Kong Skull Island. Image courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic. © 2016 Warner Bros. Ent. All rights reserved.

ILM on the VFX of "Kong: Skull Island" Part 2 of 2


"Many of the difficulties we faced had to do with scale. This is the biggest film version of Kong so far, and with any huge character, you’ve got to balance the sense of mass and scale at all times, while also keeping the shots interesting and visually exciting. We incorporated a lot of tricks we learned from the Transformers movies, and Pacific Rim, working with huge character models. So, for example, when the characters are closer to the screen, you can get away with moving things a bit faster, but when their entire bodies are in frame, you need to slow things down a little to keep things credible.

Ultimately, it's a lengthy process. An average difficulty shot for us, where Kong is on-screen for three to five seconds, took us a couple of weeks of animation time. And that’s just for the animation discipline."


–Scott Benza, VFX Supervisor, Industrial Light & Magic


 

 

Modeling of dinosaur for Kong Skull Island by ILMKong Skull Island. Image courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic. © 2016 Warner Bros. Ent. All rights reserved.


FIRST, A NOTE ON LOCATIONS

Jeff White: The locations for Kong: Skull Island were remote. We spent about a month and a half in Vietnam, for example, and that provided the visual backbone for the film. The director was determined to shoot much of the film on location; there wasn’t going to be a lot of stage work or green screen work.

For many of the incredible locations in Vietnam, we had to take a boat through a cave or trek through a marsh, so just getting the technology out into the real world proved difficult. I’ll never forget the final battle of the film, shot in this marsh in Vietnam. The crew was in gator boots, wading in up to four feet of water. They found this gigantic leech near the shore but the actors just jumped right in and did their work without a second thought. It was impressive!

Thankfully, it was overcast most of the time we were out there – I think we saw the sun twice – and that lent itself perfectly to the Skull Island vibe we were going for.


Kong: Skull Island VFX breakdownKong Skull Island. Image courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic. © 2016 Warner Bros. Ent. All rights reserved.



"Creating the many creatures is absolutely my favorite work to do because we have such an amazing team of creature artists and designers here at ILM."



THE CAST OF CREATURES AND THEIR ENVIRONMENTS

Scott Benza: Kong is just one of the movie’s imaginary monsters, and when you’re inventing creatures from scratch, design is always a challenge. It's difficult to create a believable performance for something that's only got two legs and then a giant tail, for example. It's a matter of finding real animals that your imaginary monster is reminiscent of – monkeys using their tails for balance and leverage, or iguanas moving their front legs and head together to steer themselves – and then pulling motion studies of those animals and finding creative ways to combine their traits.


Kong: Skull Island VFX breakdown

Still from Kong: Skull Island, VFX breakdownKong Skull Island. Images courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic. © 2016 Warner Bros. Ent. All rights reserved.



Jeff White:
It’s never easy to translate an illustration, to draw from the page to the screen. There are a lot of tough decisions to make, to ensure that each creature is compelling and works within the context of the film. But creating the many creatures is absolutely my favorite work to do because we have such an amazing team of creature artists and designers here at ILM. The giant-sized water buffalo, the flying creatures, bamboo spiders, and the Skull Crawlers each posed a different design challenge.

Scott Benza: I’d say that aside from Kong, the animators spent most of their time working on those Skull Crawlers. There are two different scales, the juvenile size, and the adult size, and they had an almost translucent skin, more like a membrane than a traditional skin. You're able to see through parts of the body into the muscle and bone structure underneath and because of this very particular characteristic, we couldn’t use some of our usual corner-cutting techniques.




Jeff White: 
Now add to all this the fact that these creatures exist in the world, and interact with it. For example, we wanted Kong’s hair to always look dirty, to have clumps of earth, leaves, and branches stuck in it, with flies buzzing around his head. That gave us one level of shot complexity but there are also 70 or 80 shots where he’s in the water, and we hadn’t done a lot of hair-water interaction up to that point. That involved a lot of trial and error. We ended up building a system where we could plunge Kong in water and run the effect simulation. We measured how long his hair was under water, to know how loose it would be at that point, and then as the arm was pulled out of the water, the hair would have to dry. And that would change the look of the hair and the clumping parameters. Also, Kong takes damage. His arm gets cut at one point; his hair is lit on fire – all that needs to be tracked.

