The Third Floor pre and postvis supervisor James Baker recounts his experiences working on "Guardians of the Galaxy 2," the studio's 11th Marvel collaboration...
Visualization studio The Third Floor recently wrapped on Guardians of the Galaxy 2, the 11th contribution it has made to a Marvel production since 2010. Pre and postvis supervisor James Baker reflects on his Marvel-ous time working on projects such as the first Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man. "It's always amazing. Each production is unique, but the way Marvel has embraced the visualization process to bring out creative ideas and support effective technical production is a constant, from film to film."
The potential for complacency through familiarity may be present, but constant collaboration instead means greater understanding. "It's great to work with directors like James Gunn and visual effects supervisors like Christopher Townsend," says Baker. "They really understand previs and postvis, and leverage them to inform the shoot and the final vendor work. When you work with collaborators you've worked with before, it's possible to develop a kind of shorthand during that time."
The opening sequence has Baby Groot dancing while the rest of the team battle, a great reintroduction to the team. The sequence started out with basic blocking of the action in very simple animation. "As our work progressed," says Baker, "the animation was finessed. The one exception was Baby Groot, who we kept in a simple form throughout. We didn't use our regular Groot rig for this but a different version we called the "Gingerbread Groot.” We were more focused on his overall action than the minutiae of his detailed animation."
"The rest of the background action was more fully fleshed out both in previs and postvis. All of this helped inform the shooting and final visual effects for the film. We animated using Maya and did effects and compositing in After Effects. We also used Adobe Premiere to edit our previs. When visualizing shots like this that appear as one long take, any changes made along the way have a domino effect. One of our artists, Steve Lo, was our lead on the sequence and did an incredible job."
At one point the team land on a really beautiful planet, but it didn't always look that way. "For our previs, we worked with early designs from the art department. The look evolved throughout the process and was different in the final release of the film. I can't speak too much about the final process but I know James Gunn had a lot of influence on the look."
The whole process is one long collaboration and evolution of ideas. "There was extensive previs across the film, and we also completed postvis, where we would composite previs or CG into plates that had been shot."
"One specific other challenge for us was the Space Chase sequence. A lot of times in action sequences of this sort, the action will take place near a large ship that gives you some scale and lets you show the speed of the action by the proximity to the larger object. We didn't have the luxury of that for this sequence, so the previs relied more on editing and camera to depict that sense of speed in the shots."
Further challenges presented themselves at every opportunity. "We also worked to help solve technical challenges, including helping to figure out approaches for the shoot. We would create schematics and moving Quicktimes with technical previs, or techvis, to show distances and positions for the actors, cameras, props, and other equipment. A big use of techvis was with flying rigs. For example, when Quill flies around fighting the Abilisk, in order to film the action as visualized, the actor had to stay relatively in the same area with the camera moving around him."
The working relationship between Marvel and The Third Floor has really been fine-tuned to an art now, excusing the pun. A smooth as you could want. "James Gunn would pitch the sequences to us and I would then give notes on performance to my team. Then, when we showed James a sequence, he would refine the acting to a point and then he would continue to get the performance he wanted with the final vendors."
From a previs standpoint, Rocket's fur was not a difficult challenge. 3D modelers can struggle to create realistic and accurate fur, but models for previs are much simpler. The influence and power that previs artists have comes from the animation. "Our artists did have an impact on the performances of Rocket and Groot," says Baker, "and some personality animation from the visualization phase made it through to the final film, which is always thrilling for an artist to see."