Summary

  • The GOTG Vol. 3 visual effects team discusses the process of transforming Rocket from a four-legged creature to a two-legged one, using real raccoon references and a blend shape technique.
  • The team highlights the importance of incorporating the performances of Sean Gunn and Bradley Cooper in animating Rocket, emphasizing the actors’ emotions and movements.
  • The design and creation of the Orgoscope, a unique and challenging organic space station, required finding a balance between the grotesque design and its role in intimate dialogue scenes with the actors.



Peter Quill is in the midst of a downward spiral mourning the loss of Gamora as the Guardians attempt to take care of him and their home on Knowhere in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. However, secrets from Rocket’s past make him a target and threaten the universe as a whole. Peter and the other Guardians then pull together to save their friend and once again protect the galaxy in 2023’s biggest MCU crowd-pleaser, which is now an Academy Awards nominee for Best Visual Effects.


James Gunn returned to Marvel as writer and director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, his swan song, before taking over DC. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Sean Gunn, and Maria Bakalova return, reprising their roles. Joining the MCU are Chukwudi Iwuji and Will Poulter as the High Evolutionary, and Adam Warlock.


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Screen Rant interviewed the visual effects team Stephane Ceretti, Guy Williams, Theo Bialek, and Alexis Wajsbrot about their Oscar-nominated work on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. They explained creating Rocket’s look, including the evolution from a raccoon to his more humanistic elements, incorporating aspects of Cooper and Sean Gunn’s performances. They also discussed Groot’s new design and bringing new characters to life in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.


Stephane Ceretti, Guy Williams, Theo Bialek & Alexis Wajsbrot Talk GOTG Vol. 3


Screen Rant: Congratulations for the nomination, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 absolutely deserves it. It’s one of the best Marvel movies that we’ve seen in modern history, but this is really Rocket’s movie. Let’s talk about this for a second, because can you guys talk about turning Rocket from a four-legged more animalistic creature into a two-legged one in the course of Guardians of Galaxy Vol 3? And that’s for any of you guys.


Stephane Ceretti: Well, I’m Steph. I’m the Visual Effects Supervisor for Marvel, but I think the right person to ask the question to is Alexei, because Alexei at Framestore was in charge of all the flashback sequences, actually.

Alexis Wajsbrot: Yeah. Well, we knew very early on that was the heart of the story. It was going to be a Rocket story. Steph and James told us that it was very, very important. So there were some design done by Marvel studio of Rocket at different age. Of course, they were just sketches. So they’re not yet far from being PhotoReal. And then there were a shot as well with different sizes. So we knew the different size and how many different variations of Rocket we needed to hit, and we felt that the starting point would be definitely, we have Rocket adult, let’s build Rocket, the real Rocket. So the runt basically when it’s fully PhotoReal animal. And then let’s start, see if we can learn when we have these two.

So we first casted a real raccoon, which actually Steph had on Guardians I. So it’s a very old photograph and series of videos that Steph had shot with James and a very, very cute little runt. And we used that as a reference because everyone loved it since Guardians I. So we used that as a reference to build the runt. So we built it and make sure that it was as PhotoReal as possible.

And then there is this very early, this very first shot in the movie where you transition from the runt to the adult Rocket, and we said, “Well, I’m sure we could learn a ton by doing this blend shape and seeing how they transform and seeing what could we learn about how his shoulders are created, how he stands.” We did create a blend shape, and surprisingly to us it was really, really useful because we snapshot at the different size that Steph and James choose, and we already had an evolution in the facial feature from a real raccoon, a runt to Rocket raccoon because we had that asset.

So we learned a lot about that. Then we had to groom all of them making different variation of the groom, because we know that at a very small edge, the raccoons have quite different groom where it’s a lot less dense and it’s brighter because there were different variations. So we did all of that. And then there were a huge task about the implants because the implants not only well need to be there, but they needed also to serve the story.

They were there for a reason. It was to help the progress of the shoulder being a character also to bite it or to help stretching the legs to help extruding the thumb, all of that. So that’s how we design the implants. And the implants are very big and extruded as a small age because that’s where they need to do all the work and then they are slightly smaller, closer to his skin when he is older.

