Monsters: Theatrical Effects on Indie Budget
GE: We cut the whole thing on Premiere; we put it all in HD and shot it on the Sony EX3. And it was all MXF files. And we used the raw files for editing so you could see what the final thing looked like when we were editing. And while my editor, Colin [Goudie], was editing I would be throwing out ideas for effects shots, like, "How about we put that helicopter up in the sky over there?" So whenever there would be an effects shot, we would network our two computers together and I would just right-click on the file and create an After Effects project based on that shot. And anything I did, would then update automatically into the final timeline. It was a much more organic way than using different, incompatible software to do the effects.
GE: Yeah, a big part of that was the character animation toolkit that comes with Max now, which is where you have these drag-and-drop animal shapes as a starting point for creating your rig. And the one I used mainly was a spider. But the hardest part was doing the tentacles. I looked everywhere online and in books but I couldn't find anything about how to animate it. And I'm not an expert on Max, and was starting to get worried. And so I was playing around and trying to rack my brain to figure out the closest thing to it, and the best I could come up with was a rope. So I did the rope simulation within Reactor in Max. But I didn't want a swinging rope, so I just tried setting it to zero and trying the simulation, and suddenly I had this completely enchanting movement of the tentacles as if they were underwater. There was no gravity and they did some interesting animation automatically, and that was great. So I was able to link different passes and deform around that shape using dynamic simulation, but it took around five months to do 250 effects shots and that was at a pace of about two shots a day and two months passed before I had a single creature shot done. It was the hardest challenge of the whole film because I had never done proper creature animation before.
BD: What did you render with?
GE: I used Brazil because it does a really good subsurface render that looks very realistic.
BD: And how did you handle the bioluminescence?
GE: That was simple layering in After Effects. There are a few things going on, but I did a render of the creature -- what I call a beauty pass. So I'd leave all the settings on with subsurface and texturing, but I'd do a backlight pass and a front light pass and then do a composite. And then separate to that, I'd do a path that was like bioluminescent texture, which makes it look like the creature has a tattoo all over it, like something from Tron. And I used the lights and darks as a mask to let the light through from underneath, depending on what was happening with the skin. Then, in terms of creating all the light effects under the skin, I modified it to the whole creature; and the surface of the polygons shrink. It just thins out the model so that it becomes an anorexic version of the creature. And then I applied a sort of striped texture by scrolling the UV mapping over time. There would be just a sense of motion and black-and -white stripes moving all over its body. I essentially then pulled that through the sort of Tron tattoo pass, so that this red glowing, anorexic zebra is only being shown through the bioluminescent texture. And on top of all that, I created a random pattern that was like a mask for everything, so the bioluminescence would flicker on and off all over his body.