Images courtesy of Image Engine

Going BIG on "Independence Day: Resurgence"

Part 1 of 2 | Image Engine on their massive VFX contributions

Last modification: 22 Feb, 2018
11 mins

It’s here – and as Jeff Goldblum says in the trailer, ‘It’s bigger than the last one!’

The much-anticipated follow-up to 1996‘s sci-fi blockbuster, Independence Day – aptly titled, "Independence Day: Resurgence" – has landed! We sat with Image Engine’s Martyn Culpitt, Visual Effects Supervisor; Jason Snyman, Animation Supervisor; Mark Wendell, CG Supervisor; Barry Poon, Asset Supervisor, and Keegen Douglas, Compositing Supervisor about their work, and what they’re most looking forward to seeing on the big screen, in director, Roland Emmerich’s new installment to the IDR franchise.

For more on creature creation, see Part 2:
"Going otherworldly on Independence Day: Resurgence."


What work was Image Engine tasked with specifically for 'Independence Day: Resurgence'?

Martyn Culpitt, VFX Supervisor: We mainly handled the stuff that involved the aliens themselves. We did pretty much every alien except the Queen – Weta Digital did the Queen. We also created three huge environments and a lot of plate integration as well. Those sequences included Foliage, Escape, Area 51, a prison where they’re housing all the aliens, and a small section of Cheyenne Mountain. The Foliage section was probably our biggest sequence based on the assets we had to build for that. A lot of the stuff we got from the clients was all bluescreen, so we had to create the entire environment around them.

"The [alien's] gun was the size of a rifle on set but we ended up making it a canon that was three times the original size."

Tell us more about the aliens.

Martyn: We had two main characters based on a similar form. One was the Colonist – their head splits open – and the other was the Soldier. The Colonist is very close to the first creature from the original movie because it was really important to Roland that there should be that familiarity and connection. Aaron Sims did an initial creature design for it, and we took that and changed it quite drastically by adding a lot more detail. The asset team spent a lot of time looking at the images from the first movie and took reference photos of a model in a museum in Berlin so that we could match it. For the new model we created, we got the base design sculpted from Aaron Sims and again, changed it drastically to be a Soldier. We added armour plus the gun the alien was holding. The gun was the size of a rifle on set but we ended up making it a canon that was three times the original size.

Barry Poon, Asset Supervisor: We offer something that the client doesn't always necessarily expect, in that we are design partners. They don’t simply dump a bunch of approved final artwork on us and say, ‘Make it look like this.’ They come to us for our ability to explore, design and test animation styles, build-out the look. It’s a great relationship to have with the client, to have that trust.



Images courtesy of Image Engine  

How long were you on IDR overall?

Martyn: A year. Mark and I both went to Albuquerque and spent nearly four weeks in total on set. Having done that makes a huge difference because you know what is coming down the pipeline, what they’ve decided to change on set, and what they had shot. It helps everyone else a lot when you come back because you can let them know what’s gone on.

What are your primary functions when you’re on set?

Mark Wendell, CG Supervisor: Luckily the client side VFX production team – which is Unchartered Territory, Volker Engel’s production company – manage most of the work that needs to happen on set with respect to VFX, including keeping track of this Ncam system for live compositing of 3D on set, in camera. Martyn and I had no specific duties with respect to data capture, and that allowed us the freedom to keep an eye on what was going on on-set, and to make sure that any additional information we wanted to have captured was captured. The client was very accommodating: If we wanted additional angles or reference, or if we wanted more markers, we would go out and place those markers ourselves. Martyn can tell you about one situation where a shot was added to the film based on an idea of his on-set.

