Baby Groot to Replicant Rachael: How VFX Teams Delivered Some Key Characters

10:15 AM 12/1/2017

by Carolyn Giardina

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Blade Runner 2049 VFX - Split - Photofest - H 2017
Left, Photofest; Right, courtesy of Alcon Entertainment
  • Baby Groot

    Hand-animated Baby Groot is part director James Gunn, part Buster Keaton, stands just 10 cm tall, and was an instant hit when he debuted in the Marvel sequel. “Without making it look cartoony, we had to discover how we project his thoughts and emotions onto a wooden face,” explains animation supervisor Arslan Elver of VFX house Framestore. “Baby Groot is made of bark, which couldn’t look too ‘aged,’ and his face is very simplistic in design, so it was fine a balance between the two.”

    The opening scene, during which Baby Groot dances to EOL’s Mr. Blue Sky (based on a reference performance by Gunn) was the trickiest as it appears as one continuous shot. “He is this small creature and yet he had to cover a lot of distance through his dancing. It had to seem effortless. We had to come up with a series of clever ideas, hops and cheats to be able to cover the distance without making it obvious to the audience. It was a long process of tweaking the camera, animation, tempo and the little beats to keep pushing the comedy and character of Groot.”

  • The Pearls

    The complex work in Valerian got attention from the VFX community with a whopping 2,355 VFX shots and numerous alien species including the Pearls — an ethereal, willowy, semitransparent race — who play a crucial part in the story. Explains Weta VFX supervisor Martin Hill, the Pearls are based on motion-capture performances, but "Luc Besson wanted something even more alien. So there's augmentation to them. Their eyes are further apart and tilted, and their temples are sunk in. The less human you go, the more subjective beauty is; it was an interesting line to make sure we kept them beautiful." 

  • Rachael

    To create a new scene with the 1982 Blade Runner's original replicant Rachael, a body double (Loren Peta) played the role on set with the actors and then the team at VFX house MPC replaced her head with a digital rendition of Rachael.

    Both original film actress Sean Young and Peta performed the scene using facial performance capture system, which was used as the reference for the completed shots. "You really need all the subtle nuances. It took a lot of time and effort.," the film's VFX supervisor John Nelson says, adding that some body work was also done. “[Loren Peta] is an athlete, so her shoulders were a little bit broader than Sean’s at 19, so we took the body and scaled it down a little to take the shoulders.

  • Neomorph

    Director Ridley Scott's latest addition to the Alien franchise includes the CG Xenomorph, the creature that featured in the 1979 Alien; and a new species of alien, the CG Neomorph, shown here. MPC used real world references to bring the Neomorph to life, such as the goblin shark, praying mantis and contorted motion studies given by actor Javier Botet, which inspired the movement of the Neomorph's hands and stomach. The creature also had to go through four stages of development from baby to toddler to teen to adult. 

  • Captain Armando Salazar

    In the fifth film of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, the idea behind the ghosts was that they are preserved in the exact form that they died in--so the ghostly form of Caption Salazar (Javier Bardem) has a giant hole in his head and appears to be underwater. After Bardem's scenes were shot, MPC's work included creating a digital double, maimed parts and animated hair (using newly-created software) so as to appear as if he's underwater. The VFX team also augmented the practical make up--adding the giant hole, as well as eyes with a unique texture and pattern.