For “Love and Monsters,” the film’s VFX team, led by Matt Sloan, had to devise 13 different monsters, each with a unique look.
“Each had its own design rules and personality. From gross little leech-like slug worms to the misunderstood monstrous crab in the finale,” Sloan says.
Familiarity was the key to the art department’s designs. Each creature had to be recognizable as something that could have mutated from creatures that exist today — cockroaches, frogs, centipedes and other insects.
“A lot of research went into studying bugs, eels, crabs and a lot of video reference — including a compilation video of dead bloated whales exploding from their internal pressure.”
From there it was about mixing in scars, dirt and imperfections that added up to a high degree of detail.
“On the crab, there is a six-pack ring stuck on his horn and an old crab trap [that he mutated out of] on his leg,” Sloan says.
Each creature was given its own backstory to help aid the storytelling and design.
“My favorite, in the end, was the Hell Crab. He had so much going on and we needed to switch his performance during the scene from monstrous and aggressive to something softer and very sympathetic in a way that did not pull the audience out of the story,” says Sloan.
VFX Dressed ‘Mulan’ Shapeshifters
While visual effects are typically thought of as explosions and virtual productions, it is not often usually connected with costume design. However, for “Mulan,” the team at Weta enhanced Oscar-nominated costume designer Bina Daigeler’s designs.
Lead compositors Beck Veitch worked on the witch’s transformation sequence. In the film, Xianniang (Gong Li) shapeshifts from a soldier to a witch and then a hawk. It happens in a matter of seconds.
“Xianniang’s transformation was a great example of how we were able to enhance and manipulate the costumes in ‘Mulan’ so the witch could subtly change from her soldier disguise to her human form and finally, to her hawk form,” Veitch says.
That meant carefully observing each component of Daigeler’s costumes and figuring out how to blend and morph parts seamlessly.
“For the soldier to witch transition, the legs and the tassets [armor plate] of each character were modeled, textured and animated. The CG witch was ‘inflated’ to match the silhouette of the soldier, and in the composite, we used the soldier’s footfalls to drive the ‘beats’ of the change, elements of the witch becoming increasingly visible from the ground up,” says Veitch.
As the change takes place, the soldier’s legs and boots subtly transform. The VFX challenge was to blend the different styles of the metal scales in the real costumes, “in a believable way, making the change look like a natural process and not an overly obvious, magical one,” he says.
The flowing silk sleeves that Daigeler created as part of the witch’s outfit were used by the VFX team as a transition device from human to hawk form. “The centrifugal motion of her sleeves in the practical stunt gave us the perfect opportunity to warp and visually concentrate the witch’s form to the much smaller volume of the hawk as she flies away, again allowing the transition to read as mastery of her chi powers as opposed to an overt magical display.”