Visual Effects facility Artifex Studios had the opportunity to create a fully-digital creature for the upcoming feature film Scourge. Artifex worked on several intense scenes requiring the ‘star’. With such an integral role, a great deal of character needed to be built into each VFX sequence. Scourge has a definite personality; a calculated attitude had to be conveyed in every movement. Details such as 3D drool were also added during Scourge transfer from human host to host.
‘Creating a creature from scratch was a terrific opportunity for us.’ says Adam Stern, VFX Supervisor and President of Artifex Studios. Together with director Jonas Quastel, Scourge was designed in-house then taken to full 3D. The work involved some complex rigging including a dynamic tentacle system which was created separately. A custom system was created that allowed animators to control everything from the speed of individual tentacle motion, to how they were affected by forces (i.e. gravity), to how they collided with other objects in the scene including other tentacles.
‘Hero’ tentacles were keyframe-animated for specific directed action. Additional VFX work for the film included tentacles bursting from actors and being shown underneath skin, 3D prosthetic augmentation, and a full CG exterior church set.
The film starts with a dramatic camera move down the church tower, then continues on a stormy night in 1871 where barely a glimpse of Scourge is revealed. Later in the present day the creature is let loose and afflicts an entire town. Scourge was modeled in Maya utilizing ZBrush for sculpting. All animation was completed in Maya, with 3D rendering handled by RenderMan and compositing handled in Nuke.
Andrew Bronstein of PHD Productions produced the film. Scourge was penned and directed by Jonas Quastel, whose writing credits include Crackerjack (Christopher Plummer, Nastassja Kinski), Listen (Brooke Langdon) and work on the TV Series Poltergeist: The Legacy. Quastel directed Sasquatch (Lance Henriksen, Andrea Roth, Erica Durance), Ripper II and The Psychic (Casper Van Dien).
Reflecting on the partnership between Artifex and PHD, Bronstein remembers the collaboration fondly, ‘We went from an idea, to seeing what the creature looked like, to designing the way it moved. And we had control of every little aspect.’ In particular, it was that attention to detail that impressed Bronstein. ‘At one point, the creature moves from one body to another, and there this great little detail, just a little dribble of slime, but it totally sells the shot. Artifex delivered all the elements you expect to see, but that we hadn’st thought to ask for specifically.’
‘I’ve worked with the folks at Artifex on past projects,’ Quastel said. ‘We knew they’sd be the perfect fit.’ He had high praise for the collaborative process of designing of the Scourge. ‘We spent weeks developing look and function. There was very little to draw on as far as other films. Instead, we pulled ideas from nature and borrowed from fantasy art. The result is something no one ever seen before, a spectacular and frightening creature with natural movement, texture and character.’
Scourge was shot on a JVC HD camera (GY-HD250) using the Red Rock Micro Film Lens (M2) adapter. The choice was simple for DP Corey Robson, whose previous credits as a digital imaging technician made him the perfect fit for the new ‘tapeless’ pipeline still in its infancy. For the budget-conscience independent feature, the camera was an ideal fit, says Robson. The pipeline was also new for Robson but one that he was dying to try. The film was recorded directly on to hard drive using a Wafian HR-1. Going directly to hard drive skipped the tape stock step which compresses images and allowed for a cleaner resolution and colour space than transferring to HDCAM or HDCAM SR.
Artifex Studios Ltd. is located in Vancouver, Canada and creates digital effects and 3D animation for film and television www.artifexstudios.com