THOR: RAGNAROK

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Rising Sun Pictures Hammers Out Visual Effects for Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok

Rising Sun Pictures (RSP), Australia’s premiere visual effects studio, produced more than 170 final visual effects shots for Thor: Ragnarok¸ the new film from Marvel Studios. Working under the supervision of Director Taika Waititi, production Visual Effects Supervisor Jake Morrison and production Visual Effects Producer Cyndi Ochs, RSP’s team spent more than 18 months helping to craft some of the film’s most memorable, creative and technically challenging scenes.

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Highlights of RSP’s contributions include a sequence dubbed “Val’s Flashback” involving a furious battle between the film’s villain, Hela (Cate Blanchett), and an army of Valkyrie. The team also played a key role in “The Palace Battle”, an epic confrontation between Hela and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and in reimagining the Bifröst Bridge, a magical rainbow that links realms of the Norse cosmos. The project is especially noteworthy for the standout work of RSP’s expanded character animation department, who were tasked with creating photo-real horses, Valkyrie and skeleton soldiers, as well as other digital characters.

“We were honoured to be selected by Marvel Studios as a vendor on this film, and proud of the work that we delivered,” says Managing Director Tony Clark. “We have been systematically growing our human and technical resources, especially in character animation, to tackle complex, large-scale projects, while maintaining the artistry, craftsmanship and attention to detail that are hallmarks of RSP. The results are evident in Thor: Ragnarok.” Nearly 200 artists took part in the project for RSP.

Val’s Flashback, which plays out in artful slow motion under glittering light, describes a fatal encounter between Valkyrie warriors and Hela, the Asgardian Goddess of Death. The female warriors, riding winged steeds, emerge from portals in the sky only to be mercilessly struck down by Hela using her magical powers.

Led by Senior Visual Effects Supervisor Tom Wood, the RSP team began working on the scene in early 2016 during pre-production. Artists prepared 3D pre-visualisation encompassing every element of the sequence to serve as a guide for subsequent production and post.

“The flashback sequence involved high-level creature animation and digital characters, as well as very detailed compositing, due to the unusual lighting effects,” adds Visual Effects Executive Producer Gill Howe. “It was also a challenge because it was a standalone piece, and a significant scene in the movie. It had to be unique, different, and something that had never been done before.”

Considerable attention went into the creation of the Valkyrie and horses. Often revealed in close up, the animated characters had to be photo-real. “We spent a lot of time in look development, making sure that their fur and feathers were right, and that the muscle system moved like a real horse,” explains Head of Creatures Tim Mackintosh. “If they had been monsters, we would have had more leeway, because monsters aren’t real, but everyone is familiar with horses. Although these were mythical, winged horses, audience members will have an idea for how they should look and move.”

Thor: Ragnarok

RSP also took great care in preparing Hela’s accoutrements, including her cape, the cowl she wears on her head, and her menacing antlers. Artists initially developed concepts for Hela’s costume for a trailer that screened at Comic Con in 2016 but continued to refine the look through later stages of production. “It was quite tricky,” recalls Head of Lighting/Look Development Shane Aherne. “We needed to remain consistent with the assets’ practical counterparts and with their representations in the original Marvel comics. But we also needed to accommodate Cate Blanchett’s performance and the action of the scene.”

RSP utilised digital characters to perform actions impossible for a human or to facilitate integration into the scene. This was especially important for characters that exhibited magical powers or super-human strength. In most instances, the character’s motion was derived from motion capture data from the actor. “Motion capture will get you 90 percent of the way there, but the rest has to be sculpted to the CG character,” notes Mackintosh. “It’s a labour-intensive process and one that requires artists with a lot of different skill sets.”

The Palace Fight depicts a confrontation between Hela and Thor that plays out over some 60 shots. Although live action elements were shot on a practical set, the production ultimately chose to have the entire background replaced with a 3D environment created by RSP. “We produced a palace that was much bigger and with a higher ceiling than was possible on any stage.” explains Wood. “It was more spread out and more opulent.”

