We explore the complex environments and weird and wonderful characters created by Method Studios for Lana and Andy Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending.Watch Method's vfx breakdown for Jupiter Ascending.
Orous, the origin of mankind, is a complex environment that involves the traveling through a wormhole gate, countless planets, moons and rings of creatures, habitats, satellites and junk accumulated over time. Method jumped on board the design for Orous early with VFX designer John Gaeta and the production’s art department. Principal concept artists were Philippe Gaulier and Olivier Pron.
Overall VFX supervisor Dan Glass, also Method’s CCO, noted that the designs were intended to have the look of European cities. “The directors wanted to create a world that in the story is far more ancient than our home so they wanted to find a way of portraying that,” he says. “Typically, a lot of science fiction creates these future looking world and they have a lot of similar or consistent looking palettes across that. They felt this is unrealistic - that actually these cities really evolve in a more incremental way and you get this vast juxtaposition of different architectural styles.”
Method’s VFX environments work, then, took this into account during the production of digital matte paintings, CG geometry and generating the tons of necessary detail. “It was designed to look like the birth place of the human race and millions of years old,” says Glass. “We wanted it to have particular clutter that in a way that assaults your mind - with a variety of things.”
Another of Method’s environments was Kalique’s planet. “Our concept artists approached that like a plateau with these huge waterfalls that drip into this open basin,” explains Method visual effects supervisor Simon Carr. “Then where the water has eroded out it has left these tall pinnacles, and the palace is built in that. It was a projected environment. We built a simple landscape in Maya, and that went back to World Builder and Vue to make textures and erode the rock in a realistic way.”
“The lower sections are rougher,” adds Carr. “The two buildings that were combined to influence it were the Natural History Museum in London and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. There’s a lot of elaborate tiling.”
Amongst the many characters Method helped create was Advocate Bob, who has a very human face but otherwise robotic features. “The character of Advocate Bob is to guide Jupiter through reams of bureaucracy when she learns who she is - there’s a whole Gilliamesque world that she has to negotiate,” says Carr. “It’s not obvious how much of him is human or not, because he has gloves. And then the back of his face and head is mechanical. It has some elements of steampunk, but also fiber optics with lots of gears and things.”
“The actor’s performance really drove the character that was able to be added,” continues Carr. “He has little gear mechanisms where his ears would be - they were used to really express whether he was agitated or calm or surprised. The actor on set had some silver make-up to indicate roughly where the robot elements would be, but it was really simple and we actually had to remove quite a lot of his actual head, clean up the plate behind him and then insert the CG over the top.”
Another robot character Method worked on was Gemma Chatterjee, a cybernetic Aegis officer. “She has a human face, human hands, but we replaced the back of her head with robot elements,” notes Carr. “That was more futuristic because it had a plastic shiny texture to it. It had a lot of LED lights inside it. We replaced her neck and collar on her costume. Once the back of her head had been defined, it looked quite beautiful. And then the collar that was on the costume felt a little bit bulky, so that was slimmed down. We also replaced her wrists with robot wrists. She was wearing a rubber suit and occasionally that got wrinkled so we cleaned that up by smoothing that out.”
Nesh, a human / elephant hybrid required prosthetic replacement. “On set, the actor wore a prosthetic,” says Carr. “We had to model and match the look of the prosthetic with our trunk then animate and light it to blend in - added in extra wiggling and furrowing of brow.”
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