Double Negative delivered 761 shots and the titles for Guillermo Del Toro’s (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) new feature “Hellboy 2 – The Golden Army”. Working with VFX Supervisor, Mike Wassel and VFX Producer, Lucy Killick, the Double Negative team was led by Senior VFX Producer Steve Garrad and Digital Effects Supervisors Adrian De Wet, Andrew Chapman and Justin Martin and Animation Supervisor, Eamonn Butler.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth created quite a buzz in the industry, and now the director returns to his earlier film Hellboy with the help of one of London’s strongest vfx companies Double Negative.
Interior BPRD / Freak corridor – CG creatures and props :
The freak corridor sequence features a cg creature called the Berserker, in full-frame close up, screaming at camera, a CG “Lovecraftian entity” being wrestled onto a hospital gurney by two BPRD agents and a writhing baby troll being carried down the corridor. A full frame animated cg steel door is seen being blown off its hinges and tumbling down the corridor past Manning and Abe, followed by embers, masonry wreckage and dust: a mixture of CG and 2D elements. Hellboy rises from the wreckage, his horns singed and smoking (CG glow and smoke).
Auction house & interior BPRD – The toothfairies and Liz’s CG fire :
Using proprietary swarm technology, Double Negative choreographed thousands of fairies per shot, swarming out of holes in walls, covering walls, floors and ceilings, enveloping and attacking actors. Each individual swarm-fairy was capable of 17 different flying-cycles or 9 different crawling cycles, as well as take-off, landing, and many eating and idle cycles. Many individual tooth fairies were “heroed” , i.e. they were hand-animated. This was the case when they were a prominent feature of the foreground, or particularly when there was a requirement for the toothfairy to have a physical effect on a subject in the plate photography: e.g. clothing being torn, skin being moved etc.
They were also hand animated whenever a character in the plate has an effect on a toothfairy, such as the shot when Hellboy catches and squeezes the fairy until it explodes. Many 2D elements were used in these cases to augment the interaction and most of these were filmed specifically for this purpose. One of the many challenges on this sequence was the lighting. The set was very atmospheric, which created integration challenges, the xenon source from outside created another lighting direction. The toothfairies sequence showcased Double Negative’s proprietary fire, specifically towards the end of the sequence when Liz starts to engulf herself in flames.
This was further enhanced by the transition of toothfairies to blackened, charred fairies and embers when they come too close to the fire. As Liz explodes, Double Negative artists composited photographed pyrotechnic elements into the scene, and added further burning fairies into the explosions.
The tooth fairy character was reprised a few scenes later in the film during the medical bay sequence, when a single tooth fairy revives as it gets taken over by Johann. This sequence was a showcase for Double Negative’s character animation capabilities, as the charred cadaver is resurrected on the gurney. As the toothfairy recognizes Hellboy – who killed it – it becomes very agitated, striking many expressive, iconic poses. As Johann “exits” the fairy it dies again, falling, coughing, spluttering on to the tray, first to its knees and then with a final gasp and a death rattle to close this character-led sequence.
Exterior New York street / Entrance to the troll market – CG props and CG digi-doubles:
This sequence was mainly about the “schufftein goggles”. The goggles on Hellboy and Abe’s head were rendered cg so that the lenses could be animated moving into place. There are also a number of POV shots through the goggles where a bag lady is seen for her real persona, a fragglewump troll. This is an entirely 2D effect, the lens warp, the chromatic aberration and the transformation as the lenses come into place.
Double Negative also composited a green screen cat into the bag lady’s (and subsequently the fragglewump) arms. In a couple of shots the bag lady tries to eat the cat; her jaw distends and her eyes bulge, this was a mixture of 2D warps and a CG jaw. Later, Hellboy punches the bag lady/troll: she comically flies through the air and lands on a pile of rubbish, leaving her shoes spinning in mid air. To achieve this Double Negative rendered a cg bag lady digital double. Another artifact that is seen through the schufftein goggles is the lock on the troll market door. The goggles reveal a heat signature version of the lock and an x-ray version of the lock
The Troll Market – CG creatures & CG digi-doubles:
The troll market sequence is a menagerie of creatures, including; trolls, pixies, striders, bogarts, lovecraftian entities, and a digi-double of Wink, which had to match the plate photography exactly. All these creatures are fully animated, and interact fully with their surroundings: from shadows of the Pixies onto the set or bits of dirt kicked up by the Bogarts. One of the features of the sequence is a fight between Hellboy and Wink. For some of these shots Double Negative added a CG fist and chain. In other shots a fully digital double of Wink was required, such as shots in which Wink ends up in a CG meat grinder. Earlier, a fight between Wink and Abe was realized with CG digital doubles.
