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How ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ Avoided an R Rating, and Other Tales from FMX

VFX experts deconstruct their work at the annual European confab, including that insane "American Gods" sex scene.

Kurt Russell Guardians of the Galaxy

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

(“Guardians 2” spoilers follow.)

So here’s a poser: In “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” we have Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his father, Ego (Kurt Russell), a living planet that takes on human form. Weta Digital was challenged with creating the interior look of Ego, along with the various transformations during his climactic fight with Quill.

This involved complicated mathematical patterns known as fractals (inspired by artist Hal Tenny, who served as a consultant). However, not only did Weta have difficulty controlling the fractals, but it also had to make them pliable in short order.

And then there was the biggest challenge: Weta was charged with ensuring that “Guardians” avoided an R-rating. That’s because 40% of Ego gets destroyed in the fight, and his internal organs can be seen dangling behind him. Weta offered to make him look more fractal, oozing black blood, but director James Gunn would have none of that. He wanted to keep Ego looking like Russell.

The answer: Weta toned down the gore by turning it into particulate sand, thanks to an artist who came up with the transformation effect from scratch. “We also grew fractals around the areas of destruction,” said Guy Williams, Weta’s VFX supervisor.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

These are the kinds of conversations that happen at FMX, Europe’s annual VFX/animation confab in Stuttgart, Germany. It also included appearances by outgoing Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and new DreamWorks presidentChris DeFaria, but this year the hottest draws were the VFX glimpses behind-the-scenes of Marvel’s “Guardians Vol. 2,” Luc Besson’s upcoming “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (July 21st), as well as Netflix’s “The Crown” and Starz’s “American Gods.”

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne in "Valerian."

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”


How ‘Valerian’ Leveraged ‘The Fifth Element’

The big reveal about Besson’s passion project, based on the popular ’60s French comic by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres, is it inspired “The Fifth Element,” and that the director created a shared universe in “Valerian.” For instance, there’s a shared color palette of reds, blues, yellows, oranges, and purples, and a flying taxi nod in one scene.

Additionally, production VFX supervisor Scott Stokdyk (the Oscar-winning “Spider-Man 2”) worked as an artist on “The Fifth Element.”

There were 2,355 VFX shots, with Weta Digital and Industrial Light & Magic contributing characters and environments, respectively. Weta mo-capped some aliens, and, for practical creatures shot on set, they added VFX, eye blinks, and tentacles. The most hilarious are the Doghan Dagius trio: creatures that are a cross between an elephant and a crocodile, with three mo-capped actors providing comic relief and finishing each other’s sentences.

ILM, meanwhile, did the big Market sequence, featuring a virtual shopping mall. It’s a 500-floor canyon procedurally made with Maya, model-textured with Zbrush, and cut in pieces with Houdini.

Yetide Badaki in "American Gods."

Yetide Badaki in “American Gods.”


How They Did the Outrageous Sex Scene in ‘American Gods’

Starz’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel about Norse mythology features lots of CG characters (including the iconic white buffalo) and environments. There’s plenty of blood, but one of the most talked-about scenes occurs in the premiere, in which Bilquis, the Queen of Sheeba (Yetide Badaki), devours her sex partner.

Directors David Slade (“Hannibal”) and Kevin Tod Haug (“Fight Club”) thought hard about how to handle it in a way that “wasn’t egregiously anatomical or just stupid.” Tod Haug said a lot of effort went into managing how representational they were going to be. “You’re looking right at it, but never really quite see it,” he said.

“We played around with perspective, did a digital environment, and made a digital version of her so we could wrap the textures around her and make her look larger,” Tod Haug said. “The other character’s interaction with her was complicated, so he needed extra manipulation.”

“The Crown”

Alex Bailey/Courtesy of Netflix

How They Did the Coronation in ‘The Crown’

Peter Morgan’s lavish Netflix adaptation of his play about the life of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) from the ’40s to modern times contains invisible VFX from London-based One of Us. Many shots were faithful re-enactments of real events, requiring skillful compositing, set extensions, and crowd replication.

One of the highlights is Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. “The stuff that we’re making is so iconic and everyone knows what it should look like, so that adds a level of pressure but also gives us a lot of reference and detail that we can then match and recreate,” said VFX supervisor Ben Turner.

“We try and reflect that contrast between glam inside the palace and grittier outside. Our version of post-war London is dirtier with bits of grays and blues and then when you get into the palace it’s all reds and golds,” Turner added.

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