The award-winning VFX wizards of Framestore have given life to some of the most iconic big-screen characters in recent pop culture history. Let’s look at a few of their accomplishments.

While Framestore’s work can be found in just about every area of the contemporary media spectrum (commercials, music videos, feature animation, digital), the shop’s award-winning big-screen VFX made them a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. The company has worked on every thing from Avatar to World War Z, and they’re often called upon to bring major characters to life. Here are a few of their accomplishments from some recent blockbusters. These interview snippets offer motion graphics artists some real insight into the day-to-day challenges of working in the VFX industry.

The Dark Knight – Harvey “Two-Face” Dent

Framestore Two Face

Framestore worked on 226 VFX shots for 2008’s The Dark Knight. 120 of them involved fallen DA Harvey Dent’s gruesome burns. Rather than building up Aaron Eckhart’s face with practical makeup, Christopher Nolan wanted the character’s face stripped away and gouged out. To achieve the effect, Framestore 3D modeled Dent’s face in Maya, tweaked it in Mudbox, and then put it over scenes in which  Eckhart acted while wearing tracking markers on half of his face. VFX Supervisor Tim Webber recalls:

 It had to look real on one level, otherwise it would jar an audience out of the generally realistic vibe that Chris Nolan was giving the rest of the film. On the other hand, simply replicating real burn injuries would have just been a gross-out. We were aiming for something grotesque but not disgusting, something that enlists your sympathy whilst also taking you just up to the point where you know it couldn’t be real.

Captain America: The First Avenger – Red Skull

Framestore Red Skull

Make no bones about it, Hugo Weaving’s portrayal of Red Skull is a sight to behold. Those sights were made possible by Framestore VFX. Initially the company was asked to execute 80 shots based around a simple CG nose replacement that would work with the production’s physical prosthetics. The project quickly became more involved. VFX Supervisor Jonathan Fawkner recalls:

But it soon became clear that more would be needed from us. The mask is a beautiful piece of work, but, ultimately, it sat on top of his face, with all that that entails. It bulged over his neck, over the back of the head, it had too prominent a chin in some shots, his lips were his real lips and they stuck out – not a particularly skeletal attribute. Hugo’s performance pushed the mask into places which prosthetics couldnt anticipate – places where it was going to bulge in the ‘wrong’ areas and make itself look ‘rubbery’.

The Framestore team decided to create their own CG 3D Red Skull onto which the on-set footage was composited and tweaked. Fawkner continues:

We painted out all of his eyelashes on every single shot. We sunk his eyes in a little bit more. Sometimes we had to reduce the volume of his head, because his skullcap and his hair made the proportions of his head look slightly wrong – pinhead like. Most of the work – apart from the nose – is completely invisible.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Rocket Raccoon

Framestore Rocket

It might be hard to believe today, but there was a time when Guardians of the Galaxy was considered a gamble. After all, the space opera prominently features a wisecracking, gun-toting bipedal raccoon. Early in pre-production, everyone involved knew that if the character VFX came off hokey and unrealistic, it would spell trouble for the property. The task of bringing Rocket Raccoon (as voiced by Bradley Cooper) to life fell in the capable hands of Framestore. Animation Supervisor Kevin Spruce explains:

If you exaggerate his performance and make him too cartoony you’ve lost the audience but if you go too real it won’t be entertaining or won’t do Bradley’s voice justice. As we were leading the Look Dev on Rocket our Creature FX team had their hands full with his fur and clothing. Imagine you need to simulate a million hairs for a coat of fur, normally you might choose 10% of those as guides to drive the full groom, but for Rocket we simulated every single hair and how it collides for the first time.

Obviously the team rose to the occasion. Rocket comes across as real as can be. It’s quite an accomplishment. In the words of the raccoon himself, “Ain’t no thing like me, except me!” Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the work that went into bringing the character to the screen.

Avengers: Age of Ultron – the Vision

Framestore The Vision

Marvel’s Avengers was a monster hit, and the studio wanted to go even bigger with the sequel. That meant more action, more thrills, and more superheroes. One of those heroes: The Vision, a synthetic humanoid portrayed by Paul Bettany. In the film, the Vision is incubated in a techno-cage as his biomechanical body takes shape. Eventually, the Vision is born; a completely nude CG digital double smashes free from his electro-womb, enveloped by swirling gasses and dripping liquids. Framestore used their in-house Flesh and Flex system to pull off the sequence. VFX Supervisor Nigel Denton-Howes recalls:

We’d been developing this system for some time but this was the first show in which it was deployed. Using this system we were able to make the character’s muscles tense in a somewhat inhuman way, which would have been much more difficult to do using regular software.

The character’s strangely colored body (plus a few explosions, smoke particles, and some pro compositing) made the birth scene one of the more memorable moments in the film. See for yourself in this video from Fandango Movieclips:

You can check out more of Framestore’s VFX accomplishments on their website and over at their YouTube channel.