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Fido’s work on Attack the block in 3D world.
Attack the Block, the recently released UK sci-fi movie features a mysterious brand of alien, which are all teeth and fur. Swedish studio Fido tells 3D World how they created the frightening VFX shots for the movie
Attack the Block is the directorial debut of English filmmaker Joe Cornish.
The sci-fi horror film is set on a council estate in South London and features, among others, Paul and Hot Fuzz star Nick Frost.
The film starts with a street gang witnessing a fiery object fall from the sky. The group investigate it and discover an alien creature.
Eventually more creatures arrive and the gang find themselves defending their council estate from alien invaders…
The film features over 100 FX shots, which were completed over the course of 4 months by Swedish effects house, Fido.
The shots included a range of CG fur, jaws, paws and claws for the alien creatures. The creatures themselves were originally shot on set with men in suits, but, despite planned digital grading work on the monsters in post, it wasn’t anticipated how much VFX would be necessary.
Director Joe Cornish had decided to push the look of the fur a little further to make it spikier, clumpier and with a harder edge.
The changes were made so that there would be no doubt in the viewers mind that the creatures were actually men in suits – the use of contrast and harder edges helped Fido achieve this.
In the end, the majority of the the fur on suits was replaced, while the jaws, teeth and claws were all re-designed and created in CG.
The unorthodox way of working results in a unique look on film. The budget of was just £8 million, of which little would have gone on the VFX, the alternative to a full CG solution allows the creatures to sit naturally in the film, while still allowing for a stylised effects look.
Recreating the fur
Fido created a rough model of the creating before making a rig that allowed the team to both animation the creature to the plate, but to also push the geometry around to fill in areas that were needed in the screen space.
The team paid particular attention to making sure the mesh matched the plate in every frame, as well as ensuring smooth animation to avoid any twitching movements that would translate to how the fur behaved.
Timmy Lundin, who headed up the fur development explains: “When it came to applying 3d fur to our monsters we tried a little different approach than we usually do. Our usual fur pipeline involves using Maya, Shave and a Haircut and Renderman. However due to various reasons and some promising early tests we decided to use Houdini and Mantra as our primary tools for creating and rendering the fur.
We started of by using the built-in fur system and then rebuilt some of its properties such as the way the clumping works and in what way dynamics affects the fur.
We then wrapped it up into a neat little package which made it easy to import any number of animated monsters from Maya, apply the fur and have easy access to commonly used parameters such as clumping density and profile, hair length, hair density and so on for each of the four different fur systems each monster consisted of. When required we could easily paint specific attributes onto our skin mesh to control the look of the fur.
The suits used on set included animatronic jaws, but when it came to the final look, Cornish wanted a certain subtlety to expression from the creatures.
The only way to achieve this from creatures that are largely black and without eyes, was through the mouth, so Fido were tasked with extending and animating the jaws of the creatures.
Fido created an animation rig that was capable of sniffing, snarling, grinning, and most importantly, some big impressive roars.
Magnus Eriksson was responsible for the jaws and teeth, which were sculpted in ZBrush and animated in Maya. They were also shaded and rendered in RenderMan by Aron Makkai.
Eriksson explains: We started the creation of the mouth with a simple base mesh that was brought into ZBrush where we could easily create a digital maquette of the mouth. While working on the design and placement of all the teeth we used transpose throughout the process to make sure that the design was functional and could accommodate the movements of the jaw.
Once the design was finalised an animation mesh was created based on the digital maquette and all the details were transferred from the maquette to the animation mesh. After a final cleanup and detailing pass the mouth ended at 24000000 polygons and each tooth at roughly 2500000 polygons. We then brought these high resolution models into Mudbox to generate the displacement maps.
When building the rig for the mouth we needed a great deal of control in how to animate the jaws since we needed to match the head movements of the filmed monsters but still create animation that went beyond what they could do and still feel believable. This included individual controls of the upper and lower jaw, tools for the animator to control the rotational pivot of the mouth and a combination of blendshapes and direct controls for the lips and throat.
To achieve nice deformations on a mouth that should be able to open 180 degrees we decided to use comets pose space deformers tool, as it’s a tool that we often use so we knew it would do the job and be a stable fast solution that would give us full control over the final look of the deformation.
The film’s final scenes included a series of shots with multiple creatures on screen, and lots of CG fireworks.
In one shot, one of the lead characters, moses, is chased down a corridor by a herd of 15 monsters.
The main plate was shot with a tracking camera on rails, it included Moses, the corridor and two of the creatures.
Repeat passes were then shot of the additional creatures on greenscreen, without the help of motion control.
Senior VFX supervisor Mattias Lindahl explains: Careful tracking and stabilising of each individual creature had to be applied to make them sit in with the main plate. The fact that the shot was brightly lit and shot is slow motion as well meant that every inch of each creature was visible to the viewer.
Each individual creature was body tracked to allow us to replace the fur and jaws. We also added CG claws and front paws to each creature, both to help making the creatures scarier, but also to add a wrist to the front leg to smoothen out the motion of the run.
The project was an important one for Fido, having worked hard on a pipeline to match the bigger VFX houses: “This project was perfect for us to prove that the pipeline and our crew really delivers on a high international level,” adds Lindahl.
Attack the Block is currently showing in UK cinemas, with a US release date yet to be determined.
Attack the Block website
Attack the Block on IMDB