InCinematographer - Issue 3 - 28
www.incinematographer.com | Issue 3
Hammering Out Epic Scenes
Thor: Ragnarok Visual Effects
Rising Sun Pictures took the lead in epic Asgardian slow-motion battle scenes as the recently expanded
character animation department created photo-real warriors, horses and digital characters...
ising Sun Pictures (RSP), a top Australian
visual effects studio, produced more than 170
final visual effects shots for Marvel Studios' Thor:
Ragnarok. 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.
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
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 honored 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.
Valkyries vs Hela
'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
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-visualization encompassing every element of
'Val's Flashback' sequence was a "unique challenge"
Hela, menacing Asgardian
Goddess of Death
the sequence to serve as a guide for subsequent
production and post.
Production was conducted on a soundstage in
Queensland. Slow motion effects were achieved by
capturing actor performances via a Phantom camera
operating at 900fps. The imagery was given a further
surreal cast through the use of a rotating lighting
system that bathed the scene in undulating patterns
of light and shadow.
RSP On-Set Visual Effects, Concept and Pre-Vis
Supervisor Adam Paschke headed an on-set team
that gathered practical data and provided technical
advice during the shoot. Production was followed by
months of character animation, visual effects, 3D,
matte painting and compositing at RSP's Adelaide
studio to produce the finished scenes.
Slow Motion Expertise
RSP was a natural choice for the flashback scene
due to its considerable expertise in slow motion
visual effects. For the films X-Men: Days of Future
Past and X-Men: Apocalypse, the studio provided the
visual effects magic for several scenes demonstrating
the hyper-speed abilities of the mutant Quicksilver.
Thor: Ragnarok, however, takes slow motion into
a new, and technically challenging, direction. "Taika
and Jake conceived a fantastic scene," notes Wood.
"We pre-visualized their concept, attended the shoot
and, as soon as editing was complete, went straight
into production. The pre-vis broke the sequence into
multiple layers, each of which was shot separately,
and reassembled bit by bit in post."
"The flashback sequence involved high-level
creature animation and
digital characters, as
well as very detailed
compositing, due to the
unusual lighting 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."
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 utilized 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 superhuman 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 laborintensive process and one that requires artists with a
lot of different skill sets."
Thor vs Hela
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