Ant-Man and the Wasp Interview: Kevin Souls (LA VFX Supervisor) with Brendan Seals (Melbourne VFX Supervisor) and Raphael Pimentel (Animation Director) – Luma Pictures
August 4, 2018 – Excellent Interview by Luma Pictures. Interview by Kevin Souls, LA VFX Supervisor with Brendan Seals, Melbourne VFX Supervisor and Raphael Pimentel, Animation Director. Today, they talks to us today about his work on ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’.
// From Kevin Souls, The LA VFX Supervisor, Luma Pictures
How do you balance director’s vision when creating VFX for any movie?
Our goal is to always exceed the directors expectations, and to do that we rely on a mixture of art direction and intuition. Marvel movies are always fast paced, and it requires us to sometimes extrapolate from the notes and predict what the director will want. You always have to design your setups with the maximum amount of flexibility, so you can turn on a dime when the story requires it.
What were the most technical challenging sequences of ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’? How did your team overcome it?
Each sequence presented different technical challenges, so I wouldn’t say that any was more technically challenging than the others, but The “Flashback” sequence had the largest scope of work, requiring a full cg environment to be built matching to a real set. Additionally, we had to develop the Quantum Tunnel effects, which would eventually reach critical mass, and destroy the building, both inside and out.
Going in, we knew all the parameters of the effects needs, so we tried to spread the work out across departments to solve the different problems. First off the asset team was tasked with creating an asset that would look photoreal but have all the technical requirements that the FX department would need for the destruction, even art directing the broken pieces of the wall. Next, the animation took ownership of the Quantum Tunnel animation and destruction, knowing that we could achieve all of the shaking and collapse with rigging, blend shape and animation. With those parts tasked out, FX was free to develop the Tunnel FX, volumetrics, and the destruction simulations. Finally, composite and lighting was called in to develop the final look of the tunnel and pull all the elements together.
The niche VFX of Ant-Man lays in complexity details when he shrinks. How did you achieve seamless work of various perspective shots with accurate depth measurements?
Without a doubt, you need to start with a real camera and real lensing. It’s incredible how sensitive we are to field of view and scale. When something is wrong, people can just tell. So it was important to us that the camera speed and motion be accurate to the scale of Ant-Man. Next, we would layer in levels of detail to the assets and textures, adding geometric features that would hold up to scrutiny at close distance. The lighting also plays a huge role in depicting the scale of a scene, with the softness and fall off of the shadows needing to be precise. Finally, carefully utilizing Depth of Field to guide the eye, and add that photographic feel, is absolutely essential.
How did you manage tight integration of post-production pipeline between your physically separated studios?
Our two facilities share the same pipeline for all departments. So while we don’t have live parity of renders and setups, we can easily sync something back and forth between the locations and get the exact same result. This makes sharing super easy and, with the time difference, is like having a 24 hour facility – one just picks up where the other leaves off.
How did Marvel zero in on Luma Pictures for generating astonishing VFX for ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’?
We have a long time relationship with Marvel, and were a big part of the first Ant-Man. They also know us as a creative team that can iterate quickly to find solutions, and for this movie we had a whole new set of challenges.
Let us know about the core team of Luma Pictures who worked on ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’.
I was the VFX supervisor in Los Angeles. Brendan Seals was the VFX supervisor in Melbourne. Alex Cancado is the CG Supervisor in LA and Andrew Zink is the CG supervisor in Melbourne. Raphael Pimentel is the overall Animation Supervisor. Additionally, we had a crew of over 100 production and support staff spread across Los Angeles and Melbourne.
Luma Pictures supervisors shoot some sequences of the movie. Let us know in detail about it, on-shoot and post production both.
Jamie Hallett assisted Stephane Ceretti with supervision for Principle Photography in Atlanta, providing texture acquisition and production data. I assisted Jesse James with the Additional Photography and reshoots back here in Los Angeles.
Luma Pictures used CG replacements and 3-D face replacements in this- what is the biggest challenge of this?
We built CG textured and shaded approximations of Ant-Man and Wasps’ faces so that we always had lighting cast onto the facial geometry per the shot lighting. We then re-purposed our tech from the first Ant-Man to bring the animated facial geometry into Nuke and map with the actor’s bespoke facial performances for the shot. Luckily we solved many of the challenges on the first show with transferring the actors performance texture onto the CG character and placing underneath the reflective helmet visors.
How did you design and create the quantum tunnel sequence?
The Quantum Tunnel Sequence contained some of our biggest fx challenges in Ant-Man and the Wasp. The Quantum Tunnel was meant to represent an opening into the Quantum Realm. There were actually two QT’s in the movie, the one in our sequence was an older model that was much less stable. Stephane Ceretti wanted this effect to have a unique feel, and although we were meant to destroy the building, it was important that it feel like caustic energy and optical distortion rather than an explosion. We started by looking at the previs and the pulsing rings that they had done. The great timing and energy. Using that as an inspiration, we designed and built a series of passes to be used in compositing to build ‘lens flare like’ optical distortions, refracting the surroundings. The rings would travel down the length and eventually burst out of the tunnel. These “bursts” were more refractive than concussive, but had the power to smash through the thick brick walls of the warehouse.