But all of that, of course, went through different phases of design and concept and feedback. But it was, as you can imagine, one of the most important aspects of the movie. So a lot of love and then a lot of love in animation. How do we animate him as a baby versus as an adult, and what do we need to take from Sean and Bradley as a young age versus older.

So obviously we know that the raccoon emotes a bit less because it’s an animal, so he does not smile or stuff like that. So we try to make it a bit more subtle at a young age and of course, he’s more and all fours, and the older he gets, the more straight, the more great he is. Even adult Rocket is a bit bent because he’s still an animal. So lots and lots of research to find the right balance for all of these versions.


I was going to ask you about finding the right balance between Baby Rocket, who’s more animalistic, and then seeing him evolve to Sean Gunn’s body performance and Bradley Cooper’s facial performance. But that’s such a fantastic answer.


Alexis Wajsbrot: But I think if I can just add, I think that when he is older, I think I just want to add that yes, animators are doing a lot and we are looking at raccoon reference. We are looking at all real animals, but I think we are also constantly looking. And the one thing that Seth and James wanted in our animation submission was not the real animal reference, was mostly Sean Gunn reference as a stunt male and Bradley Cooper, and trying to make sure on every shot that we get the right level of emotion and we understand what Bradley and Sean were trying to do as actors. And even if we don’t mock up or roto-stop the performance, we need to make sure we emphasize the right point of emotion. We tell exactly the same story though. I just wanted to emphasize how important the actors are into the process of creating Rocket raccoon.


nathan fillion and chris pratt in the orgoscope of guardians of the galaxy vol. 3


I do want to talk about the Orgoscope because it’s so beautiful and such a cool thing that I’ve never seen anything like that before. Can we talk about the design process and creating the Orgoscope and bringing that to life in Guardians Vol 3?


Stephane Ceretti: Theo, you can talk about it because Imagework was in charge of it.

Theo Bialek: Yeah, the thing about working on a James Gunn film is that the amount of tension he puts into the pre-production and the concepts is it really holds true all the way through the film, which is a huge benefit for doing the VFX because instead of trying to figure out all the answers, we were really just trying to implement and improve on what the design is. So I would say when you look at the original concept of the space station, which is really strange, and then our final result, which is also really strange, it’s pretty close from a distance, but it was still a big challenge.

Just technically to realize that was difficult just because it’s an organic station and the scale of it is so large to render those types of things computationally very hard to do in the computer just with the fact that you have all the subsurface scattering and reflectance that you’ve got to deal with on such a large scale.

But then artistically, we knew what it looked like. We had a few concepts, so we knew it from far away, but we had a lot of shots where there’s a lot of intimate dialogue between the characters and to sort of take that grotesque design and to realize it in a way that wasn’t overly distracting, but was just the right mix and right foil to the seriousness of the conversation with the actors. It was a pretty steep learning curve.

Like, “Oh no, we can’t put this weird organ over here because it’s going to pull your eye too much and it’s too gross, but if you take away too much stuff than it’s not gross enough.” Finding that right sort of squishiness to the ground and then right amount of gas coming out, it was a pretty big iterative process of trying things and figuring out what worked.

I would say in dealing with those very fantastic environments, the thing that we learned was you try to find something that you can relate to in the real world. So in an environment, you’ve got foreground, mid-ground and background elements that you can help with your composition, like little rocks in the foreground or bushes or trees in the mid-ground, and then like a vista of rocks or mountain in the background.

We would try to find the equivalent organic object that would represent those pieces and put those in the scenes so that at least things felt a little bit more relatable, even though it was a very strange environment.


The High Evolutionary sitting with a 3D model of a GOTG Vol. 3 creature


Guy, with Weta being known for pioneering digital creatures or characters, can you walk us through the process of bringing to life any new characters in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3?


Guy Williams: Oh, wow. Geez, that’s a challenging one. We all, the way the story is set up, we all kind of share each other’s characters a lot. There weren’t too many characters that Weta worked on solely or that Sunny worked on solely. Probably one of the characters that we worked on solely was, in the in tag when the new Guardians are being introduced to the audience, Groot’s nowhere to be seen, but it turns out that Rocket is actually sitting kind of on Groot and Groot’s just sort of lying there with his back to camera, and he looks like a giant rock, just figuring that out. But there wasn’t anything too terribly, dramatically new in the way we approached that as opposed to any of the other groups we had done. Yeah, wow, that’s a tricky one.