Martyn: Marion Spates (DFX Supe for Unchartered Territory) and I had just taken some HDRI stills inside a cell that was being docked inside the isolation chamber. We needed the data so we could re-create it in CG. The way we’d positioned the camera looked like a really cool shot, so we showed Roland and he was like, ‘Right! The next shot’s up!’ He literally decided on the spot to include the shot – the one where the alien steps forward and you see light coming into the cell as the door’s slowly opening – and it wound up in the trailer, too. That’s why I think it’s important to be on set as much as you can. Though it’s not usually a reality, it would be ideal for all departments to be on set, in order to see the scale of what we’re doing and to understand the other side of the camera.

Do you feel prepared going into big projects like IDR, or is there always some element of facing the unknown?

Martyn: We’ve all been doing this for such a long time so we know that every show is going to have its complexities. It’s just something to deal with. With this, we did a lot of pre-production with the client so we knew what to expect. One challenge we consistently face is that changes are made very late in the process. For IDR, we created a huge platform where the pilots are trying to capture the fighter jets to go and help their team outside of the mothership. They’re up on a platform and it’s nearly one and a half kilometres wide, so the scale of it is huge and the complexity of trying to get that to work is equally huge. We dealt with a big change to the model near the end, which really pushed the team – but we did it. They did a fantastic amount of work in a short amount of time to accommodate the notes, and it looked amazing.

"...we created a huge platform where the pilots are trying to capture the fighter jets...It’s nearly one and a half kilometres wide, so the scale of it is huge and the complexity of trying to get that to work was equally huge."

Were there any other instances where Image Engine saved the day?

Mark:Actually, for this same platform sequence, the small section of platform – quite a large, full-sized stage – was built out of plywood surfaced with this material based on what the generic alien technology metallic surface looked like. It was done with a crinkled tin-foil dry brushed with a wash of black paint. The day before the shoot at that location began, Roland took a look at it, and said, 'I really don’t like this material...What happens if we just paint it blue and let you guys do the whole thing CG?' We realized it was going to be an expensive decision but at the same time, we told them we could absolutely do it. We gave them the confidence to paint the set blue the night before, shoot on an entirely blue backdrop, and have us provide the entire environment later. In the long run, that gave us a lot of flexibility to really explore that look and surface for the alien mothership material. It went through quite a few iterations in order to come up with something that looks great, and without that last-minute recommendation for blue, we would’ve probably been locked into an on-set look.



Images courtesy of Image Engine  

What are you especially proud of with this project?

Martyn: For me, there are two main things. One is the large environments because we did really showcase our abilities there. There are so many pieces to it. The platform is 1.5km wide and then the Foliage sequence is 20km – the biggest thing within the screen. Creating those environments takes a lot of time and we managed to do a lot of work in a very short turnaround. There’s a lot of pre-production that happens but then right at the end, the client, as they do, made changes to the platform that impacted everything. We had to run with it. I think part of that is understanding how the assets speak to everything else in the pipeline. I’m really proud of all of it. When you see the plates and breakaparts, realize it’s all shot on blue, and then see what we’ve come up with, it’s beautiful.

The other thing, of course, is the aliens. I'm incredibly proud of their look development as well as of the team that put them together. They spent hours tirelessly creating them with such amazing detail and dedication to feel just right. The aliens are such an integral part of the movie and they bring you back to the original. They look fantastic and it's so exciting to see them on the big screen with the full grade and sound.


Images courtesy of Image Engine 

Will you go to the theatre to enjoy your work on the big screen?

Martyn: We’ll definitely have tickets for the team and go together.

Jason Snyman, Animation Supervisor: It’s fun to see a public screening of a film you’ve worked on, because when you see that audience reaction – when you go with a bunch of rowdy teenagers or kids looking at a shot you worked on – it’s particularly rewarding.

And is there one shot you’re especially looking forward to seeing the audience’s reaction to?

Jason: It has to be that scene Martyn mentioned with the head split. It's awesome.

Read Part 2 of this Q+A
where Image Engine detail their process for the aliens
and creature creation in general plus how they utilized Maya, Motion Builder and Shotgun.

Maya and MotionBuilder are available in the Autodesk Media & Entertainment Collection.


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  • Shotgun
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