Atomic Fiction Alien VFX Tech in The Predator

Director Shane Black’s sci-fi action feature “The Predator” may feature a familiar antagonist, but the reboot’s murderous extraterrestrial is packing seriously advanced technology.

Production turned to artists at Method Studios, formerly Atomic Fiction, to help realize key moments featuring the alien technology, including an epic crash landing and high-stakes mid-air battle as well as sophisticated hologram and UI graphics.

Expanding on provided concept art, Method artists designed, modelled and animated the feature’s two main alien aircraft: the Arc ship cargo vessel and the Pursuit ship, built for speed and agility. Artists drew from designs and iconography from the original “Predator” movie, adding a modern look, and also referenced high performance sports cars and military vehicles. The ships’ movements were grounded in physics, with creative variations to support the director’s vision. Design elements from the original feature also informed “The Predator” holograms and UIs.

Artists began with a point cloud aesthetic then pulled in significant text, fonts and features from “Predator,” creating militaristic yet ergonomic designs that would appear too complex for human understanding.While the Predator character was shot practically, its superhuman and invisible-camouflaging abilities were achieved digitally. Method artists augmented the Predator performance, at times inserting a digital double for complex movements that were keyframe animated.

VFX Supervisor Ruslan Borysov led the project for Method along with Creative Director (and Atomic Fiction co-founder) Ryan Tudhope. Borysov said, “There was much discussion about how to convey the Predator’s invisibility and how visible he should be at certain moments. After extensive creative research and collaboration, we came up with a sleek design that was dependent on his velocity; he becomes more visible the faster he accelerates, then is invisible when still. The look of the Predator’s invisibility is iconic so we aimed to add contemporary features but maintain the refraction of the original.” The Predator’s invisibility look is echoed in the Pursuit ship’s force field effect, which Method developed after comprehensive design R&D.

Using a hexagonal pattern as the base, artists then applied precise shading based on the look of bismuth crystals. The concept artist team worked closely with FX and Lighting Leads to fine tune the look. Borysov explained, “The crystals served as one of our main references in designing the force field effect. The sharp lines help indicate advanced technology but at the same time the substance is still organic with imperfections and rich iridescent refraction.”To help streamline the creation of the Arc ship’s crash landing, the team first animated the ship’s movement throughout the full sequence, instead of following a traditional shot-by-shot approach.

Establishing this baseline gave artists helpful reference for maintaining a consistent animation trajectory. Method also built an expansive 50 km/sq full CG environment populated with rivers, mountains and forests to provide the filmmakers with extensive creative freedom in determining and changing camera movement, location and framing. With most of the shots computer generated except for a handful of plates, artists were careful to match practical photography.

Employing randomized and procedural tactics, artists populated the sequence with photoreal foliage and developed a pipeline for those assets to interact with the ship as it plows into the ground, seamlessly blending with in-camera footage. “Ultimately VFX is a storytelling tool and our aim for ‘The Predator’ was to make the practical and rendered environments and elements match perfectly so that viewers are immersed in the story, regardless of how the action escalates,” Borysov noted.

“We have a lot of Predator fans on our team so working on this project was quite special and great fun.”Method also created the action-packed and FX-heavy dogfight sequence featuring two F-22 stealth fighters battling the Predator Arc ship, as well as a CG Hubble Space Telescope and the opening sequence’s dark matter portal, which was designed by Method concept artists.