Ryan Gillis, our hair look dev, Gaelle Morand had to build this very complex system to manage all of this, and that ended up being one of the biggest technical challenges on the show, just managing all this detail. We didn’t want to limit ourselves regarding the damage Kong could take, or the environments he could enter. In the end, because of all the water and hair caches, the final thing ended up being over a petabyte of data – it was huge.

Luckily, because we took our crew to Vietnam to photograph and scan all the backgrounds, we ended up with a lot of scenes that would cut back and forth between live action shots of Vietnam, with the actors, and digitized shots with the creatures fighting. And it ended up being very seamless because we had that perfect reference material.


King Kong of Kong: Skull Island VFX breakdown
King Kong of Kong: Skull Island VFX breakdown
King Kong in a still from Kong: Skull Island, VFX breakdownKong Skull Island. Image courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic. © 2016 Warner Bros. Ent. All rights reserved.  



"It was one of those shots that doesn’t seem like it would be difficult, but then the amount of detail it ended up requiring was staggering."



THE MOST MEMORABLE SHOT
 

Jeff White: There were so many tough shots for this film but probably the most difficult one was one based on a scene from the movie, Old Boy that the director wanted to reference, where the main character in that movie eats a live squid. So, in one scene, Kong battles this sort of squid/octopus creature and tentacles are always one of the hardest things to do, followed very closely by chains. But after the fight, Kong sits down and starts to eat this creature while it’s still alive and moving and the back and forth we needed to do was difficult, to say the least. We had to make sure all the lit contact was working that the tentacles were interacting with the hair, that the suction cups were sticking to the skin, that Kong’s lips were grabbing onto the tentacles. It was one of those shots that doesn’t seem like it would be difficult, but then the amount of detail it ended up requiring was staggering.




A FINAL NOTE ON INSPIRED WORK

Jeff White: We draw inspiration from all the great work being done in the industry, from all the other facilities moving the ball down the road, all the talented and hard-working people who make movie magic. It’s inspirational to us to watch movies and see the incredible work happening now.

Scott Benza: When I first started as an artist, there was nothing more rewarding than having a supervisor take the time to listen to my ideas and my contributions for a shot. And even though they might not have been exactly what the supervisor had in mind, we would find a way to meet in the middle. That helped me remain inspired, and so I’ve tried to do that with the teams I now supervise. I always have a certain direction in mind that I think will work for the characters, but I try to remain open to the suggestions and contributions of the artists. I never dismiss an idea without giving it some serious thought.

I think this approach works best for everybody involved and that the work ends up looking more inspired and often, you find things that are unexpected. A lot of directors take that approach with their actors, as well; they’ve got a direction they want to head in with the character but they’re also very much dependent on what the actor improvises or what nuances he or she brings to that role. And I think animators at ILM are kind of like actors in that regard: if you break down what’s done on set and in post-production, I believe they fill a similar role.


“To take a crack at bringing such an iconic film legend to life felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”



Jeff White:
This was an especially inspiring project for me. Kong has such a strong fan base and people have all kinds of preconceived ideas about what he should look like and how he should act. To take a crack at bringing such an iconic film legend to life felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Seeing how well he's been received has been very special.



Jeff White, Scott Benza and the teams at Industrial Light & Magic relied on Maya in a big way for Kong: Skull Island. Learn more about Maya’s huge flexibility and massive possibilities when it comes to creature creation.

Posted By
Tags
  • Maya
  • Film/TV/Post
  • Film & VFX
  • VFX
0 Comments
To post a comment please login or register
*Save $66 per month on Autodesk's Suggested Retail Price (SRP) when purchasing 1 year term 3ds Max or Maya subscription.