Exterior New York street – CG Elemental, CG digi-doubles CG environment, CG particle effects and CG props:
Another major challenge for Double Negative was the Elemental, a fully animated CG creature with a dynamically simulated CG “coat” made of leaves and vines, with interactive water spray, water vapour and drips. Other dynamic, simulated effects include building destruction and interaction with buildings, including the “manga”-style sequence where roots form and grow into the building. As the creature tries to pull away, it brings stone and plaster with it, creating more destruction. Cars tumbling down the street as they are kicked or pushed by the Elemental were also simulated: some were also picked up, twisted and mangled by the creature. Other dynamic effects included the creature bursting up through the street from underground, forming a huge distortion in the road-surface, this was referenced from actual footage of a road bomb in Iraq.
Towards the end of the sequence, in the elemental death scene, the creature suffers fatal gunshot wounds. For this Double Negative used fluid sim technology to create flowing blood/”goo”, which causes moss to grow from any surface that comes into contact with it, and after the moss has formed, more complex plants continue to grow such as ferns, flowers etc. As the Elemental finally dies, its head becomes a huge orchid-like flower, which releases clouds of pollen into the air. Double Negative’s team of artists realised all the plant growth shots fully, including the main Elemental flower, from initial concept art to final composite.
The sequence also required a substantial amount of digital set extensions, since it was a studio backlot rather than a location. Using Double Negative’s proprietary projection technology, the team was able to simulate an entire virtual set that included the Brooklyn Bridge, a Manhattan skyline, mid ground and foreground rooftop architecture, and a cloudy night sky with lightning.
This virtual set was also populated with many atmospheric elements: steam, smoke, fire, water sprays etc. Some were bespoke photographed elements, some were from Double Negative’s element library and some were created in 3D, such as the fire that emanates from Liz near the end of the sequence. Helicopters flying in the sky were also created in 3D, as were their searchlight beams, which were matched in to the xenon spotlights in the plate photography.
In addition to all this, more traditional multi-pass composites of car destruction/explosions with actors and extras in close proximity were utilised, as well as multi pass crowd composites, which were tied in to greenscreen foreground moves. The team was also required to replace the dummy baby with a digital double and finally in some shots, Hellboy’s tail and fist of doom were created digitally.
Double Negative Supervisors had a strong presence at the shoot. As well as consulting on the main unit, the team set up a VFX unit to photograph effects elements for this and other sequences, as well as the crowd multi-pass material, directing 200 extras, and photographing them using 3 cameras simultaneously mounted on a bespoke plate to create an ultra-wide field of view.
Locker Room confrontation – CG Johann smoke, CG digi-doubles and CG props:
In the locker room sequence, Hellboy and Johann fight. The sequence starts with Hellboy smashing Johann’s visor, releasing the ‘gaseous’ Johann into the air. Johann collapses and his suit deflates, leaving his gaseous self to snake along the floor and “take over” a set of lockers, which proceed to beat up Hellboy by opening and closing its doors onto Hellboy’s face. The main CG requirement here was the simulation of Johann smoke, which appears to be sentient and alive as in the Golden Army fight. It snakes in and out of the lockers and interacts with bits of glass and a beer can on the floor (also CG). At the end of the sequence it momentarily takes on the form of Johann as a human.
The Stone Giant entrance to Bethmoora – CG Stone Giant, environment extensions and matte paintings:
The stone giant sequence begins with an aerial establishing shot of a CG Antonov aircraft flying over the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland. The ‘cliffs of Antrim’ were all filmed in Hungary and the ocean, cliffs and sky were added as matte elements, throughout the entire sequence. The aerial photography of the Irish coast and the ground based background photography were achieved by a location unit run by Adrian De Wet.
The Double Negative team created the stone giant, and incorporated him into the plates using many effects elements as well as CG simulations of falling and shattering rocks, earth, sod etc. The characters pass through the doorway in the stone giant’s belly and into the Bethmoora, the abandoned city. Double Negative created the Bethmoora environment as a series of matte paintings, which were projected in 3D using full 3D camera moves and composited with the live action greenscreen photography.
The Golden Army chamber and the finale – CG Golden soldiers, CG environments, CG Digi-doubles, CG props and matte paintings: Double Negative designed a fully rigged golden army robot with animated internal machinery, glowing internal firelight, heat distortion and interactive CG steam. Under the direction of Guillermo del Toro, the team pre visualized and animated the entire Golden Army battle.
