How VFX Contenders Crafted Key Sequences in ‘Ghostbusters,’ ‘Shang-Chi’ and ‘Army of the Dead’

VFX Awards Race 2022 Ghostbusters Afterlife Army of the Dead Shang Chi
Ghostbusters: Afterlife: Sony Pictures; Army of the Dead: Netflix; Shang-Chi: Marvel Studios/Disney

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

The VFX team at MPC Film were one of the VFX houses responsible for animating the Mini-Pufts scene for “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” “It was one of those moments when you remember why you wanted to be an animator and work in VFX,” says MPC Film animation supervisor Christophe Paradis.

In one memorable sequence, the mischievous Mini-Pufts marshmallows cause havoc in a Walmart, burning, blending and melting each another.

“In our dailies sessions with director Jason Reitman and production supervisor Alessandro Ongaro, our team was encouraged to bring their own ideas to the table,” says VFX supervisor Pier Lefebvre. “I think the choreography was the perfect combination of gruesome, evil, infantile, savage, unhinged and funny, all while bringing personality to each marshmallow. Our inspiration for the scene included the 1984 movie ‘Gremlins,’ released the same year as the original ‘Ghostbusters.’”

With a group of frantic marshmallows wreaking havoc on screen, it was important to direct the audience’s eye to the right place by carefully pacing their actions.

The marshmallows were all hand-animated, with the team referencing toddlers to re-create both clumsiness and cuteness in their animation. MPC worked closely with the director and production VFX supervisor to create the right feeling and the right action for the shots, and additional gags were added outside of the frame’s center of attention.

The approach was to treat the marshmallows as if they were actors on set and were each given a personality of their own.

For the sequence, DNEG served as the lead vendors, and MPC delivered the character assets which were ingested into its pipeline, rigged and animated. They also worked on some additional LookDev for realism and added burned variations to the characters. VFX supervisor Sebastien Raets says, “Some of the high- lights of the show were watching our animators re-enacting a toddler’s movement, climbing up to our studio’s rooftop in Montreal to light marshmallows and of course seeing Bill Murray’s reaction when Ivan Reitman showed him the scene.”

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

The end credit scene is something Weta VFX supervisor Sean Walker has rarely talked about. Walker and his team were called late in the day to deliver the sequence that features Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) in holographic form with Benedict. Wong. Wong makes his second cameo of the movie, grabbing Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina) at a bar and taking them through a portal to meet the Avengers as they discuss the history of the 10 rings and their importance. “I just sat down two compositors and two effects artists, and just said, ‘Come up with something and let your imagination go wild.’ Within four days they came up with the entire sequence,” says Walker.

Walker notes Captain Marvel’s suit was digital because it only exists in digital form. Additionally, it was the first time Walker had ever done holographic effects.
The sequence was filmed on multiple plates with Liu, Awkwa- fina and Wong on one stage, Lar- son on another, and Ruffalo “in his own laboratory, but we had to bring them all together into one final shot.”

Simu Liu preps for an epic showdown
WETA Digital’s pre-viz art
The final shot with VFX inserted

Army of the Dead

Director Zack Snyder set “Army of the Dead” in a post-zombie apocalypse. But there was one slight problem: the film was set in Las Vegas, and key rooftop sequences were needed. The team were met with hard nos from all the hotel/ casino management teams. “They wanted nothing to do with us,” says visual effects supervisor Marcus Taormina. Not only could the production not access roofs, but they couldn’t get onto the casino properties at all.

Snyder took his crew to Atlantic City, N.J., and Albuquerque, N.M. For realism, the VFX team created a digital map of the Vegas skyline and replicated it in VFX.

Taormina says creating the zombie tiger Valentine’s design was the biggest challenge because there needed to be a sense of believability to the animal. Sny- der gave Taormina a 2D concept of ideas for Valentine’s face, and the VFX team started to model and sculpt it in 3D, making it feel real. The VFX team finally found help from an unlikely source: Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue, now famous for Netflix’s “Tiger King” series. The Big Cat Rescue team helped Taormina get close to tigers, involving them during feeding times so they could get the necessary shots of the real-life dimensions to build and create a photo-real Valentine.