When director Marcus Nispel (Friday the 13th) decided to take on a reworking of John Milius' Conan the Barbarian from 1982, he returned to the nihilism of the original comics. A revenge story in which a young warrior hunts the villain that killed his family and wiped out his village, the VFX contains an assortment of CG characters and environments.
"Marcus wanted a realistic-looking film," recalls Friend Wells (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse ), supervising VFX producer/VFX supervisor. "The notion that it was very gritty was very important. But the fantasy elements had to be believable and inhabitable.
"We brought in Dylan Cole (Avatar , Alice in Wonderland ) very early to conceptualize matte paintings and environments and set extensions. And then a whole list of creatures. The challenge was the script was being rewritten even through production. But it was smart in terms of discarding what wasn't achievable."
They split up the creature and environmental shots and worked in parallel with the vendors doing the 3-D conversion (supervised by Evan Jacobs), setting up a Shotgun database for asset sharing.
They went to Base FX in Beijing for the Dweller. It's a 100-shot sequence involving the villain's pet that lives in the basement torture chamber. It's squid-like and creepy with tentacles. But since Nispel likes to improvise, there wasn't room for MoCap. The stunt work, therefore, was planned and prevised by Proof in Bulgaria, and the director jazzed it up.
"We let Crazy Horse establish the wide shots. In one case, you'll see the villain's palace on a sea coast from a distance and a big 3D tracking shot. The remote fortress where the sand warrior attack happens is also along a coast. A ritual cave is another environment. That would set the bar and set the look for the in-house facility to finish the sequences."
"We created complicated particle systems and trailing dust particles on top of Parque stunt men wearing elaborate makeup. They appear and disappear into sand in a non-clumping way. This was done by Reliance. We used several techniques but the most complicated one was with Krakatoa. We used cyber scans as a base. We tracked the cyber scans onto the Parques. On some occasions they were pure CG and you trailed particle systems in Krakatoa to create constant erosion of their bodies."
Truer to the roots of Conan, perhaps, but the remake has a lot to live up to when compared to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and editor of VFXWorld. He has a new blog, Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com ), and is currently writing a book about the evolution of James Bond from Connery to Craig, scheduled for publication next year, which is the 50th anniversary of the franchise.