Suit up, shrink down and dive deep into the Quantum Realm as we breakdown the visual effects work donefor Ant–Man and The Wasp: Quantumania.
VFX Supervisors Tang Bingbing and Habib Zargarpour ledour 180 artistsacross our Beijing and Kuala Lumpur studios, completing an estimated 84 shots for the releaseofMCU’s Phase 5 kickoff. It was yet another ant–mazing project to be a part of and working alongside the Marvel production teams.
FLYING THROUGH THE QUANTUM SKIES WITH THE YACHT
As we already know, the teeny–tiny troop find themselves sucked back into the Quantum Realm. The first sequence Base FX started with was the Quantum Sky Chase involving a long chase scene through different dimensions. The teamstarted by doing a lot of research and developmentonmultiple dimensions with a lot of variety. Ourartists developed several sky elements and environments for this sequence including concept art, some of which were provided by the client. Real time toolswere usedwith the Unity engine to visualize the travel though the QuantumSky, with the ability to interactively adjust the flight paths and speed as well as the objects outside the ship.
The sky and environments were generated as volumetric clouds in Houdini. Once that was completed, thesimulation artists were then able to light the clouds with the sunset sky. Details such as the lights and small auroras were added, as were small ships and towers in the background. Bing and the team had developed many innovative shapes that morphed organically into spherical orbs with particles in motion.These ultimately became part of the Axia Restaurant environment and were also matched in some of the ‘travelling’ scenes.
This sequence also involved an escape in a space Yacht powered by a quantum energy sphere. The Yacht had Controls that were two translucent worms that fit around Hank Pym’s arms. Base FX created the models and refined them to match concept artthat wasprovided by the client. Our artists also developed the mouths of the worms as those were not designed yet. Manycreative creatureswere referencedin nature to achieve the details on the Controls’ organic surface. “We came up with several design options for the “mouth”of the creature. At one point I thought we could split the opening into slices, like a pizza. We tried 3 and 6 slices, and ultimately the client selected the one with 3 slices,” sharesHabib
The next challenge was how these creatures moved. The teamhad this idea that they would each have different personalities, one of them more aggressive, and the other one more passive. The very talented animators at Base FX, led by Li Songtested these ideas and they added some humor to the scene with the aggressive one pushing the other one away to get closer to Hank’s hand. “This was very well received and became the direction for theanimation. Then, the action of the Controls that cover most of Hank’s arms were made to match the look of the physical ones on set. The original design also had levitating rings around the controls, but these were later dropped in favor of a simpler look. Some of the shots kept the physical Controls, so the look of the CG ones had to be a very close match,” LiSongexplains.
The Heart of the Duchess was shot as a mechanical prop on set but later its design wasdeveloped to have a more organic feel, matching closer to the Controls so that both would integrate seamlessly as part of this live ship. The teamstarted with the concept art provided by the client and modeled the complex shapes and material treatment. “The challenge with both the Heart and the Controls weretheir translucent nature. You could see through them but not very clearly, they would have a frosted inside. Different sections of the Heart had varying degrees of smoothnessas well as sliminess,” Li Song adds.The animators made the center of the Heart pulse like an actualheart, and once Janet pushes a key activation button the heart would be filled with liquid.
Matchmove Lead, Gong Shuai also explained that Janet had a lot of intricate interactions with the mechanical prop on set, so the delicacy of the roto and matchmove work was also critical.As a final pass,slime was added to cover most of the surfaces, and these had to react to the shakes and movementsof the scene to display itdanglingaround.
At the end of this Quantum Sky Chase, we see the Yacht fly across the clouds and take a turn, then fly over the camera. Bing also details, that the sky elements here were created from volumetric cloud elements in Houdini and the sunset in the distance like the earlier parts of the sequence, but this time with the ship interacting with it and a distribution of towers and other ships were spread throughout.