We had to destroy the building inside and out, and it all needed to intercut with photography. To achieve this, we built photoreal replicas of the interior and exterior of the warehouse. The interior would be a mix of photography and CG, whereas the exterior always being entirely virtual. The modeling had to be carefully done, modeling closed surfaces, that it could be simulated for the destruction. Intermixed in the blast were enormous refractive rainbow caustic energy waves of the quantum energy. On top of that we ran massive volumetric simulations to add scale and texture.
While Ant-Man is hiding in the school, he suddenly has an issue with controlling his suit. Here old technique used forced perspective in this how did you approach the shots?
During the “Broom Closet” sequence, Ant-Man’s regulator malfunctions and his suit begins changing scale unpredictably while hiding in a school broom closet. The idea behind the sequence was to use an old technique called forced perspective, aided by modern technology, to achieve the visual gag of the giant-sized Ant-Man literally bursting at the seams of a small broom closet. To accomplish this, all the plates were designed to be shot independently and then assembled in the compositing process. Ant-Man was shot in a green screen scale model of the room interior and The Wasp was shot using reference props to simulate interaction. The room interior itself was captured as a plate but also scanned in 3D, so we could easily recreate the shots that required a virtual camera move and to manipulate the ceiling when Ant-Man slams into it.
The pieces were individually tracked and match-moved while another camera was created to re-film the scene and compensate for the different field of views of each acquisition camera. Luma replaced pieces of Ant-Man’s body with a high-resolution full CG asset. Once we were sure the timing and lineup worked we could focus on integration and enhance the scene with additional animated roof geometry and dust effects.
The mix of photography and CG was a key tool we used that helped trick the eye and maintain all the subtle comedic performances.
How did Luma manage photography and research and CG Development for the specially created missile launch scene?
The Missile Launch was a really fun sequence and because it was fully CG, it gave us complete freedom to create the world – except for one little catch – parts of the new sequence had to directly match the missile sequence from the first film. In fact, some of our new shots would inter-cut directly with older shots.
We began by ingesting the original assets for Hank and Janet. Not only did we need to match the shading and textures exactly, but also the rigging and cloth simulation – down to the way the elbows and waist folds moved!
For the launch we researched Russian Missile Silos and were able to find really great reference photography, and even YouTube clips of the silo design opening and launching. With production’s blessing we went about modeling and texturing a highly detailed asset. The Missile was ingested and converted from the first film, we added geometric detail and enhanced textures to serve the staging of the new shots. Volumetrics and blowing leaves were added to give a sense of scale and force.
Once they were airborne we shifted over to the match-to environment. We started by studying the sky and clouds, eventually building new volumetric clouds and layers to match the look and framing of the original shots.
At the end of the sequence Janet shrinks down to enter into the missile computer. To achieve this new environment, we used a combination of fully CG computer parts, mixed with macro photography of real circuit boards. The Depth of Field was carefully dialed to give a sense of scale but also to guide the eye through the busy frame.
Any upcoming projects of Luma Pictures or other details you can share?
// From Brendan Seals, The Melbourne VFX Supervisor, Luma Pictures
What are the other Marvel movies Luma has worked on?
We’ve been lucky to work with Marvel Studios for the past 10 years on most of their projects. Some of the most recent films include: Black Panther, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.
Luma Pictures created most complex shots of infiltrate Ghost’s hideout. Can you share something about that?
The trick with the infiltration of Ghost Lair was maintaining a sense of locality and awareness of the environment whilst respecting the macro nature of the lensing required to capture Ant-Man and Wasp. Stef was always a big proponent of letting the character’s distance away from camera dictate the depth of field, that way we could meaningfully art direct the blurriness of the background environment so that the audience always had context for where they were but were watching shots with a realistic approach to lensing.
Can you describe one of your typical days during shooting and post?
It can best be summed up like this: you spend your days on set working with production to shoot the best plates you can, and to get as much reference information as possible, collecting all these pieces you’ll need to make the shots really work. Once you get into post, you can think about it as a process of narrowing down, or distilling all the ideas, into the frames you have for the shot. Every piece of the puzzle needs to fit together.
What is your best memory on this show?
Having Stef ask if the wasp suit in a particular shot was the practical photography but was in fact CG. Stef was very impressed with that and it was really gratifying to see our asset team’s hard work in look dev pay off.
How long have you worked on this film?
We worked on the show for over 9 months.
What’s the VFX shots count?
We worked on over 230 shots.
// From Raphael Pimentel, The Animation Director, Luma Pictures
How did you handle the performance capture process?
We shot motion capture for our sequences in-house at Luma. This always helps because we are able to spend more time capturing the details, more shot centric actions. We also turn shots around back to Marvel much faster, since we don’t have to rely on a third party processing schedule.
A big thanks for your time.
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