It is probably less about any amazing technology that went into any one single character and more about the fact that every single character that we had to do had to be in continuity with everything else that every other company was doing as well, which comes down to a testament to Steph’s efforts on the show to make sure that we’re all, as we’re building up what we’re working on, that it all sort of fits into the theme of what the other companies are doing.

And more importantly, it fits into the theme of what James has in his mind, because James is the one that’s coming up with all these fantastical permutations, these fantastical visualizations of how these characters come together. So it’s a sort of choreography of trying to make sure that we’re all working together on the same page.

Stephane Ceretti: You know what? I’d say one thing you guys had to do, which was even though Groot was actually made by Framestore in Montreal initially, you guys had to come up with all the stuff that Groot does when he fights the people in the Arete, you know when he opens his body and there’s all these guns that come out of him, and then he transforms into a flying Groot and all these things.

So there was a lot of R&D you guys had to do to figure these moments out because there’s a bit of cheating happening with the scale of his body and what he can actually hide inside his body and all that stuff. So it’s not necessarily exciting new technology, but it was requiring a lot of thinking, trying to get that to work, work with the action, work with what James said in his head, and being able to translate it into something visually compelling.

Guy Williams: No, that’s funny. You’re talking about the octo-Groot scene. Yeah, you’re right. There’s the artistic approach and then there’s the technical approach. The artistic approach being that he’s got all this stuff, he’s got six guns, or sorry, eight guns plus Star-Lord’s two guns, and they don’t fit inside of his body. So you’re doing this thing where since we’re seeing them from the back, they’re all sticking out the front, but then he pulls them back out the back. So there’s a lot of little cheats that you do in there to make that work.

But then from a technical standpoint, because all that doesn’t fold back into a single, it’s not what Groot was built to be. Like all the arms are just individual, their own little creatures that you sort of weld onto the back of Groot and then you use little trickery to hide their joints. Yeah, no, those are little moments that you get to put into a film, but they’re all really fun to work on. It’s all fun stuff to sort of figure out and how to visualize in a really cool way.


adult Groot hovering over unconscious Rocket on surgery table in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3


Alexei, in terms of technical advancements, how has the visual effects process evolved since the last Guardians movie and how has that impacted your work on this latest installment?


Alexis Wajsbrot: Well, visual effects evolves constantly all the time. And what we are able to do is, and actually what is weird is our render time are still very slow. And why is that? Because the technology is progressing really fast, but we are asking to do more and more and more to our computers. So basically instead of rendering 50 animals together, we are now going to render 600 animals running with the Arete spaceship exploding in the background. And all of that needs to be photo real.

And so all our lighting is more physically plausible than it was before because our renderers are smarter and there is more rays of light and all of that making everything looking better, but it’s still a go-to render because we are putting so much more into what we ask. And even in term of number of chart, in term of number of facets, in terms of everything.

For us at [inaudible 00:13:06] London, we were very much involved in the backstory of Rocket where you have this cool hero, full CG character, and there’s a lot and lot of close-up and some extreme close-up on the eye. And so actually, we were going into the detail of simulating the water into the eye just to make sure that it’s right and doing variations.

So basically we are capable of now doing that much more with the amount of time that we are, but basically it’s still extremely busy and it still feels that at the end of the day, what matters the most is not that much the technology, it’s not that much the tool, which is all helpful, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the animator that spends hours and hours making it right.

The lighter that is going to make sure that the thing in the eye is just where it needs to be. The simulation of the stimulation of the fur that is correct, but it collides with the right thing and all of that. And actually there was one thing as well on the cages is we put lots and lots of debris on the ground because I think it comes from the production designer-

Stephane Ceretti: It comes from our set decorator. And I went on the set when we’re setting up the cages and which we scan and replicate it as 3D assets. And she looked at me and said, “Steph, you’re going to hate me because I’ve put all these little debris in the thing.” I said, “No, I love you actually, because thanks for putting these in there because we can have all our CG characters interact with it, and it makes it look so much more real, you know? And it makes it looks like a real space, like a real place.”

