Oscars: How Top VFX Pros Brought Baby Groot, Wonder Woman's Golden Lasso to Life

9:00 AM 12/15/2017

by Carolyn Giardina

The visual effects teams on these 20 shortlisted films — including 'Guardians of the Galaxy,' 'Blade Runner 2049' and 'Okja' — used CG and digital doubles to create death-defying chase scenes, epic seaside battles and a 6-ton pig.

'Wonder Woman'
'Wonder Woman'
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Superhero fare — from Thor to Justice League and Logan — swept the visual effects shortlist Dec. 4, while tentpole sci-fi projects, such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Blade Runner 2049, also were well represented. THR took a dive into how the VFX teams created some of this year's most imaginative effects, including the beasts, aliens and other out-of-this-world creatures that filled their stories.

This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • Alien: Covenant


    Courtesy of 20th Century FOX

    Ridley Scott's latest required bringing back the old — such as the Xenomorph, the creature featured in the 1979 Alien — and creating the new, like the species of extraterrestrials the Neomorph. MPC used real-world references for the latter, such as the goblin shark and praying mantis and the contorted and extreme motion studies by actor Javier Botet.

  • Beauty and the Beast


    Courtesy of Disney

    "The real challenge was going back into a film with characters and music that were beloved," says Framestore's VFX supervisor Kyle McCulloch. The 1,566 VFX shots included CG lead characters such as Mrs. Potts, Chip and Lumiere, plus the Beast — created at Digital Domain using performance capture and facial capture.

  • Blade Runner 2049

    Warner Bros.

    Warner Bros./Photofest

    To film the key scene when the replicant Rachael (played by Sean Young in the 1982 original) returns, a body double (Loren Peta) played the role on set, and then MPC's VFX team replaced her head with a digital rendition of Rachael's. "We tried to give [the digital performance] the same nuances that Sean gave originally," says VFX supervisor John Nelson.

  • Dunkirk

    Warner Bros.

    Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures

    "The biggest challenge was [director Christopher Nolan's] desire to avoid CG as much as possible," says VFX supervisor Andrew Jackson. But full CG replacements were necessary for certain scenes, including the wide shots of the large ship capsizing, which featured an animated CG crowd abandoning the craft.

  • Ghost in the Shell


    Courtesy of Paramount.

    To adapt the manga into a live-action film, VFX were used in the opening sequence, which pays homage to the 1995 anime with the creation of a cyborg, revealed later to be Major (Scarlett Johansson); the city, which had to be a photoreal environment; and Major's thermoptic suit and its invisibility effect.

  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


    Courtesy of Marvel/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

    Roughly a dozen VFX houses worked on the effects, including bringing to life fan-favorite characters Rocket Raccoon and Baby Groot. Weta's tallest order was creating Planet Hollow, a spiderweb-like environment heavily influenced by artist Hal Tenny, who, as a fractal artist, uses math to create patterns. Says Weta's VFX supervisor Guy Williams: "We had to figure out how to use the foundation of fractal math but bend it for what was needed for motion picture production."

  • Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle


    Columbia Pictures/Photofest

    The mandate was to create animals that were photoreal. "[Director] Jake [Kasdan] really wanted to ground the effects — the movement, texture and feeling of them all had to be real," says VFX supervisor Jerome Chen. "Because of that, we could push their size — the elephants and rhinos are one-and-a-half times the size that they are in real life. They are larger than life, more ferocious."

  • Justice League

    Warner Bros.

    Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.,

    For his character Cyborg, Ray Fisher was shot in a performance capture suit that was replaced with CG. The Batcave posed a unique challenge because the set from the previous film had been dismantled. Portions of the physical set were re-created, then extended with VFX. The same technique was used to replicate the Kent farm.

  • Kong: Skull Island

    Warner Bros.


    Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts wanted Kong to be more than 100 feet tall — and that size meant that the camera would often see just a portion of the creature, calling for dense hair coverage. Kong had more than 19 million hairs with multiple groom variations, as well as layers of dirt chunks, leaves and sticks trapped in his hair.

  • Life



    Daniel Espinosa's sci-fi thriller required putting scientists aboard the International Space Station (sets augmented with CG, or fully CG) and creating "Calvin," the name given to its alien life form. The actors were put in zero-G (requiring plenty of wire removal) and Jake Gyllenhaal's character even had a CG yo-yo.

  • Logan


    Ben Rothstein

    To keep the actors safe while also making the R-rated action entertaining, VFX house Image Engine used digital doubles of Hugh Jackman's Logan as well as Dafne Keen's Laura, starting with detailed facial and body scans at USC's Institute for Creative Technologies.

  • Okja


    Courtesy of Netflix

    The fully CG, 6-ton titular animal was designed with elements of a pig, hippo and elephant. "We built this creature from the inside out using [a] skeleton and muscle rig," says VFX supervisor Erik de Boer of Deluxe's Method Studios. On set, animation supervisor Stephen Clee puppeteered custom-designed props to help the cast properly interact with the creature.

  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales


    Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

    Visual effects helped create ambitious sea battles and CG ships — along with the new villain, the ghostly form of Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) — for the fifth installment in the swashbuckling franchise. After Bardem's scenes were shot, MPC's work included making a digital double, maimed parts and hair animated to appear as if he's underwater.

  • The Shape of Water

    Fox Searchlight

    Courtesy of TIFF

    In Guillermo del Toro's fairy tale, Eliza (Sally Hawkins) falls in love with a humanoid, amphibious creature — a combination of actor Doug Jones in a suit, makeup and visual effects. The film has 600 VFX shots, about 260 of which involved the Amphibian Man.

  • Spider-Man: Homecoming


    Columbia Pictures/Photofest

    For VFX supervisor Janek Sirrs, it was key to make sure Tom Holland's Spider-Man had "a real sense of a novice superhero learning his way in a seemingly crime-filled world." That started with motion capture of both Holland and a stunt double. Motion-capture data was used to create some shots of Spidey, while others were hand animated by VFX artists.

  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi


    Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

    More than 2,000 VFX shots were used for space battles and to create Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). The film was shot in real-world locations and practical sets when possible, and then combined with digital set extensions or fully digital versions of environments.

  • Thor: Ragnarok


    Courtesy of Marvel Studios

    The sequel's roughly 2,700 VFX shots were created by the combined efforts of 18 VFX houses. The work included CG characters, notably Korg and the fire demon Surtur, as well as Cate Blanchett's villainous Hela, whose suit required CG.

  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets


    Courtesy of STX Entertainment

    The sci-fi epic features a whopping 2,355 VFX shots from several facilities. Effects include a 500-floor, cavern-like alien marketplace; a space station known as Alpha; a luxury spacecraft, the Lexus Skyjet (designed with the help of real-life Lexus engineers); and a slew of alien species.

  • War for the Planet of the Apes


    Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

    The VFX team at Weta has advanced their work on each Apes film, with War using a new rendering engine that simulates the movement of light through the scene. "We were able to get the shadowing and the detail on the fur and skin to be more accurate and realistic," says VFX supervisor Dan Lemmon.

  • Wonder Woman

    Warner Bros.

    Warner Bros./Photofest

    Diana's (Gal Gadot) exotic home Themyscira was filmed in Italy and completed with VFX. As the story progresses, battles involved practical special effects as well as digital techniques. Plus, the work included digital doubles for action shots, destruction simulations and even a hand-animated golden lasso.