Visual Effects by Base FX
VFX Supervisor ……………………………………………………………………. Tang Bingbing / Habib Zagarpour
VFX Producer ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… Xu Han
Head of Production …………………………………………………………………………………………………. Sonia Niu
Base FX Executive Producer……………………………………………………………………………………..Shad Davis
Founder, Chief Executive Officer ………………………………………………………………………..Chris Bremble
Suit up, shrink down and dive deep into the Quantum Realm as we breakdown the visual
effects work done for Ant–Man and The Wasp: Quantumania.
VFX Supervisors Tang Bingbing and Habib Zargarpour led our 180 artists across our Beijing and Kuala Lumpur studios, completing an estimated 84 shots for the release of MCU’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 team started by doing a lot of research and development on multiple dimensions with a lot of variety. Our artists developed several sky elements and environments for this sequence including concept art, some of which were provided by the client. Real time tools were used with the Unity engine to visualize the travel though the Quantum Sky, 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, the simulation 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 art that was provided by the client. Our artists also developed the mouths of the worms as those were not designed yet. Many creative creatures were referenced in 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,” shares Habib
The next challenge was how these creatures moved. The team had 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 Song tested 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 the animation. 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,” Li Song explains.
The Heart of the Duchess was shot as a mechanical prop on set but later its design was developed to have a more organic feel, matching closer to the Controls so that both would integrate seamlessly as part of this live ship. The team started 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 were their 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 smoothness as well as sliminess,” Li Song adds. The animators made the center of the Heart pulse like an actual heart, 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 movements of the scene to display it dangling around.
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 research and development
from scratch. “From destroying planets and civilizations, to seeing Kang destroy people to zooming out all the way to the Loki timelines. Another challenge was 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 included a forest and monolith environment where we see Kang sweep 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 Kang with 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’s armor 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 with edges. It was an interesting look,” shares Lighting Artist, Wang Xinyu. He adds that “the look of the energy blast was also developed from his fist. It was then enhanced with some distortion effects that another team tried.”
Effects Artist, Deng Hongji tells 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 artists were able to finally achieve this particle 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 a closed in shot of a universe disbanding, then zooms out to show the universe exploding. The final zoom out shows the timeline belonging to that universe breaking. Every zoom out shot depicts 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 the placement and camera movements in real time while reviewing with the client’s supervisors Jesse Chisholm and Kevin Souls. 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 and appear as fine volumetric fibers. The camera movement and strand placements were refined until we had the correct speed and scale.
All of Kang’s weapons had a specific blue hue, sometimes in the form of a ray blasts from his fists, a radial blast from his body, or a radial shield he can bring up to protect himself. Lead Compositor, Li Fengxia explains that these 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’s beam, with one person running towards camera as he disintegrates into thousands of ash
particulates. The client had done some versions of this as a quick comp test that were good 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 Kang and Cassie’s Holograms as concept art. “Both myself and the concept artists at Base FX had made a few versions. I grabbed a CG
scan of Kang and 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 to be matched with the filmed footage that was provided. The next step 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 took place in a sanctuary environment where Base FX had the 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 were peeling off. The client really liked this look and the team built in the details to make them blend into the environments. There were many character elements shot for some of these 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 and that were ultimately edited down to one hero shot for Base FX. This was one of the most dense and complex shots for us on this project. The artists started with some layout assets from the Previs along with a few other high–res models built at another facility. The challenge for this shot was the sheer number of elements.
The shot begins with special welding and construction ants, that build 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 activity happening. Hundreds of ants are working and flying within the space. Thousands more are within the clear panels. Large spaceships are flying around and the camera follows a group of flying ants to the top of the giant chasm. Asset Supervisors Wang Xingnan and Yap Hon Wai explain how 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 surface material of the caves was a challenge as it had to feel like it was part of the quantum realm and also hold a 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 all these diverse challenges visually, and technically. This was indeed a very rewarding project overall,” Habib concludes.