Before Wonder Woman was joining forces with Batman and others in her “League”, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, the fictitious all-female sanctuary of Themyscira was created by the Gods of Olympus. DNeg was responsible for much of Themyscira. Their work merged with MPC, who did the beach fight and the iconic No Man’s Land sequence which marked the first major reveal of DC’s strongest superhero character and, more importantly, major lead female superhero: Wonder Woman.
The film was directed by Patty Jenkins, with DOP Matthew Jensen, and overall visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer (Life of Pi, Warcraft).
DNeg finding the island
DNeg VFX Supervisor for the film was Alex Wuttke with VFX Producer, Ken Dailey. DNeg Canada completed 301 shots in Vancouver, 250 of which were on the island (with the remainder being scattered shots such as gas to face effects). DNeg London also contributed a large amount of visual effects starting when our heroes get to London and then the final battle at the airfield.
When designing an island, it is handy to know where the island is, yet in the case of Themyscira, that remains a mystery not only to Steve Trevor and the Germans but also to the audience. While the Island is hidden from view by some form of magic, it is close enough to travel by boat to England, and fly to from the mainland bomb making facility. With no known latitude, it is hard to reference any particular vegetation or coast line for the vfx of the Island.
The design of the Themyscira was a mixture of several locations, from China to Italy. The mythical island starts off as southern Italy (beach), then merges to the Mediterranean landscape of the Amalfi Coast. From here it is protected by ring of beautiful, tall standing, islets – inspired by limestone Islets of Ha Long Bay. For the higher altitudes of Themyscira, DNeg introduced the mountains of China’s De Hang region of Guangxi. Blending these together was a vast amount of CG trees, grass and multiple water falls, some stepped, some tall and dramatic, inspired from those found in Hawaii. The city of Matera, provided a fantastic backdrop to most of the inner city of Themyscira, of which Dneg were able to augment and build upon.
The director, Patty Jenkins choose these Chinese mountains as a key part of the reference. Bill Westenhofer and a crew traveled through China gathering reference that DNeg could use. Dneg returned to the region for a full photography reference shoot, providing essential references used by both Build and Environments Teams.
There were about seven different environments in Themyscira which ranged from fully digital wide shots to set extensions, such as around the training grounds, a public square and the docks. Even in seemingly live action or in camera fight training sequences, large amounts of VFX were used, from additional grass being added to compositing into the background additional Stunt actors (Shot on green screen in the studio), rig removal and adding in all the otherwise dangerous spears, arrows and swords.
For the fight training, DNeg had to match Gal to two stunt actresses. The scans of the Gal Gadot and her two stunt doubles were shared assets with MPC. The initial scans were done by MPC, and DNeg could share most assets, but the two companies can not share rigs, so DNeg rebuilt their own version. The final version of all the DNeg effects, including the digital doubles, were rendered in Clarisse. All but some of their fluids, specifically the night time ocean, was via Clarisse, with the water being rendered in Mantra. DNeg uses Clarisse as more than just a renderer. The team uses it very much as a scene assembly and lookdev tool, in place of some other solutions such as Katana+RenderMan for example. The team point to Clarisse’s instancing and ability to handle vast amounts of data as the driving reasons for their wide scale adoption. All the grass and foliage on the island is instanced geometry for example, so there was very little need for matte painting or projection maps.
Doing head and face replacements are always complex, but the costume of Diana on the island and the other Amazon warriors was particularly challenging as the costume does not come up very high on the stunt women. While the industry normally refers to face replacement when discussing stunt work, the term misrepresents what is being done. Normally it is full head replacement and this can often extend down the neck, and in the case of the Amazonian Warriors such as Diana, this mean right down to include parts of the shoulder.
