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Avatar – The Manner of Water: Eric Saindon – VFX Supervisor – Weta FX

In 2019, Eric Saindon detailed the work made by Weta FX on Alita: Battle Angel. Right this moment he returns to inform us concerning the many challenges for Avatar: The Manner of Water!

What was your feeling to be again on Pandora?

I learn an early model of the script a 12 months previous to heading again to Pandora and was very excited to return to Avatar. The brand new creatures and characters made it thrilling and the problem of the water and scale of the movie scared the crap out of me. 

How was this new collaboration with legendary Director James Cameron?

For the primary Avatar, I labored largely at Weta and interacted with Jim solely at critiques. This time, my position was initially Onset VFX Supervisor for the reside motion filming, then I turned the face-to-face contact particular person for Jim each day. I had an workplace only a couple doorways down from Jim in post-production and would sometimes play clips on my monitor to lure him into critiques every time he walked previous. He would cease in virtually each time and joked that I at all times had « director bait » on my monitor, however he couldn’t assist himself and at all times needed to cease. 

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What had been the primary adjustments he needed to do because the first movie?

The most important concern for Jim and Weta was getting the performances from the actors to learn via the characters. We spent loads of further useful resource upgrading the facial and seize methods so we might actually translate the emotion of the actors in order that because the viewers watches the movie, they really feel the emotion they need to on the proper occasions. There may be nothing worse than getting distracted and dropping the magic of a scene attributable to a foul CG character. 

Are you able to elaborate concerning the Digital Manufacturing course of?

The film was completely shot as a digital manufacturing which included full performances, lighting supervised by the DP, and primary FX. For every scene within the digital manufacturing, a complete space was created in order that when the actors carried out, Jim might put the digicam wherever he needed and see the world come to life. A digital manufacturing surroundings is a little bit like a high-end online game in which you’ll be able to wander round and discover the world. A illustration of that is then constructed on the efficiency seize stage, so the actors have a correct set to carry out on and react to. The actors’ movement is then positioned onto the CG characters for cameras and FX to be added.   

How did you set up the work along with your VFX Producer?

Having every day catchups with all of the supervisors and our Senior VFX Producer Lena Scanlan helped everybody keep updated with new methods and useful course of. We didn’t need any of the groups reinventing the wheel for no motive.  

How did you break up the work amongst the opposite VFX Supervisors at Weta FX?

We break up up Avatar amongst a good variety of VFX Supervisors to try to preserve comparable forms of work with totally different teams and work as effectively as potential. One of many greatest benefits of doing it this fashion was we might focus the FX division on sure forms of work on every workforce. For instance Wayne Stables supervised a lot of the jungle work and his FX artists had been in a position to focus on plant simulation and never fear about huge water simulations.

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Are you able to elaborate concerning the design and creation of the assorted Avatars?

For all the Na’vi and Recoms, the designers included components of the actors into the characters’ designs. Incorporating components like mouths, chins, or different options helped to translate the efficiency to the character and convey them to life. The underlying construction of their CG our bodies can also be comparable, with muscle methods and bones driving the rig. 

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Had been you in a position to reuse a number of the belongings or did you might want to begin virtually from scratch?

We had been in a position to make use of a number of the base fashions for crops and bushes however they had been all constructed to a better decision. The characters had been all constructed from scratch utilizing the unique fashions as a information. The extent of element within the designs and simulations of the characters was enormously elevated within the new movie. For instance, within the first Avatar we simulated the hair on the characters with strips, and clumps of hair had been all simmed as one so they didn’t react with each other. Within the new film, expertise updates allowed us to resolve particular person hairs, not solely on the heads of the characters, however for his or her peach fuzz because it interacts with the wind or water.  We had been additionally in a position to perceive compression and stretch for issues like pores and skin and adjustments to the blood move below the floor, which in flip impact the color of the subsurface or pores and skin color. 

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Are you able to elaborate concerning the face efficiency work?