You think the animals would be in that place and it would be dirty and they would be dirty and they would have to just hit these things. And that’s one thing I want to really talk about is that there has been a lot of backlash about CGI lately, as you know, and I think your outlet has been talking about that quite a bit.

I think it’s important to say that on this film, people, the reaction of the people was like, “Oh my God, a CGI raccoon made me cry.” For once they didn’t use CGI as a bad thing. They were so surprised that actually CGI can make them cry, that they were like, it’s not used as, this is a bad thing because it’s CGI. And I think our film is just the testament that having all these great artists working really hard, but loving it, loving it, because there’s so much love that has been poured into that last episode or last story that we were talking about telling. It’s CGI, but it’s good. It’s good. People can really relate to it when it’s well-made and there’s been a lot of heart into it, and CGI is not a bad word. It’s a good word when it’s done right and directed by someone who knows how to use it. So that’s just what I wanted to say. It’s important for us that people recognize that.

Guy Williams: I was just going to say, you bring up a really good point. Movie-making is one giant cheat. It’s not like you go out and you take two hours and you shoot your two-hour movie. Everything about the movie-making processes is all this trickery to create this beautiful narrative story. CGI is just the latest version of trickery that’s been added to the equation. It’s just another tool for all the creatives to come together and put the process together.


Steph, I actually wanted to ask you about your approach to balancing practical effects with CGI. Were there any scenes where the blend was particularly critical, and what have you learned from your experience on this last film of Guardians of the Galaxy that you’re going to take with you into Superman: Legacy?


Stephane Ceretti: Well, James likes to shoot stuff, and so it’s not just this practical effects, it’s the practical sets. It’s the practical stunts. And I think everybody, because of James’ input, was really aware that, “Okay, we know we are going to have a lot of CG in the film, but also we’re going to have James. James is very keen on balancing all this.” Also, in terms of the makeup, all the people on Counter-Earth were made by Legacy Effects, and they did a ton of work on the film. And the reason why was that James wanted us to focus on what we can do the best, and for other people to focus on what they can do the best. So, we built gigantic sets, like Knowhere. The Bowie is a full three-level set.

The OrgoScope interior was a huge set as well, and stunts were really trying to get us as much as possible. We did some of the best wire work we’ve done on this film, and there’s actually people that we usually would replace as soon as they leave the ground that we actually kept for much longer because the stunt team was really good at wire work. And so it’s all these things and embracing the reality of the way James wants to film stuff with this camera, with this tiny camera that he’s using on these shows, and we’re bringing that to what we’re doing now.

It’s all about embracing the physicality of things and augmenting it and just making sure that everybody can sing. We all sing together, the practical and the digital, and we all blend. And the oner is a huge example of the blending of all these techniques and everything singing together, because you can’t tell at what time there’s digital doubles and what time the set is actually real. Sometimes it’s not real, but you can never tell because we keep changing things and we keep shooting. We’ve shot everything, but we’ve augmented everything, and that’s where it works the best.

About Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Rocket looking scared while piloting GOTG Vol. 3 ship


In the final chapter of the trilogy, the Guardians of the Galaxy are adjusting to life on Knowhere while Peter Quill is still reeling from the loss of Gamora. When a new threat from Rocket’s past resurfaces, Peter rallies the Guardians to save one of their own and once again protect the universe. However, failure could mean the end of the Guardians of the Galaxy.


Check out our other Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 interviews here:




Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3

is now available on Disney+, 4K Ultra HD™, Blu-ray™, and DVD.


Source: Screen Rant Plus


Guardians Vol 3 sb poster

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

The conclusion to the trilogy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, will see the Guardians on one final adventure together as they face off with the powerful Adam Warlock – one of the most significant threats the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever seen. To protect a friend and their world as they know it, Peter Quill and his allies will band together to save one of their own and the galaxy from certain doom.

Release Date
May 5, 2023

Runtime
116 Minutes

Budget
$250 Million

Where To Stream
Disney+

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