A TRIP DOWN JANET’S VISION MEMORY This scene is one of the more powerful ones in the film, showing a lot of shocking imagery. The big challenge here was that each shot involved very different researchand development from scratch. “From destroyingplanets and civilizations, to seeing Kang destroy people to zooming out all the way to the Loki timelines. Another challengewas how short the shots were in this cut, such that they had to convey a lot in a very short number of frames. Some shots were shorter than their handle size,” Habib explains.
The memory flash starts with a blue Kang beam weapon heading towards a planet as the camera flies past multiple destroyed planets that are breaking apart. For this shot, a combination 2.5D method was used where the planets were matte paintings projected onto geometry,placed in space. Later, gaseous elements were added around the planets to get a better sense of volume and depth as the camera went by them. This was followed by a close–up shot of a single planet imploding. The show involved some matte painting as well as simulation to gather the particles into the center of the planet. Blue arc elements were added to put Kang’s signature on it. It had to be clear he was causing the destruction. Up until this point Janet had thought Kang was a good person.
One of the key memory flashes includeda forest and monolith environment where we see Kangsweep his right arm as he blasts his deadly beam from his fist, pulverizing everyone and everything in its path. For this scene,we were given a bluescreen element of Kangwith a few people behind him. The environment had been scanned from a location for reference. The team started with this scan then modeled their own environment based on that scan. Kang’sarmor was match–moved on top of his body as he was shot with tracking markers on him. “We developed the ‘Blue Kang’treatment where he has a helmet,and his facial features get sharp creases along withedges. It was an interesting look,”sharesLighting Artist, Wang Xinyu. He adds that“the look of the energy blast was also developed fromhis fist. It was then enhanced with some distortion effects that another team tried.”
Effects Artist, Deng Hongjitells us how the beam had to have a tremendous sense of power.This was showcased in the following 2 shots with Kang blasting his radial weapon in all directions using his full wrath. In the first shot, we see the radial shock wave come towards the audience. The second shot comes directly from above, looking down as the wave blasts outwards, burning trees and pulverizing anyone that it encounters. This entire sequence was pretty much developed in CG, Kang with cloth simulation, CG environments and the characters were a mix of live action and CG elements.
Deng Hongji also explains that the blast itself involved very heavy fluid simulation in Houdini and it had to feel forceful. “Normal fluid simulations end up becoming very round and curly, we needed this to be more directional from the center. The artistswereable to finally achieve thisparticle simulation which was driven by the velocity data from a fluid simulation.That provided us the flexibility of controlling the shape formed by the particles,” he elaborates.
Janet’s memory flash ends with a shot starting with aclosedinshotofa universe disbanding, then zooms out to show theuniverse exploding. The final zoom outshowsthe timeline belonging to that universe breaking. Everyzoom outshotdepicts a larger magnitude, as such scaling was the task at hand here. The team started out by mocking up the timelines in Unity. This enabled us to adjust theplacement and camera movements in real time while reviewing with the client’ssupervisors Jesse Chisholm and KevinSouls.Once we got the green light,the scene was exported into Houdini so the artists could work on the look of the timeline with multiples of fine strands forming each timeline strand. These were also simulated to undulate andappear as fine volumetric fibers. The camera movementand strand placements were refined until we had the correctspeed and scale.
All of Kang’s weapons had a specific blue hue, sometimes in the form of a ray blastsfrom his fists, a radial blastfrom his body, or a radial shield he can bring up to protect himself.Lead Compositor, Li Fengxia explains thatthese weapons involved fast simulations that are difficult to control. Many layers were composited to get the final look, along with fast moving distortion discs.“When Kang brings up his helmet at–will, a thin blue shield covers his face, and a helmet covers his head. His face also becomes more angular with sharp edges. These were achieved via comp methods to add sharp shadows and highlights to his skin. His iris also gets a blue glowing ring around it,” Li Fengxia explained.
One of the final scenes in the memory flash is a shot of people getting pulverized by Kang’sbeam, with one person running towards camera as he disintegrates into thousands of ash particulates. The clienthad done some versions of this as a quick comp test that weregood references. This allowed our simulation artists to take a match–moved body of the character and put through a disintegration from within and from the edges. This shot was also very short, meaning a lot had to happen while being visible for very few frames.
