like this part of this image and that part of that image,’” Steiner says. “So, we did some of our own concepts based on that. Once we had some models, we painted on top in Photoshop.”
Grendel, Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie), and the dragon (aka the golden man) have a glittering characteristic in common - a golden sheen. Grendel’s mother appears to Beowulf coated in gold, Grendel and the dragon have golden scales.
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“The idea behind Grendel,” says Steiner, “is that he is a malformed version of the other characters, that he was meant to be one of those creatures, probably a dragon, but he ended up being tormented. He tears off his golden scales, rips holes in his flesh, and he has areas of torn-away flesh, raw skin, and different layers. Our job was building all those layers and figuring out how to get them to work together without becoming too complicated.”
Imageworks uses Maya for modeling, with ZBrush adding details. In addition, the Beowulf pipeline included MotionBuilder, Houdini, Photoshop, CINEMA 4D, RenderMan, and proprietary lighting and compositing tools. Most of Grendel’s layers are texture maps, but some of the detail is in the model, and some in displacement maps.
|“When the skin is torn away, it reveals another layer,” Steiner says. He might have a scab where he peeled away some scales and the skin next to that might have a fresher wound where you can see fat and muscle. The edge might be tattered where it transitions into layers under the skin, but most layers have discreet boundaries.” |
The artists painted separate maps for each of the layers – pieces of bone, raw meat, fatty tissue, skin, scab and scale – to control where pieces show through. Sometimes the model dictated what parts would show. For example, you can see exposed organs and intestines in Grendel’s midsection. And on the right side of his face, the paralyzed side, you can see muscle tendon in an indentation.
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“That was a combination of modeling and texturing,” says Steiner. “We modeled a big crevice in his cheek and then put tubes through it for muscle fibers. In the back, we painted more muscle fibers to give it depth. To blend those in, we fanned out the edges and turned them more into tendons.”
Most of the painted texture maps were 4K resolution, although some on the face were 8K. Touchups with projection paint fixed places that showed up larger than expected in a shot.
Each layer had two sets of displacement maps, one for gross displacement and one for fine detail. In addition, each layer had a color map, a specularity map, maps to control the amount of subsurface scattering, and isolation maps to control specific areas. “When we were all done, I think we had around 50 maps for him,” Steiner says.
Getting the displacement right on the scales to have them look like they overlapped was particularly difficult. “They are tricky to paint,” Steiner says. “The painters had a pattern that would align itself in the direction they were painting. Also, the scales had more maps than the other layers. We used RGB channels in Photoshop.”
|One map provided random values so that some scales would render with a waxy look. Others controlled the look of the edges of the scales. “We had a soft one for the front edge, a couple put different specular qualities on the edge, and some made the scales hazy on the edge,” Steiner says. “We also had a grad over the scales so let them go darker toward the top.”|
And then, they added “goop.” “We wanted to have different levels of moisture on each layer, with dry skin, very dry scabs, wet fat and wet meat layers,” Steiner says. “But in the end, they wanted to see more wetness, so we built a goop layer with a thick wetness and put it over everything except the scales.”
All the grotesque goop, scabs, scales and torn flesh pushed Grendel further and further away from man who played the role. “That was one of the difficult things in look dev,” says Steiner. “We wanted him to reflect a little of Crispin Glover’s look because he played Grendel. So some of the hard work on his face was adding Glover’s look.”
Glover’s hairstyle helped. Grendel and Glover both part their hair on the left side. “We made him semi-balding,” says Steiner, “with patches of hair coming down over his face to help define his look.”
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Like the other human characters, Grendel also has body hair. “We did a full pass of body hair, whether peach fuzz, or arm hair and chest hair on all the characters,” says Phillips. “Even the female characters have fuzzy body hair. Without that, they feel synthetic.” Grendel’s body hair is wirey and crinkled. “The main thought was that there are a lot of backlit dark shots, so the rim lighting would catch these hairs.”
A hair and cloth team led by Sho Igarashi developed methods for moving hairstyles from one character to another in the large population of human actors, and give the characters their scruffy century look. “We also had specific rigs to nudge the hair in certain ways, so we could give Jerome [Chen] what he wanted,” Igarashi says.
For clothes, the team cut patterns that matched costumes created for the actors, and then built simulation models from those patterns. To handle the interaction between clothes and hair, Igarashi had one person work on both simulations per character.
“When Grendel attacks, there are hundreds of people watching,” says Chen. “It was a huge challenge to make all the characters feel real enough to not be distracting.”
|This is the third time Imageworks has created an entirely CG film by applying performance capture data to digital characters and putting those characters into an entirely CG background. Polar Express was the first, Monster House, which received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, was the second.|
“We took what we learned from Polar and Monster House and applied it to this film,” McDonald says. “Beowulf is a huge leap ahead of the other films. We really stepped up. The look is stylized, but moving toward realism. I’d like to do another, to apply what we’ve learned to another film. We’ve set a bar to aim at.”
Some people might question why Zemeckis didn’t film Beowulf rather than use animated characters. Beowulf’s animation supervisor has an answer: “Even though it feels like live action, there were a lot of shots where Bob cut loose,” McDonald says. “Amazing shots. Impossible with live action actors. This method of filmmaking gives him freedom and complete control. He doesn’t have to worry about lighting. The actors don’t have to hit marks. They don’t have to know where the camera is. It’s pure performance.”
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