The 5 step zombie plan: Warm Bodies

Despite going up against the Super Bowl on opening weekend, the Jonathan Levine-directed Warm Bodies held its own at the box office and continues to find an audience. The zombie apocalypse romantic comedy included substantial creature animation from Look Effects for the ‘Boneys’ – in fact the film was Look’s first foray into major character work which was handled at its new facility in Vancouver. We break down the steps Look took to bring the Boneys to life.

Watch a scene with the Boneys from Warm Bodies.

Step 1 – creature pipeline

In order to realize the Boneys, an evolved form of zombie that plague humanity, Look Effects – under visual effects supervisor Dan Schreker – first needed to establish an animation pipeline and toolset. The studio hired pipeline TDs for the Vancouver office to create automated tools, eventually settling on a workflow of modeling in ZBrush, texturing in MARI, animating in Maya, rendering in V-Ray and compositing in Nuke.

The Boneys skin had to look almost like beef jerky.
Step 2 – shooting scenes on-set

Filming took place in Montreal where Boneys sequences were acquired in several ways. One was with stunt doubles performing scenes in gray suits that would later be replaced by Look. Another was simply by shooting empty plates. On-set visual effects supervisor Everett Burrell also captured HDRs and gray and chrome ball imagery for lighting reference.

Step 3 – creating Boneys

Meanwhile, Look Effects took art department concepts of the Boneys – designed to be somewhat less gory than traditional zombies – and began the 3D and texture translations. “While we were setting up the new facility,” says Look’s digital effects supervisor Mathew Krentz, “we actually had an artist – our modeling and texturing lead – basically working on the creature at home while we were getting things up and running. The direction we were given was that their skin had to look like beef jerky. There was a dry gritty feel to it.” A further effort also took place to build the creature rigs and deformation setups in order to animate the Boneys.

Step 4 – animating Boneys
Fight scenes like this one made use of gray-suited doubles for reference, and final animation from Look Effects.

Initially, motion capture was used to obtain the general movement of the CG creatures. However, upon looking at the initial results it was determined the movements captured were somewhat jerky and erratic. “That made them look too frail and weak,” says Krentz, “so our animation supe Neil Lim Sang made sure the animators put more force into the animation for strong movement via keyframes. It made them feel more menacing.”

Fight sequences incorporated the gray-suited doubles, but were also realized on occasion with the on-set actors performing against nothing. For wide crowd scenes, Look used the Golaem Crowd plugin for Maya.

Step 5 – putting the Boneys in the world
Part of the camera move from zombie encampment to human enclave, created by Look Effects.

In the film, humans take shelter in a special walled enclave, while the zombies have their own encampment. Look Effects was called upon for several wide shots that told the story of the result of the zombie apocalypse, including one long camera move that zoomed from the zombie encampment to the human ‘green zone’. “For that we created a full city of 15-20 blocks,” explains Krentz, “and began with a live action plate that travels across the fallen part of the city and into another live action plate. We used the onset photography and had geo in Maya and had a photogrammetry approach to re-projecting the scene to get the move.”

Images and clips copyright © 2013 Summit Entertainment.