Rising Sun Pictures wreaks scenes of destruction and peril for Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider, Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures’ (MGM) spirited reboot of the Lara Croft action franchise, follows its adventurous heroine (Alicia Vikander) as she solves the mystery of her father’s disappearance. A perilous journey leads Lara to an obscure island off the coast of Japan, the supposed site of a fabled tomb, where she is immediately caught up in a deadly plot that puts her to the ultimate test.
Working in collaboration with the film’s Director Roar Uthaug, production VFX Supervisor Paul Linden, and production VFX Producer Scott Shapiro, Rising Sun Pictures created 260 visual effects shots across 19 scenes for the film. The work included an extended sequence near the climax, where Lara makes a miraculous leap over a subterranean chasm and sprints through an ancient tomb as it crumbles to dust around her. The team was also tasked with constructing a cryptic “Puzzle Room” whose collapsing floor imperils Lara, as well as 3D matte paintings, set extensions, CG vehicles, pyrotechnics and other complex effects.
“We had a lot of fun working with Roar, Paul, Scott and the studios. We especially enjoyed the opportunity to contribute to the third act of the film. It was interesting, story-driven work. Our artists love it when they can have an impact on the design, come up with new things and deliver exciting sequences. It was really cool.” RSP VFX Supervisor, Hubert Maston.
RSP was a natural choice for the intense action scenes at the film’s climax. “We’re renowned for doing explosions and scenes of destruction at very high quality,” says Executive Producer Gill Howe. “We also have a track record for working quickly and under tight constraints to hit the delivery for the client.”
In the climax to Tomb Raider, Lara is fleeing the villainous Matthias Vogel (Walton Goggins) when she comes to an impossibly wide fissure in the earth. Without hesitating, she leaps, but almost doesn’t reach the far side. At the last moment, she catches her fall by driving a pick axe into the other side.
For the scene, Vikander was shot running through a partial set, built on a sound stage. RSP artists created a full 3D environment to give the chasm its epic scale, and added rocks, dust and other environmental elements to increase the sense of peril. “Our role involved some reverse engineering,” explains Maston. “We built the environment and choreographed events around Lara to complete the story that was imagined on the set.”
The subsequent scene, where Lara escapes through the collapsing tomb, involved a similar process. In that instance, virtually every part of the practical set was replaced with CG elements so that the building’s deconstruction could be precisely orchestrated and controlled. “It was very complicated work as we had to exactly match the practical set,” says CG Supervisor Julian Hutchens. “We replicated the platform Lara stands on, the walls of the temple, the rock faces, the lanterns and all the other details. We built each of them as individual ingredients and then handed them to our layout department to build out the environment.”
The actual collapse of the temple was a complex sequence of events involving everything from tumbling columns to scattering rock fragments and mists of dust. Each part of process that had to be calibrated for realism and tweaked for dramatic effect. “We had to decide where rocks would fall, how they would break, what the dust would look like and how it would be lit,” recalls 2D Supervisor Anthony Smith. “The lighting had been established in the preceding scene, so we needed to reference that as well.”
“In a few shots, we replaced Lara with a digital double,” Smith adds. “In one instance, we used a digi-double for a shot where she slides under a falling pillar. We transition back to the real Lara when she gets back up and continues running toward the camera.”
A different, but equally complex, challenge was offered by the Puzzle Room sequence. In it, Lara must solve a riddle incorporated into the features of the quirky room to halt the collapse of its floor. As with the temple collapse, RSP’s team was tasked with building a fully articulated digital environment and deconstructing it bit by bit.
Maston was on-set when the actors were shot for the scene and was able to gather data for use in building the CG environment. However, other factors made combining the live and digital elements extremely tricky. “It was shot with an anamorphic lens, which is always a challenge. It was also a low light situation and all of the actors had torches,” explains Hutchens. “That led to lens flare issues in comp.”
“We knew that we were going to be replacing the practical floor with CG and it, too, had to match seamlessly with the lighting,” Hutchens continues. “As soon as they built the set, we started modeling it to a hero level. We calibrated our textures to the onset reference, shaded it physically, and lit the set. Fortunately, the overall ambience of the set was consistent, so we could set up one light rig that would work for the whole sequence.”
For Maston, the biggest challenge to both sequences was creative, not technical. “The imperative from the director and the studios was to create a sense of adventure,” he notes. “Inside the tomb, every time Lara takes a step forward, there’s danger, a risk she might die. In the case of the Puzzle Room, it was the imminent threat of the floor collapsing and falling to your death. It’s interesting to work on scenes like that where we can put forward ideas that help tell the story.”
Not all RSP’s visual effects shots were as obvious as the Puzzle Room or the collapsing temple. For a scene early in the film, when Lara arrives on the island, artists created a photo-real CG environment that included ocean water, reef rocks, a wrecked ship and background mountains. They produced a CG helicopter for an escape sequence and replaced the entrance to the temple for the scene where Lara first encounters it. “All of it was very demanding work, but in the end, we made something we’re all really proud of,” says Producer Sarah Vinson. “The effects look really good on screen.”
“The production team and studios were very open to our input and allowed us latitude in making creative decisions in terms of how to make sequences work. The spirit of collaboration is evident in the quality of the work on the screen, and makes for an enjoyable experience for the audience!”
CREDITS + CREW
Rising Sun Pictures
AARON PATRICK STEWART
ALEXANDRA DAUNT WATNEY
ALWYN A HUNT
ANIL REDDY CH
ASHLEIGH KIRBY WHITE
BENJAMIN T. KAY
CAMERON VAN DEN BESSELAAR
FRANCESCA JOCELYN MILDE
JOHN VAN DER ZALM
LU, TING YUN
MERINDA JANSE VAN RENSBURG
QAZI HAMZA JAVED
RAJBIR S DHALLA
ROBERTO VELIO GENITO
USAMA ZEBA GHUFRAN