Because of the amount of stunt work, Gal was doubled by two women who were close, but not perfect matches for Gal Gadot. One stunt double had a shorter neck than Gal, while the other was somewhat slimmer and less built and so needed additional body work to pass as Diana. The stunt actresses had tracking markers on their faces and a lot of reference photography taken at each location. One stunt replacement was particularly complex. The younger teenage Diana was also doubled by a stunt woman, but as it was only for one scene, the team decided to not make a full digital 3D asset, instead they replaced the stunt womans face using just still photography alone as projected stills in Nuke. Even tracking the actress was complex enough, but then the team had to hand animate the stills into an actual performance. Luckily, the shots did not require much head turning, but in some cases the team had to transition from one projected face to another during a motion blurred hand full of frames as Diana quickly turned.
Normally the double’s hair could be used, and so most of the stunt work of this type involved shoulder, neck and face replacement. To blend with the braids and hair of the stuntwoman, the compositors skillfully warped and blended to make the hair look naturally around Gal’s face, but still retain the natural motion and sweeping arc the hair does during such complex gymnastic stunt work. In terms of the body, Diana’s leather strap across her shoulder was often used as the blend line on Gal’s left… but on her right side the compositors had bare visible skin from her hair down to her wrist, with little or no places to hide joints or seam lines.
The project ran for 14 months At DNeg and over that time some 150 staff worked on the project, with about 80 at any one time. As the principle photography was over the northern winter, the sequences at the start of the film on Themyscira was filmed at the end of the main shoot. The main Italian shot was in April 2016 with the final shots turned over in June and DNeg delivered in March of 2017.
MPC on the Island
MPC completed 500 action packed shots for Wonder Woman, working closely with director Patty Jenkins and Production VFX Supervisor Bill Westenhofer.
The team led by VFX Supervisor Jessica Norman worked on sequences included the beach battle, No Man’s Land and the Veld town sequence. The visual effects work included hero digital characters, crowd simulations, destruction simulations and environment extensions.
MPC’s assets team built digital double characters for the movie including a hero build of Wonder Woman in two different costumes. MPC’s R&D team developed new controls for hair simulations to be able to maintain the shape and style of Wonder Woman’s hair in these action packed scenes. Artists also built hero Antiope, Hippolyta, 9 Amazonian warriors, horses and 4 German soldiers in 2 different outfits and a variety of props and weapons.
The Beach battle sequence was shot on the west coast of Italy, across two beaches. MPC’s environment artists extended the beach and added cliff backdrops. A shoot team undertook extensive photo shoots at Vignanotica beach and along the east coast of Italy for cliff textures and reference material. Cliffs and islands were lit and rendered by MPC’s lighting team with DMP touch ups.
MPC’s concept art team created designs for the protective barrier that surrounds Themyscira, using references of refractions, diamonds, light and colour. FX simulations and animated distorted surfaces combined with multiple layers in compositing were brought together to complete the look.
MPC’s crowd and animation teams worked together to extend the action on the beach, using motion capture reference material shot at MPC London, performed and choreographed by the stunt team. They then built a CG crowd to extend the fighting action between the Germans and Amazonians.
A handful of key shots were filmed in London on green screen stages on a horse shaped robo moco rig. The shots included hero horses, face replacements, CG environments, numerous FX layers and crowd fight action.
The No Man’s Land sequence was shot at Leavesden studios in the UK. This is the first time the audience sees Wonder Woman’s iconic outfit as she walks from the trenches towards the enemy. MPC extended the large muddy field with a variety of CG and live action elements to build up to a crescendo of enemy fire, including sparks, tracer fire, smoke and ground impact.
Once out of the trenches in Veld town, we see Wonder Woman take on the German soldiers and artillery. In the sequence practical and CG effects blend seamlessly. Wonder woman picks up a CG tank and throws it as she continues to fight off the enemy. A mix of brilliant stunt action was mixed with photo real CG character work, face replacements, and takeovers, environment extensions and various FX layers.
MPC also created Wonder Woman’s glowing lasso which was hand animated, with additional simulations created by the technical animation team. In the final part of the sequence, MPC’s FX team destroyed a church as a CG Wonder woman jumps to take out a sniper sitting at the top. MPC’s FX team used Houdini to break the church and added multiple layers of smoke and debris. The FX team also blew up a CG bridge for the sequence, this time using MPCs proprietary tool Kali.