In 2014, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy blew up the box-office and cemented its unlikely heroes firmly within the hearts of film fans worldwide. In 2017 they return for Vol.2, in an adventure even more action-packed than the last.
Rocket returned home to Framestore, where the team created the look and led the animation on the wise-cracking Raccoon and that of his new sidekick: the adorable, scene-stealing Baby Groot. Happy to be back in Gunn’s wacky universe, Framestore collaborated with VFX Supervisor Christopher Townsend to deliver over 620 shots ranging from creature work, spaceships, ‘the best opening sequence in the world’ (as dictated in the script) and an exhilarating space chase across the Galaxies.
Rocket was a chance for Framestore to revisit some creative and memorable animation work. Says Fawkner, ‘We went back and looked at face shapes, the construction of his skeleton, all the time knowing that we needed to end up with the same Rocket essentially. Updating everything but keeping the character that is so loved.’ Again using Bradley Cooper’s performance as reference, the team captured his lip movements to achieve a seemingly natural dialogue delivery. They also looked to the live-action characters in the scene to create Rocket-appropriate responses, without seeming too exaggerated. ‘We wanted to create a really strong and consistent performance’, explains Animation Supervisor Arslan Elver. ‘We knew the performance and had solid reference, so we could get started right away!’ Rocket was treated to a makeover, with an updated fur simulation using Framestore’s proprietary tool fcHairFilters creating a photo-realistic finish.
I am (Baby) Groot
Framestore was lucky to be able to start work on Baby Groot's animation from the beginning, having jumped in with the Comic-Con trailer featuring the new addition. Reincarnated from the ashes of adult Groot in the first movie, Baby Groot was a challenge for the team, who had to question how young he would actually appear, how he would integrate with the rest of the gang, and how much range he would have. The process was lengthy: ‘We went back and looked at Groot in the first movie, at his personality and character’, explains Elver. ‘We took his name literally and kept playing around with the idea of him being a baby. After a couple of tests, it became clear that he had to have a bigger capacity than that. He is still young but he is engaged, though easily distracted and at points oblivious to his surroundings.’ Baby Groot is made of bark, which couldn’t look too ‘aged,’ and his face is very simplistic in design, which proved to be a challenge when it came to rigging. ‘We created an expressive stretchy base deformation that kept simple silhouettes for his facial expressions, then added a layer of "crust" deformation which we were able to paint and tune to create "crust islands," or patches of rigid bark’, explains Laurie Brugger, Head of Rigging. ‘These patches were selectively shrink-wrapped back onto the base to keep the simple forms of the face whilst maintaining the feeling of bark.’ He also has vines generating from his hands, allowing him to get up to mischief. Gunn loved the test which saw the vines grow out from his hands and snap, which led to a collaboration between CFX and Animation to come up with the right look and movement.
Battling the Abilisk
Taking on the opening sequence of the film was a huge task from many perspectives. The entire set is reflective and the camera doesn’t cut once, meaning the team was faced with 800 frame-long effects and the need to to run simulations that were thousands of frames long. The team created a bespoke stormy sky for the sequence. ‘Because the camera doesn’t cut, we couldn’t go and find plate material that would work for a camera that was continuous. So we re-developed a brand new suite of tools for generating cloud scapes, and having them move realistically’, says Fawkner. The clouds move in a time-lapse, alongside bolts of lighting that needed to react within the clouds and light the city below. The city itself is made of gold, which posed its own problems as it needed to reflect on everything and everyone in the scene.
Pre-vis’ed by The Third Floor London, the scene features the eight-tentacled, semi-translucent ‘Abilisk’. The team needed to convey the weight of the creature: he is colossal, heavy but also graceful and dynamic, with sophisticated muscle and skin-sliding simulations. The team ingested the camera work into the pipeline, splitting the sequence into 11 pieces and assigning each one to an individual animator, creating a tool that allowed them to sew the shots together seamlessly. The Abilisk also projects deadly ‘matter waves’: rainbow-coloured beams with bands of fibre, which then had to be reflected off the gold city below and bounced back onto all of the creatures. Nothing, not even an epic monster battle, can stop Baby Groot stealing the limelight. Ignorant of the impending danger, Baby Groot dances in the foreground; a real delight for the team working on the shots. ‘When you’re only 10cm tall, and you’re dancing around, you aren’t going to cover much space. 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’, says Elver. To carve out his performance, the team reviewed footage of Gunn dancing which they implemented as a foundation. It was a long process of tweaking the camera, animation, tempo and the little beats to keep pushing the comedy and character of Groot.
Space Chases and New Worlds
Framestore also worked on the action-packed Space Chase sequence, which sees Quill and Rocket hurtling through space in ships animated by the team, dodging asteroids and weaving between blazing ribbons of plasma. The team wanted to keep control of the ships in animation and define the choreography. The brief for the Milano was also very precise; it had to be very dynamic darting and dodging as fast as possible. Speeding through space, the team had to come up with interesting ways to demonstrate speed. The chase covers three environments, the first made up of a ‘space grid’ in which ribbons of plasma (similar to the rings of Saturn) are used to anchor the characters and provide point of reference. The environments were heavily animated with an array of tricks including Quantum Asteroids, grit and particles, before going through lighting.
Scanline VFX Delivered VFX for "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2"