One of the very insightful presentations given at the recent FMX conference in Stuttgart was by Mikros Image on their 360 visual effects shots for Ghost Recon Alpha, a promo short for the game Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Directed by François Alaux and Hervé de Crécy (Logorama) and produced by Ubisoft Motion Pictures and Little Minx, the short was filmed in 35mm anamorphic in the Czech Republic and features fully CG creations and composited elements.

Production scouted an abandoned metallurgy plant in Vítkovice Ostrava to serve as the location for the film which follows an anonymous team of Ghosts who secure a nuclear device while being ambushed by a group of cloaked troopers. One particular challenge there was the rain – during the 19 day shoot there were 10 days of precipitation with the other days being sunny, a challenge to match in post-production. A massive sail was built to deal with the sun, but it was also very windy and would often blow off.

Tower shot - original plate.
Tower shot - matte painting inserted.
Tower shot - final with graphics overlay.

All of the weapons seen in the short were real, but augmented with digital cartridges and tracer fire. Blood hits were often practical elements. A particular challenge involved creating muzzle flashes and matching those to the frame rate of the film. One key element for the soldiers are the head-up displays on their helmets. On set, the prop master inserted small LED lights into the headset that would be triggered when the screen was showing and so illuminate the area. Mikros then designed readouts, holographic screens and other graphics.

A small US air drone scout is a key piece of weaponry seen in the film, something that went through a number of design iterations. Initially a futuristic-looking machine, plates were filmed with that design in mind, but in post the scout was moved along to something more rotor-driven to provide a more realistic and contemporary approach. Mikros needed to make that new element work in the plates that had been filmed, and also deal with scenes in which it shot down and crashes.

Breakdown images of the scout drone.

In one hair-raising moment on set, the production un-boxed a container that appeared to have a real missile inside (thankfully it was unarmed). For the gun fight, practical bullet hits in the ground were achieved by burying small squibs. And a massive system of piping helped create smoke on the location. Interestingly, occasionally Mikros had to remove eye blinks when one of the Ghost Recon soldiers fired his on-set weapon: “Because he’s a Ghost Recon!”

The signature weapon seen in the film is the Warhound, sent in to destroy the Ghosts. Based originally on real ‘Big Dog’ military hardware, it also went through several design changes, from having legs to wheels and the inclusion of a Gatling gun. Initial tests to work out the speed of the Warhound revealed that it didn’t quite look scary enough, so Mikros slowed its movement down to be more frightening and threatening.

Original plate.
Final shot.

The Warhound was modeled and animated in Maya, with shots tracked in 3D Equalizer, rendered in Arnold and comp’d in Nuke. A couple of the shots featuring the war machine were completely digital. The Warhound meets a watery demise, the splash for which was achieved with a practical buck and many hours of work to line the area like a swimming pool.

Other shots completed by Mikros included an opening scene of a truck driving past camera that ended up being done with CG and matte paintings, and also the invisibility cloak work designed to be just a small extension of what now exists for real. Overall, Mikros relied on 27 artists to complete 360 effects shots – totaling 1200 days of work and taking up three terabytes of disk space.

Watch the full film Ghost Recon Alpha here on Ubisoft’s YouTube channel.

Warhound animation pass.
Textures added.
Added to background.
Final shot with shadow and ground interaction.

Credit List

Based on novels by Tom Clancy
Production: Rhea Scott, Frédéric Thonet
Directors: François Alaux, Hervé De Crécy

Post-production and VFX by Mikros Image
Executive producer: Frédéric Groetschel
Visual Effect Producer: Sarah Cauchois
Head of VFX: Julien Meesters
VFX Supervisor: Antoine Carlon
VFX Supervisor: Nicolas Rey
Character Modeling: Jérôme Martinez,Mathias Barday, Guillaume Ho Tsong Fang
Texture Artists: Olivier Mitonneau, Nicolas Bruchet, Alexandre Sauthier
Tracking – Layout: Yvan Galtié, Lorenzo Veracini, Marie Heine
Lead tracking: Stéphane Richez
Lead Animation: Alexandre Sauthier
Animation: Anne Chatelain, Damien Climent, Eric Prebende, Marie Celaya
SFX: Benjamin Lenfant, Simon Trouillet
Lighting: Mathias Barday, Nicolas Bruchet, Daniel Guimard, Benjamin Lenfant, Henri Derue
Digital Matte Painting: Christophe Courgeau, Alexandre Rouil
Rotoscopy 2D: Estelle Chiron, Sylvette Lavergne
Lead Compositing: Julien Dias
Lead Compositing: Philippe Huberdeau, Erick Hupin, Bathélémy Beaux, Stéphane Stradella, Olivier Blanchet
Compositing – Motion Design: Benjamin Pelletreau, Nathalie Paire, Vincent Venchiarutti
Compositing Teaser: Michael Moercant, Elisa Pretta
Scan: Jean Baptiste Le Guen
Color Grading: Jacky Lefresne, Magali Leonard
I/O Conformation: Thomas Bour
Datalab: Benoit Gille