Blood & Quips: Digital Domain & Deadpool

All images © Marvel Entertainment

All images © Marvel Entertainment

The Digital Domain FX team discuss creating Colossus and other effects for the latest Hollywood blockbuster Deadpool...

Unlike the wisecracking mercenary known for his irreverent attitude, Digital Domain diligently created 249 visual effects shots for Deadpool with 140 of them involving Colossus. "It was amazing to work with Tim Miller who knows CG and visual effects so well,” states Digital Domain VFX Supervisor Alex Wang when referring to the owner of Blur Studio who was making his feature directorial debut.

Conceiving Colossus

"Colossus is a complicated character in that he is not just exposing a lot of skin and has big muscles, but there are also these stylistic lines on top of them,” remarks Digital Domain Animation Supervisor Jan Philip Cramer. "We modeled way more muscular volumes than we normally do. We were also working on a proprietary skin solver that allowed better control over the sliding of the skin because that was our biggest concern."

"When you move your arm around and flex muscles skin gets pulled in different directions; however, the lines always had to appear horizontal and structured.” Restraint was required to ensure that the character was believable. "At times we had to dial back the muscle simulation as it started to look too much like skin,” notes Alex Wang. "On a shot to shot basis we had to keep a balance so that the metal characteristics wouldn't fall apart.”

Expressive Colossus

"Early on we put together a talking Colossus headstone to understand how the metal on his face would move, how the skin slides, and what needed to be made more rigid,” remarks Jan Philip Cramer. "One of the stuntmen on-set, Glen Ennis, looked like what Tim was after so we did a FACS [Facial Action Coding System] session with him. We started building upon that and adjusting the design so things could be slightly different or more robust or harsher. Once we had that model we took that into Mova and its creator Greg LeSalle did performances for Colossus. We would map that Direct Drive [proprietary Mova-based facial capturing system] onto that character. It was exciting to see this character come to life quite quickly.”

Avoiding Chrome

"Tim was adamant that he didn't want Colossus to look like a big chrome guy,” explains Alex Wang. "His Colossus needed to look like the way he did in the comic books of the 1980s and 1990s. Visual Effects Supervisor Jonathan Rothbart gave me a hot-rolled steel-sheet metal which Tim really liked.” Fine scratches and tarnishing was incorporated into the metal. "We put in so much detail that Colossus was quite easy to make work within a shot when he was close-up. Further away we had to avoid him appearing too much like chrome so a system was developed where we mapped the filtering between him and the camera so none of his fine details would be lost.”

An untraditional lighting approach was adopted for Colossus. "On-set we would gather HDRI reference. We had a system that allowed us to quickly produce iterations within the HDRI to get into positions where the light should be to hit Colossus directly.”

Integrating Colossus

Stunt actor Andre Tricoteux, who was portraying Colossus on-set, did not share the same proportions of the massive metallic X-Men team member. "For the most part it was a straightforward process of painting him out and Jonathan made sure that we were provided with plates. Sometime the eye line worked with Colossus because he didn't have an iris.” A close contact fight ensues in a scrapyard. "In one sequence we had there was a long fight between Angel Dust [Gina Carano] and Colossus,” remarks Jan Philip Cramer.

"They are doing UFC style fighting, like wrapping legs around each other. We started with extremely tight match moves off of the plate and tried to mingle Colossus in there, but often that wasn't possible because there the size difference mattered. We took different limbs off of Angel Dust which became CG over frame ranges, went back into the plates and then returned to CG.”

Deadpool Digital Double

"Tim does not think in terms of individual shots or actions but in entire sequences,” observes Jan Philip Cramer. "Motion-capture allows you to shoot long pieces. Often in films you have an action and then see the reaction whereas here every shot flowed into the next. You can't put the mocap into every shot because the action might not be captured correctly. The nice thing is that we already had the director's vision from the mocap so we would take elements to make sure that we got some of the realism, like the center of mass, into the plate. Other areas were completely key framed.”

Detailed cyber scans were taken of Ryan Reynolds attired in his Deadpool suit. "Tim was careful that our digital double asset of Deadpool, which we provided to all of the other vendors, matched Ryan,” states Alex Wang. "There are multiple stunt doubles for Ryan wearing the Deadpool suit, but some were shorter or had different head shapes.”

