No stranger to comic book movies, Framestore recently teamed up with 20th Century Fox and Director David Leitch for Deadpool 2, the highly anticipated sequel featuring Ryan Reynolds as the wisecracking mercenary Deadpool.
The creative studio produced 229 shots for the feature, leading work on the two main CG characters of the piece, Colossus and Juggernaut, as well as providing superhero VFX and animation work. The CG finale sequence is the crown jewel of the piece, with 120 shots of predominantly full CG.
“People really wanted to join the team and be part of the project,” says CG Supervisor Ben Magana. “The artists were fans of the character, really motivated and wanted to make the best film possible.”
Comic book fans will be pleased to see the character Juggernaut realized in the film. “We got to see one frame of the Juggernaut in the trailer,” says Stephane Nazé, VFX supervisor, “and that was a deliberate choice, to get fans questioning what he was going to look like and how big a role he was going to play.”
Framestore’s Art Department worked on some initial concepts for the character, which had been previously portrayed in several films and comics. A key challenge was the sense of scale. The Juggernaut is portrayed as a huge, unstoppable force, which impacted how the animation was treated. “We gave him a delayed speed-up into action, but once he’s in motion, he’s surprisingly fast,” says Bernd Angerer, animation supervisor. “Working out the insane power of his punches in the final battle was a fun challenge.”
Colossus appeared throughout the first film, Deadpool, charming the audience with his kindness and compassion. He is able to transform his body tissue into an organic, steel-like substance that grants him superhuman strength. Framestore artists were given the chance to adapt him for the sequel. “With Colossus, we wanted to keep the face from the first movie, but we changed everything else about him,” says Nazé.
The team re-created him as fully CG, with each line between his muscles splitting the geometry. A lot of time was taken to focus on the rigging and muscle deformation. “We used the gaps between the lines to compress the different volumes to help with the rigidity,” explains Nazé.
Animating a large, solid and rigid character was quite a challenge. “We experimented with everything: from more natural human behavior through to very stiff, almost statuesque poses,” says Angerer. “Eventually we struck a good balance between him being a tall, tense authority that barely moves, in some moments, and a fierce, athletic fighter with a surprising range of motion and expressiveness in others.”
The team was able to flex its creative muscles in the build of a high-res digi-double of Deadpool, who can regenerate damaged or destroyed areas of his cellular structure at a rate far greater than that of an ordinary human – a frustrating fact for the Juggernaut, who tries to kill Deadpool by tearing him in half. With the inside of Deadpool’s torso laid bare for all to see, the team had to use trial and error to get the look of the sequence right, with the assets and FX departments dealing with the entrails and gore, and creature FX artists focusing on the cloth simulation of Deadpool’s clothing.
“It had to be impactful and gross-out the audience,” says Magana, “but we didn’t want to push that too far. It was a case of making it look over-the-top, so that it didn’t seem too ‘real’ to the audience, whilst still being very funny.”
Framestore had the daunting task of tackling the epic finale to the film: a huge battle between the hero characters. “Deadpool actually says, ‘Big CG fight coming,”’ says Magana. “We thought, OK, the audience expects something big now – we have to deliver it!”
The last act became a mostly CG sequence, with a tight timeframe for shot delivery. “It was quite a challenge, but a fun one,” says Nazé. “The team had so much passion and so many ideas for the sequence.”
A hospital was used as the environment in plates shot on set, but the decision was quickly made to build a CG environment to better interact with the huge amount of action taking place. The team got to work creating the main building, surrounded by trees, a swimming pool, gymnasium, and playground in CG. Digi-doubles of characters, including Deadpool, Cable, Domino and Negasonic, were used at key moments.
In addition, there is a large, sweeping fire raging. “We defined several stages of fire and smoke, and then created a 3D setup that we could populate into the shots and update easily,” says Romain Rico, compositing supervisor. “The client also wanted to feel the night was coming, so we had to play with the light, starting with a late afternoon mood and ending at dusk, which was a big compositing and look-dev challenge.”
Both Juggernaut and Colossus battle it out for victory, which saw the animators using reference of boxing and wrestling matches to inspire technique. “The problem we had was that both characters are indestructible,” says Angerer. “How do we make the assaults bigger and bigger? Working out these actions for maximum impact was both fun and a challenge.”
Working on Deadpool 2 was nothing short of a delight for the team, with the film’s comic DNA shining through even in the biggest action sequences. “As a supervisor, it’s part your job to motivate a team and encourage the best work possible in the timeframe,” says Nazé. “On this show, it felt different. The team was really engaged all of the time, and the film feels special because of that.”