In order to integrate the robots into the set, elements such as contact shadows and heat reflections were produced. As the robots become damaged during the fight, they release spurts of oil: these were either rendered CG simulations or photographed elements from Double Negative’s element library. As the robots suffer further damage, they lose cogs and machinery, for this a range of “nanotechnology” parts were designed, which littered the floor of the arena as the battle raged, but then later regrouped and reformed into robots as they begin to self-repair. One key moment in the sequence was the “cog-landscape”: as the camera flies underneath the set subterranean world is revealed full of huge, red-hot cogs, foundry embers and steam. This was all rendered 3D.
Another simulated effect was Johann’s smoke: as he exits his costume and takes over a robot, Double Negative designed a “sentient” smoke element, which snakes along the floor and interweaves with a robot, as it going inside and possesses it: to make this identifiable, the internal glow of this robot was made blue, rather than red. After the battle Johann exits the robot and re-enters his costume, to do this Double Negative created a digital double Johann and through a mixture of animation and cloth-simulation created a reinflation effect. Most of the plate photography was greenscreen set with actors, otherwise it was fully CG, or,in the case of the Golden Army awakening sequence, projected matte paintings, with moving atmospheric mist/smoke elements.
Double Negative were awarded the entire visual effects contract for Hellboy II: The Golden Army and from the outset, a key part of the plan due to the size and scale of the project was for the production to allow a certain amount and type of work to be sub-contracted. This enabled the incredibly tight budget to be stretched as much as possible and still maintain the high quality demanded by Del Toro.
Cube FX in Budapest, Hungary were sub-contracted to provide all the Abe eye blinks in the film, this totaled 118 shots of which 60 were shared shots with other facilities. Cube also worked on rig and wire removals for 30 shots on the Butcher guard fight sequence.
Lipsync post, produced by Stefan Drury and supervised by Andy Morley worked on 3 sequences totaling 84 shots and provided monitor inserts, prosthetic suit fixes and CG lances.
The Senate, produced by Sarah Hemsley and supervised by Richard Higham worked on 89 shots, predominantly the Angel of Death sequence in which they supplied CG dust and sand, added shafts of light as well as compositing in the exterior of Bethmoora, which was supplied as a matte painting by Double Negative’s Neil Miller.
Baseblack, produced by Stephen Elson and supervised by Val Wardlaw worked on 28 shots adding eyeblinks to the Shopkeeper character and enhancing the practical map cylinder.
The titles were designed by Matt Curtis, who worked with Mark Masson at Double Negative creating the CG cog landscape, which started life as the existing cog landscape, which was built for the Golden Army chamber sequence. This quickly expanded and grew considerably. These CG passes were composited at Rushes by Jonathon Privett and Hayden Jones.
To help deal with the enormity of the job, the Double Negative team was split into two parts , each with their own production and supervision teams.
Stone Giant, Troll Market & Elemental sequences
Digital Effects Supervisor: Andrew Chapman
VFX Producer: Andy Taylor
VFX Coordinator: Antonella Ferrari
VFX Assistant: Gavin Gregory
Bethmoora, Toothfairies and Golden Army sequence
Digital Effects Supervisors: Adrian De Wet, Justin Martin
VFX Producer: Moriah Sparks
VFX Coordinator: Karen Clarke
VFX Assistant: Darryl Li
These ‘halves’ were then split down into further sequence and skillset based bodies of work. These broke down as follows:
CG Creature teams: CG leads – Hege Berg, Stuart Love, 2D leads – Paul Norris, Trevor Young
Digi doubles team: CG lead – Pieter Warmington.
Elemental Sequence: Animation lead – Colin McEvoy, CG lead – Christophe Ammann, 2D lead – Sean Stranks
Environment team: CG lead – Gawain Liddiard, 2D leads – Astrid Busser-Casas & Claire Inglis.
Golden Army Sequence:
Animation lead – Jay Davis, CG lead – Graham Jack,
2D leads – Jon Bowen & Tom Rolfe. Liz Fire & Johann smoke team:
CG lead – Eugenie Von Tunzelmann,
2D lead – Fred Place.
Props teams: CG lead – Xavier Roig, 2D lead – Jim Steel
Stone Giant Sequence:
CG lead: Andrew Whitehurst, 2D lead – Paul Norris
Toothfairy Sequence: Animation lead – Anders Beer,
CG lead – Brian Kranz,
2D leads – Florian Schroeder, Jolene McCaffrey, Julia Reinhard.
The breakdown worked out as follows in terms of delivered shot count:
* Double Negative – 761 shots
* Cube FX – 88 shots
* Lipsync – 84 shots
* The Senate – 89 shots
* Baseblack – 28 shots
* Cinesite – 340 shots
* Rushes – Title sequence
* Cinesite – 340 shots
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