In the finished scene, Thor is the only non-digital element.

“Replacing the background in its entirety created its own challenges. It meant that we had to extract Chris Hemsworth from the plate with no blue screen. We literally rotoscoped everything, including his hair. It was painstaking work.” 2D Lead, Jess Burnheim.

The Bifröst Bridge appears in another scene involving a pitched battle, this one pitting Hela against Thor and Loki. “The Bifröst has been seen in previous Marvel productions, but in Thor: Ragnarok it has a unique look because we’re inside it,” Burnheim explains. “We had old reference to work from, but we had to develop the effect further and create something that would work with the plate photography.”

“One thing that happens in the scene is that Thor is pushed into the side of the bridge and it shatters,” he adds. “That raised the question, what is it made of? Is it light? Is it physical? It took many iterations to get it to feel right.”

RSP also contributed to a scene featuring Hela’s troop of skeleton soldiers, which again involved the use of digital characters. Additionally, artists created a 3D version of Thor’s famous hammer for a scene where it is crushed by Hela.

Despite the project’s complexity, lengthy schedule, and growing shot list, the work proceeded smoothly. Mackintosh attributes that to the unique structure of RSP’s production pipeline. Its integration of animation, character development and compositing facilitates collaboration between departments and allows the studio to turn out iterations and finished work fast.

“Animation and creatures are separate entities at many studios, but we’ve unified the departments in a single smooth pipeline,” Mackintosh says. “When working to deliver shots, there is always a lot of back and forth between the teams, and we feel it’s vital to keep them working together.”

Howe notes that the cohesiveness of the RSP team (most senior artists have been with the studio for years) also promotes efficiency and delivers cost savings.

“As always, we gave our all to ensure that everything we delivered was spectacular and exceeded expectations,” says Howe. “The results are a testament to the dedication and creativity of our artists, and the strength of our pipeline in managing photoreal creature animation; complex, interactive lighting and look development. It’s a big step forward for RSP.”

Rising Sun Pictures department heads included Senior VFX Supervisor Tom Wood, Executive Producer Gill Howe, VFX Producer Corinne Teng, Head of Production Alana Newell, CG Supervisors Hubert Maston & Noah Vice, Head of 2D Anthony Smith, 2D Lead Jess Burnheim, VFX Supervisor Dennis Jones, Head of Creatures Tim Mackintosh, Head of Layout Damian Doennig, Head of Modelling Anto Bond, Head of Effects Sam Hancock, Lighting Supervisor Ryan Kirby, LookDev Supervisor Ben Paschke, On-Set VFX/Concept/Pre-vis Adam Paschke and Head of Lighting/Look Development Shane Aherne.

