CAPTAIN MARVEL: NICK CREW – VFX SUPERVISOR – SCANLINE VFX

Last year, Nick Crew explained the work of Scanline VFX on TOMB RAIDER. He then worked on THE MEG.

How did you and Scanline VFX get involved on this show?
Scanline had previously worked with Chris Townsend on GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 and IRON MAN 3, and he was interested at bringing us on board. He specifically had the ASIS crash landing sequence in mind, given our history with complex FX simulations.

How was the collaboration with directors Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck and VFX Supervisor Christopher Townsend?
On this project we worked almost entirely through Chris, and that collaboration was very positive, creatively open, and a lot of fun.

What was their expectations and approach about the visual effects?
Early on in the project, Chris gave us a detailed overview of where the filmmakers wanted to go with our sequences as it related to the story and overall film. He also downloaded to us on a broad stroke idea of what he wanted with various effects work and asset design. From that point on, Chris really allowed us a sandbox to creatively explore before coming back and presenting our ideas.

How did you organize the work with your VFX Producer?
Early on, Ryan Flick (VFX Producer) and I plotted out the schedule including assets, key creative milestones, and shot production. We had an amazing production staff that helped us stick to those dates which made all the difference in how the work turned out.

What are the sequences made by Scanline VFX?
Most of our work occurs during the ASIS Dogfight, the ensuing crash landing, and Carol’s energy absorption.

Can you explain in detail about the creation of the ASIS plane and its environment?
We received the previs model, along with a few concept images of the ASIS from Marvel early on in production. In addition, a partial set was built out for the crash site. With these pieces as a starting point, we further fleshed out the details we needed using aircrafts like the SR-71 Blackbird as inspiration.

One unique challenge with the ASIS came from the Tesseract-like power supply and exhaust signature the aircraft needed to have. We ended up combing back through the marvel films and deciding what percentage of this energy we should include, versus how much we should base these effects on a more traditional jet wash.

The ASIS dogfight environment began with a variety of aerial photography that was gathered around the crash site environment. From that material we augmented with a combination of matte paintings, volumetric clouds, and USDS terrain surveys rendered inside of Terragen.

Can you tell us more about the crash landing?
The crash landing was definitely the most technically demanding part of our work. Early on, we realized going 100% digital would be the only way to go, given the extent to which the cameras needed to move, and the amount of destruction that would need to occur. Adding to the complexity, we needed to seamlessly match back into plates with pre-established debris configurations, spot fires, and smoke. Harry Mukhopadhy, our DFX Supervisor, did a fantastic job helping to technically organize and execute this part of the sequence. To accomplish this, we used partial location LIDAR, USDS terrain surveys, and photography, to rebuild a large portion of Shaver Lake digitally. Once built, we utilized IDV SpeedTree, Flowline, and cebas thinkingParticles to execute the FX work.

Can you explain in detail about the beautiful slow motion shots when Carol receive the energy?
These were definitely the most creatively demanding in Scanline’s scope of work. Early on, Chris made it clear that the filmmakers were after a unique, signature look for Carol’s energy absorption that had never been seen before. Probably the biggest challenge of this sequence were the varying angles you witness this event unfold.

Ultimately a lot of the design of this moment was done by Look Development lead Cameron Thomas and FX lead Ivan Pruvlj. Since this effect needed to be heavily art directed, Cameron and I would take key shots in the sequence, and concept out a beginning, middle, and end frame that informed the path, amount, and look of this energy event. Because we needed to tell the story of the energy moving toward, wrapping around, and being absorbed by Carol, there was a great deal of per shot design to make sure we told the right story. We would present these concepts to the filmmakers, and after talking through them with Chris, Ivan would spear head designing them in motion.

How was filmed this slow-motion shots?
The elements of Carol were filmed with Phantom Flex cameras on blue screen, utilizing high frame rates to greatly slow her motion. We ended up digitally taking over most of the backgrounds in the sequence for FX and interactive lighting purposes, but there were a handful of beautiful macro-photography plates that Chris shot on the Phantom. For those macro shots, we ended up trying to preserve the plate as much as we could, delicately augmenting with additional CG debris, dust, and energy.

Can you tell us more about the digital double creation?
We ended up building Lawson, and modifying already existing versions of Vers and Yon Rogg. Our Modeling Supervisor Matt Bullock headed up modeling efforts and Jami Gigot textured and shaded, utilizing scans and texture photography from Industrial Pixel.

How did you handle the FX animation?
Our FX lead Ivan Pruvlj helped oversee our really strong FX team, including FX animation. It was a very iterative process, where we went through a lot of variations before successfully arriving at the speed, scale, and timing seen in the film.

Did you received specific indications and references for the FX energy?
Since the ASIS draws it’s energy from the Tesseract, we initially looked at Tesseract events in previous Marvel films. With that said, Chris and the filmmakers wanted this event to have a powerful, unique signature that had never been seen before so very quickly it became art directed and unique to this event.

Can you tell us more about your work on the flashbacks?
We ended up doing a variety of work on her flashbacks, including the opening dream sequence, and the ‘Mindfrack’ sequence.

In the opening, Vers is having a dream about a crash landing, but the filmmakers wanted us to disguise her costume, the figure approaching, as well as the environment. These moments ended up going through a few sets of creative revisions, to further disguise the scene and also to redesign the environment. We ended up arriving on a large-scale Kree battle, which ended up being a lot of fun to design.

For the ‘Mindfrack’ sequence, we ended up doing a variety of aerial shots where Carol and Lawson are evading the Kree Fighter. This sequence is really about the Skrulls searching through Vers’s memories in order to try and extract information, so the filmmakers wanted to capture that in our work. To accomplish this, we played around with optical and lensing treatments that helped sell this idea, but still kept it in a photographic reality.

Which sequence or shot was the most challenging?
I believe the ASIS core explosion, followed by Carol absorbing the energy was definitely the most challenging sequence. Planning, designing, and executing this work was a heavy undertaking, but also the most rewarding experience on the show.

What is your favorite shot or sequence?
I am really proud of all of Scanline’s work on this film. If I had to pick one sequence, it would have to be the ASIS core explosion, followed by Carol absorbing it’s energy.

What is your best memory on this show?
I have a lot of great memories I will walk away from this show with — both from working with our team here at Scanline but also from collaborating with Chris and the filmmakers. If I had to pick one, it would probably be stepping onto set the first week on Shaver Lake and taking in the scale and scope that the filmmakers were going for. That experience really set the tone for the rest of the film for me and our crew at Scanline.

How long have you worked on this show?
I was personally involved on this film for about 10 months.

What’s the VFX shots count?
We ended up working on right around 200 shots on this film.

What was the size of your team?
The size of our team was probably right around 60 artists and production people.

What is your next project?
My current focus isn’t show-specific. I’m taking on a new roll as Creative Director, so I will have a hand in multiple projects, helping oversee things on a facility level across all our studios.

A big thanks for your time.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Scanline VFX: Official website of Scanline VFX.

© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2019