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How Sony Imageworks Embraced Challenging Animation, Gritty Realism and Alien Mimics for 'Edge of Tomorrow' (VIDEO)

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood June 6, 2014 at 4:27PM

Sony Pictures Imageworks, which is moving its headquarters from Culver City to Vancouver to stay competitive, embraced gritty, CG photorealism for the first time with Doug Liman's smart and trippy "Edge of Tomorrow." Truly "War of the Worlds" meets "Groundhog Day," with Tom Cruise caught in a nightmarish loop, the aliens he's up against were a strange, tough animation challenge for Imageworks.
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Blunt battles creature in 'Edge of Tomorrow'
Blunt battles creature in 'Edge of Tomorrow'

For the first time, Sony Pictures Imageworks, which is moving its headquarters from Culver City to Vancouver to stay competitive, embraced gritty, CG photorealism for Doug Liman's smart and trippy "Edge of Tomorrow." Truly "War of the Worlds" meets "Groundhog Day," with Tom Cruise caught in a nightmarish loop, the aliens he's up against were a strange, tough animation challenge for Imageworks.

'Edge of Tomorrow'
'Edge of Tomorrow'

In fact, Liman discovered a video called "Resonance/Deus Ex Machina" (see below), which perfectly conveys the look he was after with this simple geometric cube that grows and evolves violently.

"I think Doug was attracted to the power and unpredictability of the video, the fact that it didn't have a preservation of volume... and it just felt kind of terrifying," recalls Dan Kramer, the VFX supervisor from Imageworks ("Hotel Transylvania"). "He just wanted it to be really scary and thought, if that thing could just move in front of you, could grow tentacles and shape shift, that could be really be powerful and interesting."

When Kramer arrived, Framestore and MPC art departments were already working on ideas along with the internal production art department. There was even a clay maquette that was solely made of tentacles that looked like a bag of spaghetti. It provided inspiration for shape shifting and spawning tentacles and retracting them. 

Blunt and Cruise fight skittery aliens in 'Edge of Tomorrow'
Blunt and Cruise fight skittery aliens in 'Edge of Tomorrow'

"It was a very amorphous and challenging character to animate," Kramer continues. "The first few versions didn't have a head. The idea was that if it were running along, instead of changing direction and turning around, it might just invert its body and suck its head in one side and pop it out the other. There was no linear movement. The rule was that it could be anything."

There are three types of Mimics: the quick-moving Grunts (which are like spidery blenders) that twirl and attack out of nowhere in the thousands; the Alphas, which are bigger and slower and more sentient, acting as the central nervous system in charge of the battles; and the elusive Omega, the brain which Framestore animated.

"The difficult part for us was figuring out how to build that rig because we weren't dealing with a fixed model," Kramer explains. "We wound up building a Maya plug-in that would take a center curve from which they could grow and twist tentacles around it. And so we gave the animators high-level controls to add or remove tentacles, and the plug-in would add all the inter-penetrations between all the tentacles within that bundle.

This article is related to: Edge Of Tomorrow, VFX, Immersed In Movies, Features, Tom Cruise, Doug Liman, Sony


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.