Tippett Studio takes on MoCap for the first time in the new bloodthirsty epic by director Tarsem Singh.
Because Immortals is R-rated, it's able to take gory fight stylization to another dimension beyond 300. When Greek warrior Theseus (Man of Steel's Henry Cavill) battles ruthless King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) and his bloodthirsty hordes, the Titans are digitally slashed at 388 frames-per-second.
Using motion capture for the first time, Tippett Studio worked closely with director Tarsem Singh (The Fall) and the stunt team to mix and match live people with CG characters rather than doing them all in the computer. Indeed, you're not supposed to be aware that they're CG until they die.
"Tarsem has a really strong visual sense and his aesthetic is very striking," remarks Matt Jacobs, visual effects supervisor at Tippett Studio. "On set he lines up all his own shots and pays particular attention to composition. It's great because he's really a graphic artist in a sense and that's what we do here as well in crafting the images."
Obviously keyframe animation is very difficult to sell live actors in motion, but the real reason that Tippett went with MoCap is because the fight choreography was so well planned. In fact, all the gods had their own specific beats to the fight. "Since the fight choreography was so tight, we wrapped our heads around it and realized that the fastest, most efficient and probably the best starting point for that animation where we were going to overtake the Titans was to go in and do motion capture with the same stuntmen who had been working on that fight choreography for a long time and refining it."
So the stylistic conceit was that when the Titans are slashed, they go into slow motion as part of a different time and space journey to death. And the timing for Tippett worked really well between sliding around the MoCap until they got it lined up with the rest of the action. Then they would slow the speed down for a slow motion dance of death. "So our animators made a lot of adjustments to the motion capture," Jacobs continues. "It started off as their basis, but then they would tweak the motion capture, especially when the death happened, and they would take over and animate through the death [keyframing the face].
"But the other thing was that all sorts of choreography would happen across different shots, across the cut; it was an efficient way to have action carried across multiple shots because each fight was presented in a handful of shots but the action was continuous that the gods were doing."
How was this different from other fight movies? "I think this took the graphic gore nature of the fighting to a higher level and pushed it further," Jacobs insists. "And that was another challenge: to make it gory and make it cool but not make it corny, so the amount of blood we brought to the fighting didn't enter the level of absurdity. At some point, it is over-the-top, but you don't want some people to view it as Monty Python. It definitely pushed the envelope. But it also uses [beautifies] the gory deaths."
In fact, the blood (animated with Houdini, which was another first for Tippett) became a character of its own. It had to be highly graphic and beautiful, as in a liquor ad, because it had to linger in slow-mo.
In addition to the Titan fight, which is around 70 shots, Tippett also animated a canine creature they called the mongrel (very grungy-looking and with hyena-like markings), which appears in about a dozen shots. In addition, Tippett contributed to the "Sistine Chapel" shot at the end comprised of dozens and dozens of Titans and gods fighting in the sky. It's an exquisite tableau of people killing each other. So Singh liked it so much that he requested that Tippett integrate some of the Titan footage. "It's amazing to watch in 3-D because they're fighting on multiple planes in the sky," Jacobs adds.
"This definitely took us in a new direction, technically and creatively."
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.