We had started the process of look dev for both Kangand Cassie’s Holograms as concept art. “Both myself and the concept artists at BaseFXhad made a few versions. I grabbed a CG scan of Kangand brought him into Unity to try some real time tuning of looks, with transparency and a Fresnel effect, and some projected patterns on him. Ultimately, the clients picked the version that showed a detailed ‘bumpy fabric’surface with a certain glimmer on it,” Habib recalls.The shots were then exported to Maya so that the final look could be refined and completed.
Habib also explains that for each shot,the performances had tobe matched with the filmed footage that was provided.The nextstep was to match–move their bodies and faces to match.“We were able to project Cassie’s face from her takes onto proxy geometry. Kang’s takes did not necessarily match the angles initially, so this was a little tough. But ultimately, we were able to complete his hologram using the same projection method,” he shares.
A few of Cassie’s Hologram shots tookplace in a sanctuary environment whereBaseFX hadthe opportunity to create both the Hologram and the Environments. Our concept artists led by Tian Zhongli, painted some environments that had topological layers that were shown as thin lines for some of the abstract quantum scenes. In this case that layered look was applied to the rock formations, making it seem like these layers werepeeling off. The client really liked this look and the team builtinthe details to make them blend into the environments. There were many character elements shot for some ofthese scenes, and a few had all CG characters as well.
BUILDING THE TECHNOCRATIC ANT CITY
The Technocratic Ant City scene started as a series of shots andthat wereultimatelyedited down to one hero shot for BaseFX. This was one of the most dense and complex shots for us on this project.The artistsstarted with some layout assets from the Previsalong with a few other high–res models built at another facility. The challenge forthis shot was the sheer number of elements.
The shot beginswith special welding and construction ants, thatbuild a high–tech structure on the ground. The shot then pans up to show an enormous series of caves and tall glass panels full of ant–maze pathways and activityhappening. Hundreds of ants are working andflying within the space. Thousands more are within the clear panels. Large spaceships are flying around andthe camera follows a group of flying ants to the top of the giant chasm.Asset Supervisors Wang Xingnan and Yap Hon Wai explainhow the artists built high–res models for the ships as well as the structures on the ground that the welder ants are working on. “The ants were animated and groups of them were flown towards the sky. The shot also has dramatic lighting with the sun shining through the clear ant–maze panels.We iterated on the animation and placement of all the elements,” shares Wang.“The surfacematerial of the caves was a challenge as it had to feel like it was part of the quantum realm and also holda lot of detail.The shot was completed after some fine tuning done on the color of the laser that the ants were using to weld,” adds Yap.
The Ant–Man and the Wasp: Quantumania required a lot of diversity in its locations and many imaginative worlds. This made it a very challenging yet fun project. The quantum realm can be pretty much anything, which meant there were no limits to what we could come up with. This is also a double–edged sword because it could be difficult to create something that has never been seen before. “I really enjoyed the look development and this film had no shortage of things to design. Combined with the talented team at Base FX and the Supervision of Tang Bing Bing we were able to tackle allthese diverse challenges visually, and technically. This was indeed a very rewarding project overall,” Habibconcludes.
Visual Effects by Base FX
VFX Supervisor …………………………………………..……… Xu Li
Production Manager ……………………………..……….. Sophie Zhang
Head of Production ……………………………………….… Sonia Niu
Executive Producer …………..……………..………………. Shad Davis
Founder, Chief Executive Officer ……………… Chris Bremble
It would be an understatement to say this project was one the proudest achievements that we have worked on yet. It took our 96 artists close to 4 months of post-production to complete approximately a hundred shots through 8 sequences.
Base FX is thrilled to have developed such a strong workflow and line of communication with the client. Led by Sonia Niu – Head of Production, Sophie Zhang – VFX Producer, along with the daily efforts of our internal production team. We are fortunate and always grateful to be able to work with such talented and efficient Marvel production teams. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was extra special.
