With the Director’s Cut arriving on DVD & Blu-Ray for Hercules on December 1, 2014 in the UK, Trevor Hogg chats with Nicolas Hernandez and Will Cohen about the visual effects work contributed by Milk VFX…
“About a year ago we did a proof of concept of how soldiers could fight in formation and walk in the same foot lengths,” states Milk VFX Visual Effects Supervisor Nicolas Hernandez as to how the London based company got involved Hercules. We did a lot of different things like walking on different terrain. We had to do a city of Athens asset which had to be populated. We designed four assets: soldiers, male, female and child. We did different clothes and all of the men had to have various haircuts. Quickly, we were able to populate a full CG Athens with 15,000 people and soldiers. Golaem was able to add a procedural randomness into the haircuts and clothes. Another good thing about Golaem is that all of the asset creation and positioning is choreographed inside Maya which meant we got visual feedback about what the shot would look like; it worked well with the renderer that we were using which was Arnold. It was critical to get the shots completed in the time that we had.” Along with having to digitally make 50 buildings that were scattered into different districts, 15,000 trees, the sea, boats, and the surroundings, a morning to evening lighting cycle was produced for the famous Greek metropolis. “The client picked a sunset lighting that they liked. From the trailer, we went into the production shot and that shot had to cut with the live-action so we had to spend some time doing trickery and exposure changes in order to get the sunset blending with the effects lit afternoon lighting.”
“We were supplied with a lot of previs from The Third Floor which was directed by [Hercules Visual Effects Supervisor] John Bruno,” remarks Nicolas Hernandez. “All of the shots were in full CG with motion blur and music.” Alternations were made to the initial concepts. “Interestingly, with the previs of the big battle sequence the choreography was there but when they went to shoot the shot it came out quite differently. What they had in the shot dictated what we had to do with the CG weapon replacement.” A digital whip made of human bones had to be created. “We had really good reference from the set where they took pictures of the props. We had a good lighting reference. We spent a lot of time in R&D in order to get the shapes of the whip right and to make it simple for the animators to be able to do the action. We developed some tools to create a dynamic range to allow for the length of the whip to change quickly.” Hernandez notes, “It was tricky with a fast action shot where the whip was going to have a lot of motion blur to be able to get what they wanted; because it is digitally created you can cheat that. We had it lashing some of the warriors’ faces, wrapping around people’s neck and straggling them. It was a cool weapon to work on.”
“They had a snake handler on-set, had the snakes with the proper lighting, and were quite specific about the kind and colour of snake that they wanted,” states Nicolas Hernandez. “It was an Emerald Tree Boa. We created a scale model with texture to match the reference that they had on-set and afterwards it was dictating what the snakes actually were. We had 10 shots with the snakes where we they were coming out of a CGI statue. We had a statue made out of marble, the camera comes quite close to the statue and we had to make the snake appear from the marble statue. We designed an effect where the marble was crumbling and the snakes are dropping from the eyes onto the floor and going towards the actor and attacking him. We spent a lot of time looking at YouTube plus video the client supplied of reference of the snakes on the set. We spent a lot of time in the beginning when we weren’t quite sure what the close-up shot would be doing. The animators were animating a simplistic model of the snake. We used Houdini for the effects simulation in order to do muscles contractions, skin stretching and for attaching every single scale of the snake procedurally. Every single scale was sliding on top of each other plus pushing against each other. We did a lot of R&D in order to get the weight of the snake right and to get the friction on the floor.”
“Every asset that we created which was approved by Double Negative went into the approval process,” states Nicolas Hernandez. “We had to supply the asset to them so the bone whip was delivered to Double Negative and there was some chat to giving it to all of the vendors. Because Double Negative was doing 2D digital doubles we received a digital double of Hercules so that we could pixilate him into the Athens shot. The rest of the assets we created ourselves.” The movie rating prevented a particular innovation from being incorporated into the theatrical release reveals Milk VFX CEO Will Cohen. “We developed a tool here for digital gore which I look forward to taking into another project someday.” Hernandez explains, “We developed something in Houdini where you can select an object you want. It can be a chain and balloon. It will create automatically CG blood squirting, a wound, lots of blood and fluid. We had that tool and it was fun to play with it. Unfortunately, Hercules was changed to a PG 13.” Cohen observes, “On this show we pushed our CG snakes, feather systems, Golaem production, and the way we do CG environments to the next level. The pipeline develops if you’re lucky and you take that with you into your next show.”
Hercules images © 2014 Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Milk VFX.
Many thanks to Nicolas Hernandez and Will Cohen for taking the time to be interviewed.
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Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.