Prime Focus VFX has created 124 effects shots for the Stephen Sommers film “G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra”, work that entailed building a complex animation pipeline and orchestrating a flying swarm of bioweaponry for an aerial sequence
Working together, the company’s Los Angeles, Winnipeg and Vancouver visual effects studios provided expertise in previz, digital environments, fluid simulation and high-volume particle rendering for the fantasy movie’s action-packed finale sequence, which involved a complicated aerial scene. To construct the illusion of a plane being eaten away by the nanomites bio-weapon, which disintegrates metal on contact, Prime Focus contributed roughly 70 visual effects shots alone.
According to Chris Bond, senior visual effects supervisor and president of Prime Focus VFX, this sequence was particularly challenging: “We weren’t relying on any aerial photography, which would be nearly impossible to shoot at these speeds, but instead created nearly everything digitally – the plane, sky, clouds and the destructive Nanomites that eat away the plane.”
In addition to developing a custom toolset to generate 3D cloud and sky environments, Prime Focus built a Nanomite animation pipeline and a hybrid matte painting, environment and 3D animation pipeline. The company also dedicated extensive R&D to improving its in-house scene collaboration system that allowed its LA and Vancouver offices to work seamlessly together. Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya were used on the majority of vfx shots, with eyeon Fusion used for the compositing
“We created a system whereby no single shot lives as a whole, but rather as a collection of project, sequence or shot assets,” explained Chris Harvey, visual effects supervisor for Prime Focus VFX in Vancouver. “Assets could range from models, shaders, animations, scripts, light rigs and anything in-between. These assets would then be assembled on the fly based on the specific requirements. This facilitated a number of important aspects to our pipeline – artists would always have the latest approved assets regardless of their global location, and we could make changes en masse and have them propagate through various levels of the show, shot, sequence and even across the entire project.”
In addition to providing previz for the aerial sequence, Prime Focus artists, with VFX supervision from Bond and Harvey, built a animation pipeline for the nanomites. The team used Prime Focus’s proprietary volumetric particle renderer Krakatoa, along with 3ds Max, to render out the billions upon billions of particles that make up the Nanomite cloud.
To produce the complex destruction created by the swarm of nanomites, Prime Focus created a series of particle systems, shader networks, and procedural level set tools that would all talk to and affect each other. This created a true geometric volume with thickness and surface properties that would be ‘eaten’, rather than paper-thin transparency texture maps.
Prime Focus artists also digitally built the Night Raven plane, including its inner-workings and engine, which are revealed as the nanomites eat away the metal. This was constructed around footage of actor Marlon Wayans, shot on set in a chair with only the practical cockpit around him. Ken Nakata headed up the digital matte painting department in Los Angeles to create the CG sky and clouds using a combination of fluid dynamics, matte painting, CG simulation and particle simulation.
Prime Focus also created missile contrails and built the White House and Potomac River entirely in CG. In addition to the finale, Prime Focus also contributed to the opening sequence in which a tank is destroyed by nanomites and provided interior shots and set extensions for the Cobra base.