CREDITS + CREW
Director

TAIKA WAITITI

VFX Producer

CYNDI OCHS

VFX Supervisor

JAKE MORRISON

Rising Sun Pictures

AARON FICKLING
AARON PATRICK STEWART
ADAM PASCHKE
ADAM POTTER
AGATHE COURTISSE
ALANA NEWELL
ALBERT RADOSEVIC
ALEX MEDDICK
ALEXANDRA DAUNT WATNEY
ALWYN A HUNT
ANDREAS STEINLEIN
ANDREW PALMER
ANDREW SAVCHENKO
ANDY PEEL
ANIL REDDY CH
ANNE VU
ANTHONY SMITH
ANTO BOND
ARTHUR MOODY
ASHLEIGH WHITE
AYSHA LEY
BALAJI K.P.
BEN DICKSON
BEN PASCHKE
BENJAMIN HOLEN
BENJAMIN T KAY
BHAWNA VIJAY
BRADLEY WEBSTER
BRODIE MCCROSSIN
BRYN BAYLISS
CARA GATELY
CHELSEA MIRUS
CHRIS KING
CHRIS ROSENHAIN
CHRISTINA RZEWUCKI
CHRISTOPHER JANSSEN
CLAIRE KEARTON
CORINNE TENG
CRAIG FIELD
CRYSTEL NEWMAN
DAMIAN DOENNIG
DANIEL THOMPSON
DANIEL VELIKOV
DANIEL WILLS
DAVID BEMI
DAVID CATTERMOLE
DAVID CAUNCE
DENNIS JONES
DILEN SHAH
DYLAN BINNS
ELIZA SCOTT
EMMA HILDESTRAND
FELIX B LAFONTAINE
FERNANDO GUERRERO RODRIGUEZ
FLORENT REVEL
FRANCESCA JOCELYN MILDE
FRANCESCO CADONI
FREDRICK LYN
GAIL FULLER
GEMMA WOOD
GILLIAN HOWE
GREG WIEDER
GUIDO WOLTER
HANG LI
HAO TRUONG
HARRY MEDLIN
HARSHAL PATIL
HEATH DINGLE
HUBERT MASTON
IAN COPE
JAMES TAVET
JENNIE ZEIHER
JESS BURNHEIM
JESSE BALODIS
JESSE MELER
JOEL MICHAEL
JOHN PERRIGO
JOHN SALEEM
JOHN TOTH
JOHN VAN DER ZALM
JONATHAN BLIESCHKE
JONATHON MCKENDRICK
JONO COY
JORDAN VANDERLINDEN
JOSEPH ROBERTS
JOSH ELLEM
JOSIP PETERKOVIC
JULIA CAPLIN
JULIEN TATON
JUSTIN GREENWOOD
KARTHIC RAMESH
KATHY CONSTANTIN
KEN STEWART
KEVIN CAMPBELL
KIERAN OGDEN-BRUNELL
KIERAN SHEPHERD
KIRSTY PARKIN
KURT DEBENS
LACHLAN TOLLEY
LESLIE SAFLEY
LEVENT HASEKI
LEVON HUDSON
LU, TING YUN
LUAN NGUYEN
MAKOTO HATANAKA
MARCUS WELLS
MAREE FRIDAY
MARK DAY
MARK HONER
MARK LASZLO
MARK STORY
MASAHIRO TERAOKA
MATHEW MACKERETH
MATTHEW SHAW
MERINDA JANSE VAN RENSBURG
MICHAEL FURNISS
MICHAEL JOHNS
MYKHAILO SLAVOV
NAEEM CHUDAWALA
NATHAN JONES
NATHAN ZEPPEL
NICK BEINS
NICK PILL
NICOLAS LANDAJO
NIKHIL SHANKAR-NOBLE
NOAH VICE
NONIS NICOLE
PARIKSHAT TYAGI
PARIS DOWNES
PAUL BOYD
PAUL KIRWAN
PAUL TAYLOR
PETER MCINULTY
PHOEBE SHAW
PREMAMURTI PAETSCH
QAZI HAMZA JAVED
RAJBIR S DHALLA
RANAJOY KAR
RANJITH KIZHAKKEY
REBECCA BOGERT
RENEE MARSLAND
RITA ALICIA GARCIA
ROBERT BEVERIDGE
ROBERTO VELIO GENITO
ROSS NOVAK
RUSHIKESH JOSHI
RYAN HENISER
RYAN KIRBY
SAMUEL HANCOCK
SAMUEL HODGE
SANDEEP ROY
SARA HENSCHKE
SARAH BENEKE
SHANE AHERNE
SHANE BERRY
SHARNA HACKETT
SHAWN MCCARTEN
SIMON MALESSA
SIMON WALSH
SITHIRISCIENT KHAY
SOPHIE BECK
SPYRO POLYMIADIS
SUBHASISH SAHA
THOMAS CANT
TIM MACKINTOSH
TIMMY LUNDIN
TONY CLARK
TOR ANDREASSEN
USAMA ZEBA GHUFRAN
VICTOR GLUSHCHENKO
WAYNE HOWE
WAYNE LEWIS
WENDY NETHERCOTT

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