The sequel, as we already know incorporates the passing of King T’Challa’s into the film. It picks up after his death, leaving Wakanda vulnerable to attacks. Queue in the Talokanil, and the bulk of Base’s work within the movie.
THE SHAPE OF WATER
Our first sequence involved the Talokanil emerging out of the water on whales. Water simulation and its natural elements are challenging to emulate. The set was filmed on a blue screen and the actors were completely dry. This required us to wet down the characters and include CG water to the shots.
Xu Li – VFX Supervisor, led the artists at Base FX to deliver the work. These shots required full roto-anim for the entire body of the characters. Precision to detail is particularly key here – from every inch of skin to the minute points on their outfits. “If the roto-anim was off by just a touch, the rendered water pass would not have succeeded in comp,” explains Xu Li. “We went through many iterations of refining these shots with our rigging, modeling, and matchmove teams before getting the roto-anim close to a 100% accuracy,” he adds.
Once this was achieved, the FX artists began work on the water simulations. This is also the first time the audience would see the Talokanil up close. As soon as this project came on hand, it was made clear no detail was too molecular to be left out because it was shot in high-speed. It had to be spot on, as briefed by the client.
The team simulated the water body, splashes, water vapor and particles, all in which had to be synchronized from slow, to real-time motion on different textures – bare and blue skin, the fabrics on clothing or armor made of iron and stone, not forgetting the ground surface.
We had to understand water’s absorbency levels on all these various elements as well as the gravitational pull as the Talokanil emerged and landed. “Recreating its natural fluency became a craft, perfecting it became the mission. The results needed to be as realistic it could be, and the team delivered,” Xu Li shares.
The process started with basic water body simulation, then proceeded to secondary simulations to add the water vapor in the surroundings (these are around 10 million particles). Then using the basic water body, a character was separated into 7 sections based on the UV, so we could adjust the look and motion of the water in each section separately. We also added another vapor layer that’s close to the character based on these 7 sections (these are around 30 million particles),” shares FX Lead, Yao Pengcheng.
We created the wetness on the ground using 2D volume sampling, and ended up creating a 8000*8000 simulation for the ground wetness that gave it enough details.
BREATHING LIFE INTO FICTION
One of the key components of the Talokanil costumes are their rebreathers. The matchmove team needed to ensure the movements of the mouth between the facial structure and neck were consistently accurate, yet still appear natural. “The edge of the masks (rebreathers) were fitted perfectly to the plate. We used controllers to adjust the angles and facial expressions to ensure there was no room for error,” explains Matchmove Lead, Melody Liu
Water was simulated inside the rebreathers which was essential for the Talokanil to breathe on land. The water-feature rebreathers were rendered in Katana Renderman. “We generated a texture that incorporated refractions and water shader to achieve the realistic translucent look,” explains Lighting Lead, Duke Sun. Tiny bubbles were added in 2D which then provided greater detail that water was inside the mask.
”The final renders came out beautifully, and we loved the outcome,” Sophie shares.
FUN AND FLARES
‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ also sees the debut of yet another anticipated MCU character, Riri Williams. As she suits up for the first time, the task was to make her fight scene not just powerful but exciting at the same time.
We experimented many looks for Ironheart’s power blasts. The weapon powers up before it launches. The FX is a combination of electric arcs, plasma, particles, and energy trails. A lot of time and effort went into working out the timings of these elements and how they integrate. Riri’s suit was lit based on the intensity of the power FX. Then some distortion and lens flare were added to help with the final outcome.
THE LEGACY OF WAKANDA
Finishing the last scenes as Shuri memorialized her late brother T’Challa was for most, a bittersweet ending. Those flashback scenes were mainly referenced from the first installment to maintain the consistency and mood. “We experimented with some variations in the edge defocus and timing, so those shots were able to capture the essence of the emotion that we wanted the audience to experience and leave with,” shares Compositing Lead, Li Yingying.
Long Live Wakanda!
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