Explore the wild and woolly world of big-screen digital animals with these behind-the-scenes looks and VFX breakdowns.
As many have seen in the recent remake of The Jungle Book, digital animal effects have come a long way since the days of the Jurassic Park T-Rex. But perhaps no film in the last decade-plus helped the cause of digital animals more than Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The VFX work done on Aslan by Sony Imageworks inspired a whole host of VFX houses, such as Rhythm & Hues, who produced award-winning VFX for Life of Pi. Let’s take a look at a few more stellar instances of animal VFX.
Life of Pi (2012)
While Aslan in Chronicles of Narnia gave us one of the very best versions of a digital lion ever, the professionals at Rhythm & Hues took that a step further in 2012 with Life of Pi, which seamlessly blends live action and digital. The production used blue-screened animal molds, which allowed actor Suraj Sharma to interact with the animals, giving the VFX team a reference to build their models. Check out this VFX breakdown from Visual Effects | Behind The Scenes.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Even though Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out a full year before Life of Pi , its digital animal VFX were eclipsed by its 2014 sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. At this point in the game, Andy Serkis had started The Imaginarium Studios, where he oversees performance and motion capture work for Hollywood films. He and his team have become the go-to experts for VFX techniques like this, and you can see that in full effect in the VFX breakdown (via Weta Digital) below.
In 2014 we were treated to an updated version of Godzilla by Gareth Edwards, who is now wrapping up Rogue One for Disney and Lucasfilm. For Godzilla, Edwards called upon the expertise of Andy Serkis to help capture the movement of the monstrous hero. As you’ll see in the VFX breakdown below, The Moving Company worked alongside Digital Domain to develop the 3D renders of Godzilla and the MUTOs.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
For the second film in The Hobbit trilogy, Peter Jackson had actor Benedict Cumberbatch wear a mocap suit and head gear to capture the facial expressions and physical performance of Smaug. The VFX team seamlessly applied Cumberbatch’s performance to the dragon, making him a unique and emotional character. You can see these techniques in action in the breakdown video (via Weta Digital) below.
Jurassic World (2015)
Twenty years after the Jurassic Park T-Rex defined a new era of VFX, we were reintroduced to the realm of dinosaurs in Jurassic World. As you’ll see in the VFX breakdown below (via The CGBros), the crew shot several plates which the CG artists then took over and tracked. You can see these tracking rods in action during the video. After obtaining the tracking data, they were able to insert the amazingly detailed dinosaurs and bring them to life in order to interact with the real-time footage.
Animation is one area of film where digital animals have really flourished, as seen in Disney’s latest, Zootopia. In the VFX breakdown below, you’ll see how the animators created new fur technology to make the animals more believable. As Michelle Robinson mentions below (in a video from Engadget), it took the team around eight months to develop the techniques and designs.
The Jungle Book (2016)
The recent remake of The Jungle Book utilizes a completely virtual set with only one live-action character. To help young actor Neel Sethi interact with his invisible virtual co-stars, director Jon Favreau brought puppeteers from Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop. These puppeteers gave Sethi a reference for interaction and gave MPC and Weta references for digital character placement. See these techniques in action in the VFX breakdown below from Disney Movie Trailers.
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