Having previously worked with Marvel’s VFX Supervisor, Chris Townsend and Executive Producer, Victoria Alonso on a number of Marvel films including the Avengers and the Iron Man series, Animal Logic was excited to work on the second installment of the popular Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.
Working closely with Chris, the Animal Logic team delivered approximately 150 shots, including key sequences that had to meet the very particular visual style sought by director James Gunn.
The curious and somewhat challenging request to “create something never seen before” was thrust upon the Animal Logic team, lead by VFX Supervisor, Paul Butterworth.
Some of the key scenes that Animal Logic worked on include Ego’s fractal palace, the telling of Ego’s backstory, and a game of celestial catch between Quill (Chris Pratt) and Ego (Kurt Russell) in an exotic alien garden.
Creating Ego’s Fractal Palace was one of the greatest challenges for the Animal Logic team. The main technical hurdle was figuring out how to translate the fantastical 2D concept art of Ego’s Fractal Palace into a full 3D environment where live-action photography could be integrated. The Animal Logic team had previously applied fractal-based techniques on Avengers: Age of Ultron but this project was on a much larger scale. Fractal functions are a tricky beast, on the one hand you can generate an infinite number of incredibly beautiful and intricate forms but at the same time, it makes it incredibly challenging to control and art direct. It also requires a huge investment of time and resources whether it be visualising, modelling or rendering. To deal with these challenges, Paul assembled a small and specialised generalist team. In the end, a combination of tools ranging from Houdini to the studio’s proprietary in house renderer, Glimpse and a few light bulb moments were needed to achieve success.
Once the technicalities of the Fractal Palace were solved, the team turned their attention towards one of the key scenes in the film – Ego telling his backstory. Animal Logic was initially briefed to design and develop a series of ‘moving paintings’, however the original brief underwent several changes. The chosen approach was to create stylised sculptural forms finished with a pearlescent glaze. This look was the most elegant, interesting and not to mention eloquent way of bringing Ego’s backstory to life.
The Animal Logic team was challenged again when the ‘celestial catch’ scene between Ego and Quill, which was initially shot as an interior sequence, was modified to take place outside the palace. Extensive compositing and crafty re-grading was completed by the Animal Logic artists to rework the interior plate photography of the actors to merge seamlessly with the golden hue of the outdoor pickup shoot. In addition, the team had the added task of creating fractal plants for the new outdoor garden sequence.
Lastly, creating Quill’s ‘celestial light’ would prove to be both a technical and design challenge. Chris Townsend provided a brief stating that the energy had to ‘evoke an electrical quality but be mouldable like bread dough and playful like a bubble’. It also needed to ‘potentially be dangerous’. Significiant time was spent conceptualising and developing different formats before achieving the final look. Various fluid simulations were designed to achieve the look and,provide the artists with even more control; Quill’s hands were entirely replaced in CG. Finally the compositing team applied the techniques of relighting the actors, adding lens aberration and glows to the CG to match the original photography to create a convincing scene.