Immersed in Movies: Stepping Up the VFX for 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation'

Features
by Bill Desowitz
March 29, 2013 2:55 PM
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Then, for Firefly's weaponized motorcycle that deconstructs into missiles for an explosion, DD had to choreograph a difficult shot with the camera move and the CG breaking up of the bike that required artful hand animation and algorithms to smooth the effect.

But DD's most challenging shot lasts less than 10 seconds: the impersonation of the President by the Cobra henchman (played by Arnold Vosloo) with the help of nanomites, the microscopic robots that form a living mask on his face, and reveal it in an unnerving scene where he appears to cut through his own skin to expose them.

Beier and the DD team took the approach of creating CG models of each actor's head and using blend shapes, hand animation, and plate photography of the President to create the seamless transition from one to the other. Madigan worked directly with DD animators to art-direct specific facial movements.

"In the end it looks mysterious and leaves you wanting more," Beier observes.

Meanwhile, ILM (supervised by Bill George) got to tackle a stunning Himalayan fight sequence involving a group of ninjas hanging from ropes on the side of a sheer rock face. Interestingly, the sequence is based on the '84 G.I. Joe comic, "Silent Interlude."

"We shot in an old warehouse where they constructed NASA rockets outside of New Orleans," George explains. "They created a green screen wall at a very steep angle with a lot of rigging above to swing the stunt people through for the fighting. But they couldn't move as fast as they wanted, so that's where we came in.

"We tried to capture the action with the stunt people going at it on ropes. So we'd take a performance that was 90% there and augmented it by, for instance, replacing an arm and having it swing in more aggressively. Getting onto the zip line was done CG. For us, it was the perfect scenario for doing digital doubles because they were completely covered up and the only face you saw was through their eye holes. It was a fairly easy match without cloth sim or hair sim to take it up to another level of difficulty."

Finally, Method in Vancouver and New York (supervised by Ollie Rankin) handled, among other things, an all-out assault on the G. I. Joe camp by a squadron of CG Apache attack helicopters, raining down machine gun tracer fire and missiles, blowing up every vehicle and killing almost everyone.

"A lot of people get into VFX specifically for the opportunity to blow stuff up and 'G. I. Joe: Retaliation' offered us at Method Studios many such opportunities, with Apache gunships on the attack, exploding robotic fireflies, Cobra ball grenades, and a catastrophic cooling system meltdown," enthuses Rankin.

With "G.I. Joe," they all got to be kids again.

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