Tackling a New Gulliver's Travels
In Gulliver's Travels, a 21st century twist on Jonathan Swift's enduring political satire, Jack Black plays a travel writer who gets sucked into the Bermuda Triangle and winds up on the miniaturized island of Liliput. As you could imagine, vfx played a vital role in this Rob Letterman-directed film from Twentieth Century Fox. Weta Digital, Scanline VFX, Hydraulx, Method Studios, Pixel Playground and India-based GEON and Tata were the primary vendors that contributed to the 600 shots.
According to Ellen Somers, the overall vfx supervisor during post (Jim Rygiel served the same function during production), Weta and Scanline took on significant water simulation sequences; Hydraulx created the Liliput CG environments and two robot sequences; and Method did a 2.5D rooftop sequence gaining the reality from the base of photographic images. She also singled out GEON's exemplary compositing and suggested they are definitely on the rise.
"The biggest challenge was the scale issue involving a guy that's 126-feet tall," Somers points out. "What kind of vaporization happens when he hits the water? Working all that out was important and getting near what's scientifically correct and making it look good. The big sequences, which are pretty impressive, I think, are the whirlpool at the head of the film and the storm sequences by Scanline, and Weta's work on the sequence where Gulliver has to vanquish the army made up of Liliputians. This is heady R&D stuff where you wish you had 26 weeks to do it and they only had about 11. Weta rescheduled their whole facility and gave us their entire effects team."
Indeed, Weta came onto the project late, and, as the workload grew in complexity, the New Zealand studio's role increased from a few shots to around 170. "We did the scene where Gulliver first appears on the beach where the Liliputians are all over him; we did the scene where he is wearing the exo-suit where he's being controlled like a big marionette; we did the scene in the middle where Gulliver dispatches an armada of ships (the biggest because of water interaction); and the Times Square scene (laid out by Hydraulx) with Gulliver-based advertising," explains Weta's supervisor, Guy Williams.
"We built on the water sim for Avatar, but had to push it a lot further because it needed to be a lot more convincing, large-scale water," Williams explains. "It required a lot more density to the voxels and a lot more particles for foam and things like that just to get the sense that he's 120-feet tall. We further developed a tool called Synapse that allows you to stitch together simulations from different vectors and merge them into one simulation. This meant that we could merge the wave sim together with a high-density fluid sim and then that could be merged with the high-density fluid sim for the wakes on the boat and the foam could be emitted from that one unified sim.