Red Menace

Complicating matters was that the protagonist wears a predominately red outfit consisting of fabric, rubber, hard leather and soft leather. "They were good enough to lend us Ryan's Deadpool suit and we shot a lot of photo reference that allowed for the creation of high resolution textures,” remarks Alex Wang. "Jonathan was particular about the shading aspects of the red part of the suit. From far away the black crosshatch stitching blends into the red which makes it look magenta red. The black also causes the light to fall off faster than if it wasn't there. We did a fair amount of R&D; to make sure that the materials matched. Once we had a rocking Deadpool digital double he was a pleasure to light.”

Negasonic Teenage Warhead

"NTW [Brianna Hildebrand] from a story standpoint had to create an explosion to rock the Helicarrier,” reveals Alex Wang. "Iterating on effects is quite expensive so we threw all of these different ideas at them. The one that stuck with Tim was where we had this plasma effect around her. Jonathan and I talked about it and did some research. Jonathan is a huge nerd when it comes to solar flares. It's a beautiful effect that happens naturally. It's the build up to her power. Tim didn't want her to look like the Human Torch. It had to look more like plasma than flames. There's a lot of energy coming out of her as well as some smoke so you know it's about to impact the ground. Effects animation drove the individual strands of plasma. The one superhero moment that Tim wanted was her eyes at the end of the energy would dim down.”

Decommissioned Helicarrier

"It was challenging in a sense that Helicarrier had to be different, but the only reference was The Avengers one,” states Alex Wang. They provided us with some loose concept art of what Tim would like, which was more like a mood thing, so we couldn't build a model off of that. We took that concept art and built our topographical views of the Helicarrier. We did some modeling with it, meaning we went into detail of exactly what Tim wanted. Tim wanted it to look like a military battleship carrier. In order for a carrier to fly, you had to have four turbines which made it similar to Marvel's. We had to make it look retro so you knew that they were some kind of turbine. The other aspect that helped is that this Helicarrier is out of commission. They're in a scrapyard and taking it down for the scrap metal, so it's rusty and has a lot of dirt and weathering on it.”

"There was a huge destruction shot of the Helicarrier toppling over,” explains Alex Wang, who acknowledges that the aircraft has been destroyed a few times before on the big screen. "There are a lot more awesome explosions! The ones in The Avengers look great as well. The biggest issue we had was giving it scale. It had to feel like a gigantic carrier toppling over.” A decision was made not to use a matte painting approach. "Once you go into matte paintings and have different matte painters on it sometimes you end up fighting with consistency rather than trying to make the image look good. I put all of our efforts into creating a fantastic asset, not just for ourselves, because we also had to provide the Helicarrier to other vendors. It had to work on many levels.”

Sky Replacements

"They shot principal photography in Vancouver at the unfortunate time of spring which is unpredictable for weather,” remarks Alex Wang. "Some days they would shoot and it would be sunny, the clouds would roll in, and it would start raining. On a metal CG character you still want him to be consistent throughout sequences, so we would go to Jonathan or Tim and ask, ‘What skies do you like?' They assisted us by saying, ‘We want some clouds with an aspect of sunlight.' Colossus' metal in overcast looks dull and boring. It helped us to key light these shots. Many times rather than fight we did a lot of roto and replaced the entire skyline.”

Battling Time

"I am fond of the end of the Scrapyard Sequence when Colossus gets choked by Angel Dust with a metal table,” reveals Jan Philip Cramer. "It's a fine piece of animation and lighting. He is nearly killed until NTW saves the day. I was proud of the interaction of the cable digging deep into the skin and getting to see the struggle close-up.” On top of the other assignments, an additional CG sequence needed to be produced with a month remaining. The deadline was able to be met by Digital Domain as the artists to the producers worked as a unified team. "This was a rewarding project but the schedule was tight,” notes Alex Wang. "There was a lot of work. We didn't want to sacrifice quality because of time.” Wang confesses, "I didn't even know there was such a huge fan base for Deadpool and that Tim was such a risk-taker. What he was able achieved with this movie is unbelievable.”

Related links

Check out Deadpool's list of YouTube videos
Deadpool on iMBd

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