The Meg Visual Effects Breakdowns
August 12, 2018 – The Meg is an upcoming science fiction horror film directed by Jon Turteltaub with a screenplay by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber, based on the 1997 science fiction book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten. The film stars Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, and Cliff Curtis, and follows a group of scientists who must stop a 75-foot Megalodon shark from terrorizing a beach. An American-Chinese co-production, it is scheduled to be released in both countries on August 10, 2018, in Real D 3D, Dolby Cinema, and IMAX.
In The Meg, Jason Statham plays a diver tasked with rescuing the crew of a deep-sea submersible after it has been attacked by the titular creature, a 75-foot-long shark known as the Megalodon.
The team of Scanline VFX (with President & VFX Supervisor Stephan Trojansky and VFX Supervisor Mohsen Mousavi) talks about their work on THE MEG in this making of video by Intel Business.
Early 2016, Visual Effects Producer Steve Garrad contacted Sue Rowe at Sony Pictures Imageworks (SPI) about working on the project, specifically the third act of the film. The two knew each other from working together at Cinesite. “He said to me ‘I’ve got this great movie. Here’s the thing: I want you on the third act, and it’s going to be really challenging” recalls Rowe.”What was interesting about the planning was that they planned to turn over to us 300, maybe 400 shots, but the final sequence itself is going to be 200 shots. What they wanted was us to go in and get them material – quick and dirty – that they could use in the edit”.
One of the first shots the team tackled was the giant Meg breaking the water. At the post-viz stage they just had rough bubbles for the surface froth, but this shot proved so complex it was also the last one they finished.
Sue Rowe was on the project for 18 months. The film was shot on the Arri Alexa Mini with Zeiss Master Anamorphic Lenses by DOP Tom Stern (Sully). The shoot included 2 months of on set work. SPI rendered their VFX work in SPI’s version of Arnold to match the plate photography. Although SPI’s solution was often not to re-produce a perfect match to the underwater photography, but just be sympathetic to it. Rowe was on set off the coast of Auckland at sea for 3 weeks shooting plates and elements, which was 3 weeks she did not particularly enjoy (due to seasickness). “On the last day at sea, they were like evacuating the boat and they said, ‘Okay, who wants to on the next one back to land?’ and I thought, ‘Right, let’s put an end to this thinly veiled love of sailing!’ – I enjoy it, but it’s was my last day. I was keen to get off the boat and get to dry land. But actually, it was a really good shoot” she laughingly recalls.
SPI did have to cheat light sources but they aimed to do it fairly subtly. A good example is adding underwater shafts of light or “God rays” in the background to give a shot depth. In general terms they kept the frames purposely fairly dark, as Rowe wanted to build up the frame in a Multi-planar way, especially with lights in the background. “We did the usual gags really,… whenever the shark came close and we added a little backlit it, and a little bit of Rim light catching the teeth, lit a bit from underneath it. ‘Monster lighting’, I used to call it, ’cause -you know, – that’s what the script called for!”
The actual Meg asset was made by ScanlineVFX originally, using the Ziva dynamics for the creature. Scanline shared the asset with SPI who re-rigged it for their pipeline. “Scanline were involved from the very beginning. Scanline got the Shark designed and modelled,” Rowe explains. “We shared assets, that was really great. We completely reworked it and put our own muscles system into it. We (also) used Ziva. The muscle system comes from building the creature anatomically correctly, and then you get these great muscle shapes and creature animation. I’ve used it before on Maze Runner. We were able to control how much of a ‘muscle ripple’ the shark had. In the end we exaggerated that for effect”. The shots in the third act are short, normally just two or three seconds. “They don’t really linger very much…so you will see in a couple of our shots where the Meg is almost like a thoroughbred racehorse, with a little ripple down the back. That was probably not correct, but it just made ‘her’ feel right” Rowe explains.
The team at Sony also exaggerated the shark’s gills. Interestingly, a real shark gills vent water. The shark could not move quickly through the water with its mouth open, if water could not pass through the body. This means, on a real shark, it is possible in some footage to see through the open mouth directly through the gills. Naturally the SPI team modelled this, but Rowe recalls ” looking at a turntable test that we’d done of the shark, and I was like, ‘oh no, we got an intersection problem here!’ But the modellers explained, ‘Oh no, that’s correct, – you can see right through a shark’”.
ScanlineVFX did a lot of the vfx work in the first part of the film. They are known for their brilliant water simulation work and thus they were a natural choice to work on this film. ScanlineVFX also used Ziva to aid in the shark’s muscles ripple and bulge as it swims and the fat beneath its skin reacts to the pressure of water as it splashes at the surface.
The process uses AI (Machine Learning) to produce training data for the process. They relied on using Intel Xeon Scalable processors for the process. This drove the Ziva Physics Engine.
Additionally, ScanlineVFX used Intel Xeon processors to render the shots for the film, Stephan Trojansky, president and VFX supervisor at Scanline, commented, “to create ‘The Meg,’ we needed a massive amount of performance in our computer system. Years ago, you would have needed a huge render farm and a large crew for a very small amount of footage – today, we can use 2,500 Intel Xeon processors with almost 100,000 cores that are used to compute all of the needs of the movie. This enables fast iterations and the ability to present multiple options to the director, which is critical in making the best possible visual effects”.
On Meg we had the exciting opportunity of collaborating with Adrian de Wet, (VFX Supervisor) to craft a climactic scene in the film with Jon Turteltaub, (Director). Orchestrating intense action with a mega-shark proved to be quite entertaining, from previs all the way through postvis. We were able to combine our previs animation and environments straight into the footage from production, allowing editorial to construct a solid foundation before handing it off to visual effects.
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Release Date: 10 August 2018 (USA)
The Production VFX Supervisor: Adrian de Wet
The Production VFX Producer: Steve Garrad
The VFX are made by:
DNEG (VFX Supervisor: Raymond Chen)
Image Engine (VFX Supervisor: Martyn Culpitt)
Scanline VFX (VFX Supervisors: Stephan Trojansky, Jan Krupp and Mohsen Mousavi)
Sony Pictures Imageworks (VFX Supervisor: Sue Rowe)
Umedia VFX (VFX Supervisor: Bernhard Kimbacher)
Halon Entertainment (Previs/Postvis Supervisor: Ryan McCoy)
Glasshammer Visual Effects
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