Company carbonizes and de-carbonizes Jeremy Iron’s character, turning the actor into a golden statue, in Damon Lindelof’s highly acclaimed series.
Leading design company Pixomondo has shared with AWN their work on several complicated sequences from HBO’s critically acclaimed nine-episode series, Watchmen, including the carbonizing and de-carbonizing effect on Jeremy Iron’s character Adrian Veidt, better known as Ozymandias, that turns the actor into a golden statue.
Set in an alternate history where masked vigilantes are treated as outlaws, the Peabody Award-winning series, starring Regina King and from executive producer Damon Lindelof, embraces the nostalgia of the original groundbreaking graphic novel of the same name, while attempting to break new ground of its own.
Pixomondo’s Stuttgart team was led by VFX supervisor Adam Figielski and included comp supervisor Florian Franke, head of 3D Christoph Schmidt, and head of CGFX Marc Joos, working on three separate episodes beginning in February 2019, working through until October. The Los Angeles previsualization team included VFX supervisor Derek Spears and VFX producer Phi Van Le.
In the final episode, “See How They Fly,” we find Adrian Veidt is finally able to get off Europa when his illegitimate daughter Trieu arrives in her spacecraft to retrieve him. For the duration of the flight, Veidt is turned in to a golden statue and then brought back to his regular form when they land on Earth.
Pixomondo’s efforts involved FX-heavy work creating a carbonizing and de-carbonizing effect on Veidt over three shots, turning the actor into a golden statue and reversing the process later. To plate Irons’ character in gold, working with a rotomation of the actor, Pixomondo’s FX department provided the comp department with multiple CGFX layers such as the main gold coat, reveal masks, different smokes, mists and spray elements. “This involved covering the Jeremy Irons plate with the rendered CGFX layer and then matching the look of the prop statue that is seen throughout the series, as well as immediately in the next shot,” Frederic Freund, Pixomondo Stuttgart comp lead, describes. “The plate movement of the actor had to be smoothly brought to a standstill during the effect. For further refinement, Jeremy Irons’ facial expression had to be adjusted. To achieve the desired result the expression from another part of the plate had to be re projected onto the 3D rotomation geo.”
“Based on Jeremy Irons photography, a detailed 3D actors face representation was created,” Figielski continues. “This geometry was then used as a base to digitally recreate the actor’s performance. Once all the fine face expressions and head movements were captured, we were completely free to adjust the timing and performance to achieve the dramaturgy the production was looking for.” "This was further adjusted with warps to get the wanted look,” Freund adds. “Once the technicalities of the transformation had been cleared out, all the elements from FX were layered together and integrated to create the final result."
In the Episode, “Little Fear of Lightening,” we flashback to when Wade Tillman (aka Looking Glass) was a young travelling preacher trying to convert people at a carnival in Manhattan. A girls lures him in to a hall of mirrors funhouse, convinces him to strip naked, then takes his clothes and runs off, leaving him trapped, embarrassed and, moments later, the victim of a psychic blast that shatters all the mirrors around him.
After the techvis was conducted by Pixomondo’s Los Angeles office, Pixomondo Stuttgart team came in to provide FX-heavy work on shattering the mirrors in the fun house over a buildup of five shots. According to Figielski, “Using the techvis as guide, the production had multiple cameras shooting simultaneously, at different angles, so that all the reflections were synchronized versions of the actor’s performance. Next, we had to make sure the greenscreen takes seamlessly matched the on-set footage. Using set scans and on-set photography provided to us by the production’s VFX supervisor Erik Henry, Pixomondo digitally recreated the set. In order to hit the required beats Henry was looking for, we had multiple reflections behind the actor shatter, revealing additional reflections shattering behind him, and so on. We used Maya to refine the timing between glass falling or shooting out. Also, each of those cracks and breaks had to tell the story of the psychic blast travelling as a wave through the scene.”
Recounting how they recreated the actor’s reflections in all the scattering mirrors, Schmidt explains, “On set, the actor’s performance was filmed with six cameras surrounding him at 60-degree angles. We projected those six plates onto planes intersecting at a 60-degree angle meeting where the actor was standing and used the planes’ normals to drive their visibility. This way, every reflection automatically showed the keyed plate with the actor, that is closest to what we actually would see in real life.”
In the episode “A God Walks into a Bar,” there is a post-credit sequence featuring all the cloned Ms. Crookshanks and Mr. Philips characters on screen at the same time, as they squish tomatoes on to Veidt’s face, one-by-one. Pixomondo was responsible for the face replacements of Ms. Crookshanks and Mr. Philips’ characters.
The sequence was particularly challenging working with such close up faces; Pixomondo used a scan of the actors, built CG models and augmented them with takes from other reference performances. As Franke shares, the work was particularly challenging. “A tricky task for us was the face duplication of Mr. Phillips,” he notes. “CG characters are always difficult, and to match a real character with all the expressions of his face without getting the ‘Uncanny Valley’ effect is difficult.”
The shot was filmed with a stand-in that was supposed to have the face of Tom Mison, the actor who portrayed Mr. Phillips. “We did a few tests with CG renderings, and while they did work quite well in general, we realized that it wasn't close enough to clearly identify it as Mison's face,” Franke continues. “We ended up using a different take with Tom Mison in it, did a rotomation of his face, and used the UV unwrap to map it onto the face of the stand-in. We mixed the result with parts of the CG face and faked some light interaction in comp, which led to a very satisfying result.”
While the addition of tomato pieces on Iron’s faces sounded easy at first, the Pixomondo team wasn’t happy with the results from duplicating existing material or adding existing footage. So, they used one of their artists and shot the scene for real. According to Franke, “While he was not too happy getting tomatoes rubbed in his face, it provided us the much-needed footage to make this shot work.”
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.