Empowerment: Bill Westenhofer talks about Wonder Woman



Oscar-winning VFX Supervisor Bill Westenhofer talks about the challenges faced working on the FX for Wonder Woman...

Unlike Life of Pi where the co-star in the form of the tiger had to be kept behind an electrical fence, Oscar-winning VFX Supervisor Bill Westenhofer had no such restrictions this time around on Wonder Woman, which tells the origin story of the iconic Amazon princess warrior.

You can look at what Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is capable of doing in Justice League and all of the DC Comics, states Bill Westenhofer. This film is as much a character journey between her and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) as it is about her powers and being a superhero. Extensive previs and postvis was required. Proof did previs for sections like No Mans Land and World War I era. The Third Floor did just about everything else including the postvis, and as the third act developed and redeveloped they continued to make adjustments.

Setting the stage

World building was an important part of the storytelling. The island home of the Amazons was heavily concepted by production designer Aline Bonetto (Amélie) and pushed further by the visual effects team led by Double Negative. A lot of the design of Themyscira was based on locations shot in Italy, states Bill Westenhofer. We went to an ancient city called Matera which gave us the foreground that could be augmented with waterfalls and buildings as well as with a surrounding Asian mountainscape. The Amazons embrace nature so the buildings blend into the environment.

No Mans Land

A lot of photographic reference including aerial blimp footage was utilized to reconstructed London during World War I. In some cases all that was required during principal photography was the physical removal of street signage and digitally adding period elements in the background. All of the village and the trench area were extensive set builds, remarks Bill Westenhofer. It was a week and a half of shooting in the mud at Leavesden Studios like the Tommies would have done except we werent dodging bullets. When shes walking across No Mans Land special effects had created a shaker rig to vibrate the shield as if it was being hit by several machineguns rounds a second.

We built on the backlot the village that she rescues which was digitally extended. When Diana flips the tank into the side of the building special effects built a breakaway wall and some explosions with debris that we could augment. The orange gas that the villagers get hit with was breathable and digitally enhanced for the wider shots.


Concept art was needed to be developed for the climatic battle which takes place on an airfield. It really gets destroyed so we had to figure out how that would look, states Bill Westenhofer. We used locations until Ares and Diana start fighting in earnest and thats when we switch to a green screen stage. Lots of digital fire had to be simulated by Double Negative and motion-capture was needed to create the Greek god of war. The actor was filmed on-set but Ares is largely a digital creation. I knew that Ares was going to be a challenge because of him being a seminal character and people have a lot of different opinions on how he would look. Ares went through several iterations before settling in on the form that youll see here.

Seeing double

Motion-capture assisted with the making of the digital double of Diana in order for her to do things that neither Gal Gadot or the stuntwoman could do. We met with John DJ DesJardin (The Matrix Reloaded) and Zack Snyder (Sucker Punch) at the start of this just to talk about best practices and what they had done, states Bill Westenhofer who utilized a tool developed and utilized by the duo to seamless integrated between live-action performers and digital doubles.

The Shandy-cam is a camera array built on a pipe-rig that took high resolution photographs of Gal and the stuntwoman stepping through the action close to where the transition was going to take place. Speed ramps and slow-motion are cinematic trademarks of Snyder which were also incorporated into the action sequences by filmmaker Patty Jenkins (Monster). Quite a bit was shot at 500 frames per second with Phantom cameras which gave us the ability to dynamically retime things to get in and out of the actions.

FX weaponry

A LED rope was used for the lasso that helped to give interactive lighting with her hands and armour, remarks Bill Westenhofer. They were practical shields for the most part until she becomes a digital double. A concussive blast occurs when Diana deploys her gauntlets. Thats a digital effect with some layers of refraction. All of the dust and smoke is added digitally after the fact. Most of the simulations and fire takes place in the third act where we have the airfield exploding. Double Negative did a ton of digital fire. The colour pallet did not have to be dramatically altered during the DI process. When working on the dailies in visual effects we had a colour decision list from the production design team and DP Matt Jensen (Fantastic Four). Most of the colour that we established early on was what made it through to the final film.

Bringing a painting to life

Theres a section at the beginning called the History Lesson which is special as it brings a Renaissance painting to life, notes Bill Westenhofer. Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) is telling a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) about the journey of the Amazons and we had to find an artist who could digitally paint in the style of Michelangelo. Theres a company called Platige Image in Poland which projected that onto 3D shapes and the camera flies through the painting which is something we havent seen before. That was complicated. You cant create the camera moves until you have the painting but then you have to think about how were going to move through this to tell the story and also make sure that material is in the painting.


We wanted to use our technology to allow Gal to do as much as she possibly could, and help out with digital doubles and/or stuntwoman with face replacements that allow you to get up close and see the character without having to cutaway, remarks Westenhofer. Theres a piece at the end with Diana and Aries, especially with the lasso that audiences are going to love. The other part that was awesome, which is not so much of a tour de force from a visual effects standpoint, but Diana coming out of the trenches and walking across the battlefield is a powerful scene. Its culminating what World War I was which was this frustrating stalemate and her turning the tide. Its a cathartic moment.

Related links

Wonder Woman on iMDb
Check out more of our movie FX articles

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