CGSociety :: Production Focus
7 March 2013, by Paul Hellard
Looking up at Digital Domain, the Lead VFX vendor on Jack the Giant Slayer.
Jack the Giant Slayer
is a surprising VFX candy store of a production. A work of great scale, with an original story everyone remembers, while the screenplay brings a great range of comedy and drama to new heights. Literally.
Of course, there was an expectation of top quality in the finish, while there were also considerable technical and creative constraints. Digital Domain handled character development and animation on a large scale. There were eight hero giants and a hundred extra giants as well as a bunch of CG animals like pigs, horses, sheep and birds. Main giants included Fee, Fye, Foe, Fumm, Cooke, Sentry and General Fallon (two characters in one). DD also created secondary giant characters, many of which required facial controls to enable them to chant, perform limited dialogue and in the case of a giant called Bugler, blow a horn.
There was also fire, water, explosions, waterfalls, mist, clouds and rain to be generated, digital doubles on all the lead characters, for DD’s 250 artists, there was 461 shots.
The story gets moving when a brave team of humans climb the beanstalk, gets to the top and splits into two, determined to explore. They end up in a set environment called the ‘watering hole’. This is the first time we see one of the giants. “While it is a single giant, it really defines where we’re going to go for the rest of the movie,” says Steven Rosenbaum, Digital Domain's VFX Supervisor. “We were not holding back by any means for the creative and the technical. We have close up, personal contact with these giants, with dialogue, and even an extreme close up to the giant’s eyeball. Handling that kind of a shot in stereo is a hurdle. We had to dial the interocular to almost nothing, to avoid offending the eyes of the viewer.”
One of the reasons Rosenbaum enjoys this scene with the waterhole is because it was no-holds-barred in terms of the technical hurdles DD had to get over. There are four giants in the initial group, (Fee, Fye, Foe and Fumm, of course). The giant Fee has laid a trap for sheep and some of Jack’s friends have been caught in a net. Jack is pulling them out of the net when Fee shows up. Jack has no place to run so he ducks under water.
One shot begins above water as Jack tries to hide. Just as Fee reaches down to grab the sheep, he dips below the water surface and the camera tracks down under the surface as well. “We see Jack holding his breath, still looking up,” Rosenbaum explains. “Fee’s hand plunges down and grabs the sheep. With all the water splashes and particulates, this is a scene never shown in 3D before. Going from above water, to below water, looking up through the water with foreground action as well, it was very tricky.
“There was a lot of debate about building a real set and submerging the camera in real water for that initial Fee giant sequence,” VFX Plate Supervisor Swen Gillberg explains further. “But seeing the Plexiglass tank, the water and the size of the 3Ality rig for the stereo camera, there practicalities of this moved them to go straight for the CG option for water and the hair.”
The first stage was the performance capture for the chase out into the waterhole. The production design crew had designed a physical set for the humans’ component. Then an identical set a quarter of the size was prepared for the second stage, with the giant arriving in the same arena. This whole performance was captured in real time at Giant Studios' performance capture studio,” Rosenbaum says. “We were doing this in collaboration with Digital Domain’s Virtual Production Studio which handled facial capture.”
The next stage was to go over to the live action, full-scale studio and shoot a background plate. “We shot this native stereo using the Red EPIC cameras. We had Jack, played by Nick Hoult, lying down in a dry pond bed, with his hair slicked back, tight. The camera would come down behind Jack’s head and tilt up. We would replace the background, the water, insert distortion, even Jack’s hair is CG,” says Rosenbaum. The base shot was eventually captured with a Red EPIC camera on a Super Technocrane and a crew of five. In this scene, all animation was done in Maya, and the water simulation was in NIAID. Cloth and hair solving was done in Maya. KATANA was used for all the lighting and Arnold was the renderer. “This was the only time I’d ever strayed from using RenderMan,” Rosenbaum explains. “The idea of using a true global illumination solution, to have a really nice ray tracer at our disposal and really nice HDRs made it really straight-forward for us to light and set up the photo-real result for this shot.” There was no real water involved.
VFX Plate Supervisor Swen Gillberg was working the location VFX coverage out on an old estate in England. The castle was recreated in CG by SohoVFX. Here, there was knights riding, giants running and a large-scale chase up to the castle. While a previsualization of the chase was done a year earlier, the edit was changed the night before the shoot. It was Gillberg’s job as Onset Supervisor to sit with VFX Supervisor Hoyt Yeatman and the second unit director to make sure there was enough plate material to create a working edit, and appropriate HDRIs to gather lighting details on the shots. “We had stuntmen running around with giant-height eyeline poles to help frame giant’s heights for the background plates,” Gillberg remembers. “P&C did the meter point LiDAR [Light Detection And Ranging] on the entire area, and this was a great help.” This magnificently appointed property was taken over by huge camera cranes, low-loading camera support trucks and the place was strewn with a bunch of bright orange volleyballs. It must have made quite a sight.
”The stereographer on Jack the Giant Slayer
Chris Parks, and Bryan Singer are both firm believers in wide lenses, which made the job a little easier in that most shots could then hold a six foot man and a 24 foot giant,” Gillberg adds. “A wide lens allows more light, so you can crank down the aperture, bringing a long depth of field, so everything is very sharp." Parks came up with something called ‘Giant Vision’ - extremely wide IO, set up at 18cm instead of the normal two and a half, which makes everything look extremely small.