The brand new movie is the primary to make use of our new facial system that has been in improvement for just a few years. Up up to now, and all the way in which again to Gollum, we used a FACS system for our facial work.  Within the outdated mannequin, we might create a number of sculpts of poses that characters might obtain, then the system would interpolate in between the poses to generate the facial efficiency. The brand new system, however, is totally muscle-driven and makes use of an AI community to assist decide the correct stress for muscle tissues and fats below the floor, driving the pores and skin.  Utilizing this technique, we achieved high-res facial performances for all the characters within the movie, as an alternative of just some heroes. Within the new film, it is best to be capable of watch any background character and see the complete vary of emotion and efficiency. 

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This new film is taking us underwater. Are you able to elaborate concerning the design and creation of this surroundings?

One of many nice issues about working with Jim and the entire workforce at LEI is the design course of and the digital manufacturing. All environments within the movie had been constructed based mostly on designs from the artwork administrators. As soon as a format was generated, a primary lighting go was performed by our workforce imbedded at LEI, led by Dan Cox, VFX Supervisor for Weta. Dan and his workforce would work with Richie Baneham to indicate all the environments to Jim for approval earlier than something was turned over to Weta. As soon as it arrived at Weta, we might add all the element and FX to carry the world to life. The underwater sequences had been a brand new problem for Weta. The layouts of all of the crops and animals underwater used AI-driven procedural era when potential to assist get life like progress patterns. The opposite factor that helped to correctly perceive the underwater world was correct attenuation and scattering within the quantity – attenuation creates adjustments in hue, scattering causes so referred to as ‘veiling mild’. If both of those is about incorrect, the characters or surroundings unfastened scale or the quantity appears empty, so that they seem like they’re floating in house. Including a little bit little bit of marine snow was additionally very helpful to provide the sense of quantity, particularly when watching the movie in stereo. 

The opposite huge problem was the correct pronunciation of underwater animals like anemones. I obtained taught by Jim each time how one can correctly say it and will nonetheless by no means get it proper… Anemone – /??nem?ni/. 

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Are you able to inform us extra concerning the filming course of and the underwater mocap fits?

The underwater efficiency seize was one of many huge challenges of the brand new movie. Ryan Champny at LEI was set accountable for determining the easiest way to seize each above and beneath water on the similar time. Two volumes had been created – the above water quantity was a regular setup, and the beneath water quantity used a blue mild spectrum for seize, because the pink falls off so rapidly below the floor. The second quantity was dropped into the tank and lowered into place, then the 2 had been synced. White ping pong balls had been then used to cowl the floor to cease reflections on the floor, from beneath and above, so the cameras weren’t confused by bouncing mild. 

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We uncover new creatures and fauna. Are you able to inform us extra about them?

The Manner of Water is just about all new creatures and fauna. We had just a few crops and glimpses of animals from the primary Avatar, however as soon as the Sully household leaves Excessive Camp, we enter an entire new Pandora. We labored intently with artwork administrators Ben Proctor and Dylan Cole on the designs of each plant, above and beneath the floor, and each creature.   

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Are you able to elaborate concerning the design and creation of the Tulkun?

The Tulkun designs had been based mostly on just a few creatures. A whale is the apparent affect, though the Tulkun are 4 occasions the dimensions of a blue whale. When swimming at depth they swim like a whale or a dolphin, with a up and down movement of the tail. When swimming on the floor they’ll swim extra like a sea otter, with extra of a facet to facet utilizing the break up again fin. We additionally wanted to embrace easy issues like a touch of a brown and versatile flesh across the eyes to permit the animators to get emotion within the face. 

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Are you able to inform us extra concerning the creature animation?

The creature animation was all blocked out by a workforce at LEI and led by one in all our Animation Supervisors in LA, Eric Reynolds. As soon as the fundamental movement and intention was sorted so Jim might edit the footage, it came to visit to Dan Barrett and the animation workforce so as to add weight and correct anatomical movement to the creatures. 

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Did you used procedural instruments for the fauna and the underwater crops?

Each time potential, we use procedural instruments for mannequin era, texturing, and even animation. Utilizing issues like AI has helped us to higher perceive what a number of variations of crops may seem like, together with how they’d develop in several conditions. We had been additionally in a position to make use of issues like water simulations to get correct motion from tidal swells or open ocean waves on underwater crops. 

How did you’re employed with the SFX and stunts groups for the interactions between the people and the Avatars?

