With the Director’s Cut arriving on DVD & Blu-Ray for Hercules on December 1, 2014 in the UK, Trevor Hogg chats with Doug Bloom about the visual effects work contributed by Method Studios…
“We worked on the final sequence in the film which is the Hera Temple and Hera Temple Destruction Sequence,” states Method Studios Visual Effects Supervisor Doug Bloom when discussing the work contributed to Hercules (2014) which stars Dwayne Johnson (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) as the Greek mythological figure who may be more human than god. “When we started John Bruno [Visual Effects Supervisor] asked if we could do a 14 second long shot of the destruction as realistically as it could be. We took that one long simulation, cut it, rendered it with the various approved camera angles, put it into the edit to get a sense of the timing, and once we had that we gave that back to the effects artists as a reference for how much destruction there was at the beginning and end of their shot. We tried to maintain a pacing that made sense as you progressed through this sequence of destruction. It was a shot-by-shot art direction to make sure that we had interesting components within each shot that framed the destruction to have things feeling dynamic, interesting, and exciting.” A key element of destruction was fire. “It wasn’t just fire it was oil that was on fire so we had a lot of work dealing with the underlining fluid simulations that represented the oil; it was spilled out of these large caldrons and pours down these stars and spreads across. Once we had all of that timing signed off on we would go ahead and ignite some of this oil so it was now a layer of fire that was sitting on top of the surface of the oil.”
“When we met early on with John Bruno and Dante Spinotti [L.A. Confidential], the DP on the film, something they stressed a lot was making sure that we didn’t lose the range that they had in those fires that they shot on-set. When we filled elements in we exposed down on them so we got to see all of the shapes and details that were in there. We used that as our reference as suppose to the photography the way it was shot. We first focused in making sure that the simulations matched those shapes and speed and once we had that we dialled the shaders where we introduce colour and gradients. We dialled those as a secondary process and also provided the compositing team with a bunch of mattes so that they could control the leading edge or isolate the licks of the fire in order to push the colour values on those. Later in the process we had a whole bunch of shots that didn’t have any of that blue flame that you get with a propane fire and the client had asked to start introducing some of that into the element. We were able to do that by working in the composite itself.” Where required the fire was art directed. “We had controls over how hot an area of the fire was not just colour. We were able to remap things, like colour, and isolate the hotter areas used to drive things like any sort of lens aberrations or glows or flares. As much as we could we pushed off to the compositing to get a look established and when need be we would give it back to the effects artists who would use that as their new reference.”
A climatic cinematic scene involves the collapse of Hera’s statue. “That was something we struggled with early on because we wanted something that would feel exciting and dynamic, and we want to see all of this crumbling,” remarks Doug Bloom. “We wanted to make cool imagery. Early on we had something that collapsed and fell apart quickly. It didn’t have the weight and feel like it had the right scale. We did make everything larger and adjusted all of our settings and found ourselves on the other side of things where you look at it and there’s no possible way that Hercules can push this thing over. When we went back and started talking to John and the team again about how everything would play out. There were some good key moments where some of the supports from the statue broke. What we started doing was focusing on using those moments because that’s more realistic as most of the destruction is due to the weight of the statue itself, letting it naturally fall, and as it hits things react.” Distortion was an issue. “Hercules was shot anamorphic so the distortion became a much bigger challenge but they also used some rare and interesting lenses where the distortion patterns were almost like a wave. There was a shot of a CG army and no matter what we did that army did not look like it was standing straight. We ended up finishing that shot but not applying any of the distortion and doing an override and skewing the image a bit in the composite in order to get it to feel like it was aligned. The distortion was so extreme it wasn’t natural. It didn’t look like anything that any of us were used to seeing because it was so wavy.”
“One of the biggest challenges which I’m sure you hear a lot when you do these was the schedule,” observes Doug Bloom. “We picked up the work and we had our delivery pushed at the end so we had a little of extra time but what amounted to about four months total from when we started the show and in that time we had to do all of the tracking, all of the roto, and everything needed for the sky replacement as well as take all of the models that we picked up from Double Negative and bring them into our pipeline. In some cases we had to redo UVs or upgrade models or redo some texture work so set extensions are seen in every shot. I’m almost certain that there isn’t a single shot that doesn’t have some set extension in it already. Just the fact that every shot needed some kind of set extension through CG or a matte painting made it a huge volume of work to tackle. The destruction and fire were certainly were large components that we would usually like to have a few months to develop it, whereas we had only a few weeks before we had to start dropping those elements effectively into a shot.” Bloom notes, “We did quite a bit of CG work, fire simulations, destruction, digital doubles and all of that work went through every step of the pipeline in putting together the compositing. At the end of the day the real challenge of this show in terms of getting those final images was that black sky and the amount of roto, hand-tracking and integration work that needed to be done to get them right.”
Hercules images and videos © 2014 Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Method Studios.
Many thanks to Doug Bloom for taking the time for this interview.
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.