Stitching Together Sucker Punch
Yes, there is a method to the madness behind Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch, the mind-bender about trying to escape from an insane asylum through the power of imagination. For her virtual rite of passage, Babydoll (Emily Browning) must defeat three massive samurai, a platoon of German zombies from World War I, a giant dragon and alien robots aboard a bullet train.
And when it came to dividing the four missions and 1,100 vfx shots, John DJ DesJardin, the overall visual effects supervisor, called on MPC Vancouver to tackle the Samurai sequence, Pixomondo to handle the World War I sequence, Animal Logic to create the Dragon sequence and Prime Focus to do the Bullet Train sequence.
"We extended what we learned from Watchmen as far as how we handled our digital characters and capturing shots on set and making the fights work right," confirms DesJardin. "It was a great chance for Zack, his long-time stunt coordinator Damon [Caro] and me to work closely.
"Damon and I came up with this idea called techvis with MPC. Zack could do action during rehearsal and we could quickly turn that into previs from what we captured with Damon and then we'd put that into our environment (a bullet train, a pagoda or a courtyard) and then Zack could set cameras in there. Then Zack would cut his scene before we even shot it in editorial, and Damon and I could take it apart and make these very complicated camera moves and fight moves that were pretty much maxed out in terms of what you could shoot for real and then identify with a lot of assurance what would be the CG stitching in between. We wanted to capitalize on what's been developed over the past several years to project actual footage onto geometry. We came to the conclusion early on that we could best help the girls in these fights if we took them to their limit and then use the CG to take them just a little further and then snap back into the range of what they could do so they're always grounded in something real."
The sequence required Prime Focus (supervised by Bryan Hirota) to develop a CG helicopter and helipad, alien-like terrains, interior and exterior shots of a magnetic levitation train that gets destroyed in a dramatic style, hoards of armed robots, CG doubles for the three actors and a futuristic metropolis called "Bunny City" inspired by Alien. One two-and-a-half minute shot, in particular, required the animation and render of nearly 20 minutes of material so Snyder could "time warp" everything down to the final length.
As for the robots, Snyder wanted a blank mirror face plate but with a little transparency so you could see underneath, where there's a camera system for an eye and other hardware.
Meanwhile, MPC (under the supervision of Guillaume Rocheron) brought the three samurais to life, combining real samurai armor pieces and detail onto the original, very stylized body proportions. Next, they accurately built the Japanese Pagoda and its surrounding environment, based on the original artwork and set plans by production designer Rick Carter and his team so that each section and plank could be destroyed during the final fight against the machine gun samurai.