We labored intently with SPFX on issues just like the movement of the boats, so we might get correct information that enabled our coupled simulations between the boats and the water to work correctly. If the movement of a ship within the water was incorrect, it might trigger the sims to fail because the boats would journey too low or excessive within the water, so the buoyancy would look incorrect.   

We additionally labored with a stunt workforce that wore blue fits onset to assist reside motion actors perceive the spacing of Na’vi in a scene. New to our onset toolset was the eyeline system, which gave actors correct eyeline and timing when interacting with CG characters. 

The eyeline system is second solely to truly having the Na’vi there with us on set. It’s a 4 pick-point cable cam system that’s usually used to fly a digicam throughout sporting occasions. As a substitute, we mounted a small HD monitor and a speaker – the monitor performed footage from the MOCAP performers headcam and their audio got here from the speaker. The movement of the monitor was created by constraining the movement to the CG character’s skeleton and the info is synced and genlocked. This meant the reside motion expertise might stroll round and work together with a spatially correct “fellow actor”.  

Are you able to elaborate concerning the spectacular water work?

For this challenge, our FX workforce wanted to increase our conventional simulation and workflow options to be not solely be dependable and repeatable for scale, however tightly built-in with each other to match the water-based efficiency seize and reside motion. Creating over 1,600 distinctive water simulations required a brand new and versatile approach of reaching the director’s imaginative and prescient. As a foundation we used our real-time GPU-based ocean spectra to provide the digital manufacturing a bodily correct start line to seize swell timing, water ranges, and primary character interplay. A customized toolkit, Pahi, was created to transform the ocean spectra into water deformations in Houdini after which into our in-house simulation framework Loki. Secondary workflows comparable to bubbles, foam, and spray transitions had been added for integration with autos, creatures, and reside motion components. 

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How does the HFR course of impacts your work?

We setup our pipeline at 48FPS and did all our rendering on even frames. If Jim determined he needed a shot at 48FPS, we might merely render the odd frames as nicely.   

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How did you’re employed with ILM?

We shared mannequin belongings and textures with ILM. We additionally had a number of pictures that had been break up between us, the place ILM did the comps after we delivered renders of CG characters.  

What’s your favorite shot or sequence?

« The Tulkun Hunt » was one of the vital difficult, saved me up at night time, and was one in all my favorite sequences within the movie. The sequence was a problem as a result of it married sensible movement information and simulated wave patterns with the CG water to make sure character motion on vessels within the open water had been life like. To match the director’s imaginative and prescient for marine accuracy, the onset workforce constructed full dimension boats and management rigs that had been sooner, extra correct, and sophisticated machines that might safely transfer heavy bodily objects round onset in a approach that may very well be tightly built-in with the digital environments. Utilizing Overdrive to regulate the ten ton hydraulics with 6 levels of freedom, we had been in a position to get very genuine boat movement information. As soon as we had that, we had been in a position to run water simulations for the boats and the Tulkun in a single simulation to realize realism with the water. 

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What’s your greatest reminiscence on this present?

Certainly one of my favorite recollections on the present was about midway via the reside motion shoot. We had been taking pictures some Spider plates on the day and at Weta we had been in progress on just a few early turnover sequences. One of many sequences was the reside motion plate extensions and Quaritch getting on the boats. We obtained first variations to indicate Jim so I plugged my laptop computer into the HDR monitor within the DI tent and referred to as Jim over for a viewing. He was floored and ended up getting all of the actors and an enormous portion of the crew to return over and see the footage. Sadly it derailed filming few a pair hours, but it surely was thrilling to get everybody amped up. 

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How lengthy have you ever labored on this present?

I went straight onto this present on the finish of 2018 after ending Alita: Battle Angel.

What was the dimensions of your workforce?

The general workforce dimension for this challenge was round 1,700 individuals at Weta FX. 

What’s your subsequent challenge?

We solely have 2 years to complete the subsequent Avatar so we have to get going.

An enormous thanks on your time.

Weta FX: Devoted web page about Avatar: The Manner of Water on Weta FX web site.
Disney+: You possibly can watch Avatar: The Manner of Water on Disney+ (coming quickly).

© Vincent Frei – The Artwork of VFX – 2023



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