I was DNEG's Modeling Lead on Ant-Man and the Wasp

by Daniel Axelsson

Last modification: 24 Aug, 2018
Duration
12 mins

My name is Daniel Axelsson, and I was the Modeling Lead on Ant-Man and the Wasp. Since my team represents the first step in the production pipeline, everything we pass on to other departments has to be in perfect shape. Read on to hear how I worked to with my teammates at DNEG to ensure this happened.


 

Hi, I'm Daniel

I've been at DNEG for 5 years. I had just arrived at DNEG Vancouver from our London office, where I had recently finished working on the creatures for Pacific Rim Uprising, and Ant-Man and the Wasp was already in early production. Build Supervisor,  Ryan Woodward asked if I would be interested in helping him out as Modelling Lead. I was happy to say ‘yes’ as it seemed like a fun, challenging project.


"Every morning I attended a daily meeting...to go through the latest development for the show and get briefed on new assets that we might need to create."

 

My assets came from...

Every morning I attended a daily meeting together with Ryan our Build Supervisor and the rest of the Supervision crew to go through the latest development for the show and get briefed on new assets that we might need to create.

After going through the brief, we would assess what kind of work that would be necessary to build each asset. This would be based on things such as what the asset would be doing on screen and how close to camera it might be. An artist would then get assigned to the task of creating the asset based on the brief. 

 Before Maya: Ghost from Marvel's Ant-Man and the Wasp, courtesy of DNEG
 


And I passed my assets off to...

In our build pipeline, we start out with our modeling tasks, which are what I tend to spend most of my time on. From there, we work closely with the rest of the Build crew creating textures and look-dev before the assets can finally be passed on to be rendered.

Whenever something needs to be rigged such as a character or a creature, we also work very closely with the Creature and Rigging departments while the modeling is going on, so that all our assets can move and deform the way we want them to.


"...each asset needs to undergo a quality check... At DNEG, we have a series of tools embedded into Maya to make this process a little bit easier." 

 

What I made sure of

Since modeling and the rest of the Build department are the very first step of the production pipeline, it’s crucial that we ensure everything we pass on to other departments is in good shape. Not only do we need to make sure that each asset looks great on screen, but we also need to ensure it’s correctly put together, from a technical standpoint, to make sure we avoid problems further down the line. Artists in other departments will need to rig, animate or render our assets and we want to avoid anything being sent back to us because it needs to be patched up. Alterations are often necessary for all sorts of reasons, and they’re difficult to avoid completely, but on a large project with many assets small issues can stack up quickly. To make sure we do everything by the book, each asset needs to undergo a quality check to ensure that we have crossed all the T’s and dotted all the I’s. At DNEG, we have a series of tools embedded into Maya to make this process a little bit easier.

I worked closely with our Build Supervisor

As the Modeling Lead, I worked on my own assets while also helping the rest of the team by setting up best practices and workflows. I worked very closely with our Build Supervisor, doing rounds and giving creative and technical feedback on the on-going work.

One of the main aspects of my work on Ant-Man was to make sure our characters and creature models worked well in our pipeline and this required a lot of collaboration with the project’s Creature Supervisor, Remi Cauzid. We had complex digi-doubles, such as Ghost, and creatures such as the ants and the pigeons that all posed creative and technical challenges. We have a very relaxed working environment at DNEG that makes it easier to collaborate between departments and solve problems together. 

Ghost from Ant-Man and the Wasp, courtesy DNEG
Ghost from Ant-Man and the Wasp, courtesy DNEG 


I created the facial blend shapes for animating Ghost

I got to work on the Ghost character together with a group of other artists. This was an asset that turned out to be quite complex but ended up looking so cool on screen. Among other things, I was responsible for creating the facial blendshapes for animation, which is something I always very much enjoy doing. Seeing a character’s face come to life after it's been animated and properly rendered in a shot is very rewarding. 


 

Ingestion was my biggest challenge

When working on a large project with several other vendors involved it is often necessary to share assets between studios. Sometimes these assets can be complex characters or creatures that started their life at a different studio that might be using the said asset in shots and sequences that they are responsible for. Our shots need to blend seamlessly with the rest of the movie, so it’s important that we can take those shared assets (ingestion) and then alter them so that they work well within DNEG’s pipeline, without changing the look of them and breaking continuity. This ingestion process can be tricky at times. 


I'm proud of how smoothly we all worked together

To be honest, I’m happiest about how well we functioned together as a team. It was my first time working with most of the people on the crew and, despite the project posing many challenges, things went very smoothly. We were tasked with making a sequel to a film that millions of fans loved and the fact that it came out so well is a great feeling. 

Ghost from Ant-Man and the Wasp, courtesy DNEG


This was all about multitasking and problem solving

This project posed many different kinds of creative and technical challenges, and it was necessary to apply tons of multitasking to be effective at solving those problems. I had a more varied role on this project than I previously might have had, so I have learned to be more flexible and efficient.


Our team was what made this project special

I worked with a fantastic team that made my first proper project at DNEG Vancouver very special. We had a group of incredibly talented and skilled artists who made the work fun and inspiring. We (the Build Department) got to work on a large variety of assets that went from oversized animals to complex digi-doubles, environments, and vehicles. This level of variety posed many different kinds of challenges, but that made every day unique and kept me on my toes.


"We got to work on a large variety of assets... This level of variety posed many different kinds of challenges, but that made every day unique and kept me on my toes." 

 

I loved interacting with the Supervision team and Build artists

My role often consists of being a go-to person between the Supervision team and the Build artists. This means that I get to interact a lot with people and get involved in many different things at once. I get to work on my own assets, I get to help out others, and I get to see the project take form. That’s something I find very rewarding.
 

Pigeons from Marvel's Ant-Man and the Wasp, VFX shot courtesy of DNEG 


Now I'm "The Pigeon Guy"

In one of the early sequences of the film, there is a moment when our main protagonists have a run-in with a group of pigeons. At this moment, our heroes have shrunk to the size of ants. Hence, the pigeons appear enormous and monstrous.

I needed to model these CG pigeons from the ground up, so I referenced common street pigeons. I did thorough research and in internal meetings, and very quickly became “the pigeon guy.” Not necessarily the nickname I would have chosen for myself, but after I had spent half an hour chasing pigeons on a parking spot somewhere outside of Seattle, I guess I had earned it! At the end of the day, the pigeons made their way into the movie, and I now know considerably more about birds.

 


"...each asset needs to undergo a quality check... At DNEG, we have a series of tools embedded into Maya to make this process a little bit easier." 
— Creature Lead, Daniel Axelsson
 

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Who else made up the VFX team on Ant-Man and the Wasp and what exactly did they do? Hear from the other 3D artists who pushed themselves in big ways for Marvel's minute superhero:

Alessandro Ongaro, VFX Supervisor
Creature Supervisor, Remi Cauzid
Matchmove Supervisor, Kathir Manickam
Environment Lead, Matt Ivanov
Layout Lead, Rick Curts
Lead Animator, Evan Clover
Animator, Francois-Xavier Nhieu
Creature Lead, Dameon Oboyle

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