Filled with smoke, fire, gods and dust, Warner Bros.’ Wrath of the Titans is the sequel to Clash of the Titans, the movie that brought actor Sam Worthington back from Pandora and into this fantastic battle tale.
Method Studios is one of several outfits that worked on the VFX for the many and varied creatures of Wrath of the Titans. The bulk of the work was done by the crew at MPC and Framestore. Other setups were by nVizage, Hybride and Senate. The assignment of some effects were shared by studios in some instances and it is fair to mention the two-headed flame-spitting panther called a Chimera was created by MPC, and the battalion of double bodied spinning fighters in the final scenes called the Makhai, as well as the Cyclops family were the work of the team at MPC and Framestore. Hats off to ALL the artists involved.
The main sequence for Method Studios Los Angeles involved creating the awakening of the monstrous Kronos, father of Zeus. This involved 114 shots featuring a massive mountain being, in an entirely CG environment. The action takes place in a huge collapsing chamber, with Perseus and Andromeda freeing Zeus as Kronos awakes. The monster is brought to life with glowing lava and causes the cataclysmic destruction of the Underworld. Digital doubles of leading actors were created and composited into scenes along with fire, smoke, explosions and flowing lava. NUKE was kept busy compositing the immense collections together through the elements Shotgun was used to wrangle the many thousands of scenes, cards of textures, character details and render queues.
With an exceptional history behind him working on The Tree of Life, SpeedRacer, Dark Knight and Matrix Reloaded, VFX Supervisor for Method Studios, Olivier Dumont worked on Wrath of the Titans, not for the first time, under the supervision of Nick Davis and the direction from Battle: LA’s Jonathan Liebesman. Starting at BUF in France in 1997, Dumont cut his teeth on a lot of TVCs, music videos and French cinema, before moving to California. He crossed to Method after working at BUF LA as well for some time.
“Method worked on everything that occurred in the Underworld’,” explains Dumont. “During a battle on the surface, a crack opens up and the viewer falls way down into the bowels of the Earth to meet with Zeus.” 110 artists at Method Studios Los Angeles and London shared a lot of this work with MPC in London. Also tackled were the set extensions, meeting and creating Kronos in the Kronos chamber where he is attached to the mountain. The London team was also involved during pre-production and created concept images for the production’s art department.
In the sequence where the audience is taken for the first time, down into the Earth to meet Zeus, the fall is a true rollercoaster ride. This is a full stereo CG environment, staring down into the darkness. The cave is captured in several separate scans, and modeled in ZBrush with cooked brushes from models that already existed from the LIDAR. “This was built from an approved previz that showed us the trajectory of the camera, the speed of travel and where lights might be placed. We then hand managed the voyage with fire and smoke in the rock walls, and falling rocks at the beginning, right through to the end,” says Dumont. “At the first brief, it was about half the length it ended up as, so it was a long process. In theory, it was supposed to be the core of the Earth, so it was supposed to take some time.”
The process of lighting such a cavernous trip was difficult as well. It could not be too bright as well as not too dark. “At the start of the fall, we gave some license to the fact that your eyes have to grow accustomed to the dark, and at first you cannot see anything,” he explains. As the camera moves down, Method added little sparks of dusty light, flames and sparks from rocks falling close by. This was art directed very strongly. The view down of course, showed that there was always some light at the end of the tunnel, getting slowly brighter. “We scanned all the sets, because it helps for tracking for instance,” says Dumont. “Having a library of rock scans is very useful for set extensions, which we used extensively. Once we were happy with the plate layout, we used this content of this immense library of rock scans.”
The oversized cathedral we come to at the end of this sequence is a massive set, filled out with a huge 3D matte painting. The idea here was that even though this area had a gigantic tower, the whole area was to appear to be inside a cave. No sky was to be seen. There had to be a barely perceived ceiling somewhere in the overhead. “Once down in this chamber, we used the rock scans a little bit differently,” Dumont continues. “We had so many angles in there that we had to make a model that could be studied from all points of view. We’d use the LIDAR as a base but then we had to make new shapes, because the set was so small compared to the Kronos chamber, which was supposed to be 5600 meters tall.”
Fireballs in the Underworld
Method Studios built an armoury of fireballs for the battles, while these hots assets were then fused into the action of the Makhai. The final look of the Kronos creature was Method’s as well, beginning his time, fused to a lava encrusted mountain in the far distance of the Underworld cave. MPC gave Method a low rez model of the key-framed Kronos creature to begin with. Seen in one of Perseus’ [Sam Worthington’s] dream at the beginning of the tale, in the final appearance he re-emerges out of the steep hillside, as part of that steep hillside. “The second stage is when he starts to wake up,” explains Dumont, “and the third stage is when he begins to move. The mountains around him collapse and rivers of lava are released, and masses of ensuing smoke and flame erupt. Streams and showers of lava-flow are thrown forward, and this is where the creatives of Method Studios shine. This movie pushed our VFX R&D department, with the construction of falling and breaking rocks, smoke, dust and fire simulation. The greatest challenge was the lava”, says Dumont.
At this stage, there was some direction to have Kronos reach out and smash the small hillock island that Zeus [Liam Neeson] was tied to. “We had to actually rerig Kronos so there would not be any texture stretching, something that should be avoided,” Dumont explains. “We devised a special rigs that would move plates on the inner skin, so the stretching would show as cracks in the skin.” With every showing of cracks, eruptions of lava, smoke, flashes of sparks and flame and debris falling out had to be driven by the animation in that way. The look development, animation, lighting and rendering took some time. Working this fiery performance of Kronos into the movie was Method Studios’ project from October 2011 until the end of production in February 2012.
Another VFX task for the Method team was the weapon transformations and enhancements. The gods carry weapons that are small if not activated but become fully extended with glowing parts when they are using them. The Method artists specifically worked on Zeus’ thunderbolt, Hades’ pitchfork, Poseidon’s trident and Ares’ hammer.
“This was a smooth production, not just between the LA and London Method crews, but with the entire production. Our ideas and designs for effects and character animation were welcomed, which made it a gratifying and inspiring process,” says Olivier Dumond.