Making Superman Fly Again in Man of Steel
Once Zack Snyder decided to ground Superman in a more relatable reality for Man of Steel by shooting most of it hand-held at 24 fps, it made perfect sense to go for a super fast stylization for the flying and fighting sequences in Smallville and Metropolis. This was the opposite of his signature slow-mo fight language for 300, Watchmen and Sucker Punch.
The urgency of the Superman flying takes hold during the Smallville Kryptonian battle. In addition to superhero speed they would throw punches that would minimally break the sound barrier so there would be shock waves. At the same time, they didn't want to lose the force of the punches completely in motion blur (except as a gag with Zod's partner, Faora). They added effects to it by putting mock cones on the forearms, shockwave effects when they hit blows as visual cues.
"I did a lot of R&D with Guillaume Rocheron and MPC for the all Kryptonian Smallville battle," explains Desjardin. "That R&D carried over into the more amped up Superman fight with Zod in Metropolis, which was handled by Double Negative."
But the Smallville battle was different from Metropolis because it's a practical environment that's been stitched together amid character animation. Metropolis is a more conventional virtual battlefield.
"Smallville was a real location [in Plano, Illinois] that they wanted to keep the integrity of," DesJardin continues. "That's a problem in a fight. You need to find a way to render that location for camera set ups. We still want the animation to drive the camera all the time because that's where you're looking. There are major parts, and often quite short parts, of the Kryptonian fight, where you need to animate that punch or foot stomp. None of that you're going to do until later, so we not only had to separate out the people but capture that location at that spot so we can post animate the camera in the environment later. We did on set performance capture with the suits and triangulating the witness cameras all the way around.
Desjardin continued to use the ShantyCam, which is a six still-camera set up on a rack, to photograph the character you're going to change to CG to capture all the lighting on set and you can redo their performance frame by frame so you have different expressions and movements at super high-res. And then you can post project that onto geometry and get them from real to CG mode.
"We added one more camera to our arsenal, which was the EnviroCam. It's a still camera body with a 50mm lens on a motorized head on a tripod. That camera will take a sphere of high-res images that are stitchable. We had all these positions that we knew our cameraman, John Clothier, was going to use to follow the fight. After we yelled, 'Cut,' everyone would hide and we'd just shoot the environment in that lighting. You could project that onto simple geometry and with that one position you could interpolate another position. You could even dolly or zoom like crazy because the resolution's so high. That allowed us the freedom to do the animation later between two positions and two character moves and then also animate the camera in post so it would fit that new character animation."
Kryptonians are not constrained by earth physics and have abilities way beyond human limitations. It was established that each time a character would move at speed or fly, their digital version, with CG set replica, would be used so the camera could follow the characters' action instead of trying to fit their animation within a pre-established camera move on an empty plate or limit their action to the constraints of wire rigs.
Superman, Zod and Faora required the creation of digital doubles while Namek, an 8-foot-tall Kryptonian warrior, was created as full digital character using on-set performance capture. Zod’s armor was also fully CG, placed over the actor's body.