The London-based studio shares its VFX breakdown reel showcasing how they created a high-octane cupcake delivery truck pursuit through the Alps for Marvel and Disney+’s latest MCU series.
Moon Knight, the Oscar Isaac-starring series centered on its eponymous anti-hero, marks the first collaboration between Union VFX and Marvel Studios. Union’s Soho-based team of artists created a host of dynamic VFX for three of the Disney+ series’ six episodes.
In Moon Knight, mild-mannered gift shop employee Steven Grant (Isaac) becomes plagued with blackouts and memories of another life. Grant soon discovers he has dissociative identity disorder and shares a body with mercenary Marc Spector. As Grant/Spector's enemies converge upon them, they must navigate their complex identities while being thrust into a deadly mystery among the powerful gods of Egypt.
Union was a lead vendor on Episode 1 and also contributed to sequences in Episode 4 and shots in Episode 6. The company’s broad range of 2D and 3D work included CG environments, greenscreen driving array comps, CG vehicle creation, and animation and FX, as well as some CG insects, animated tattoos, and blinking time-jump effects.
The stuttering time-jump effect is a key part of the narrative and a signature element used throughout the series. Designed and created by Union in 2D, this was subsequently rolled out to other vendors on the show to use.
Working closely with overall VFX supervisor Sean Faden, Union’s contribution was led by its VFX supervisor Dean Koonjul, CG supervisor David Schneider, and head of CG Rob Hopper.
Union’s most dramatic VFX work was in an almost-comedic chase sequence, during which the Grant character is hounded through the treacherously windy roads of the Alps to the chirpy pop sounds of Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.”
Driving a brightly colored bakery van with a huge cupcake on its roof, Steven tries to avoid a whole host of threats in this frenzied chase -- most of them hurtling toward him, courtesy of Union. The surreal carnage unfurled in the form of vehicle crashes, truck-fulls of falling and splitting logs, explosions, and muzzle flashes, as well as digidoubles and animated CG vehicle destruction FX. This chase itself was filmed on a road in Slovenia, so Union had to add the fully CG alpine environment to include mountainous horizon and the nail-biting sheer drop.
“Episode one was huge for us,” says Koonjul. “We created the biggest VFX sequence of the episode, a pretty high-octane car chase that was a lot of fun to work on and looks incredible. We were all very excited to be working on a Marvel project. It gave us a chance to push our boundaries and create VFX work that we haven’t before -- more action[-oriented] VFX. I’m proud of the whole team for what they produced. It looks impressive and despite [our] tight turnaround [time,] we did it!”
The Union team was also responsible for a desert dunes environment featured in a sequence at the start of Episode 4, as well as animated tattoos on Harrow, the disciples in Episodes 1 and 6, and a CG beetle.
In addition to boasting some of the most ambitious CG Union has yet produced, Moon Knight was also the first project to make use of the company’s newly developed USD-based CG pipeline. “The pipeline allowed artists the freedom to choose between Maya and Houdini when creating assets and lighting shots. Assets could be moved freely between software packages with very little effort,” says Schneider.
“We also honed our ingest pipeline in response to the amount and type of data provided by the client,” Schneider continues. “And our environment lead developed a Houdini-based procedural set up on the show for generating rocky terrain and cliffs, which was used to varying degrees in conjunction with the on-set lidar we had available.”
Moon Knight is now available to stream on Disney+.