takes the lead in slow-motion battle scene; recently expanded character
animation department creates photo-real warriors, horses and digital characters.
South Australia—Rising Sun Pictures (RSP), Australia’s premiere visual effects
studio, produced more than 170 final visual effects shots for Thor: Ragnarok¸ the new film from Marvel
Studios. 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 cosmos. 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
honoured 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.

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 magical
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-visualisation
encompassing every element of the sequence to serve as a guide for subsequent
production and post.
was conducted on a soundstage in Queensland. Slow motion effects were achieved
by capturing actor performances via a Phantom camera operating at 900 fps. 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.
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-visualised 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.”
flashback sequence involved high-level creature animation and digital
characters, as well as very detailed compositing, due to the unusual lighting
effects,” adds Visual 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
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 utilised
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 super-human 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 labour-intensive
process and one that requires artists with a lot of different skill sets.”
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 have the entire background replaced with a 3D
environment created by RSP. “We produced a palace that was much bigger and with
a higher ceiling than was possible on any stage.” explains Wood. “It was more
spread out and more opulent.”
In the
finished scene, Thor is the only non-digital element. “Replacing the background
in its entirety created its own challenges,” observes 2D Lead Jess Burnheim.
“It meant that we had to extract Chris Hemsworth from the plate with no blue
screen. We literally rotoscoped everything, including his hair. It was
painstaking work.”
The Bifröst
Bridge appears in another scene involving a pitched battle, this one pitting
Hela against Thor and Loki. “The Bifröst has been seen in previous Marvel
productions, but in Thor: Ragnarok it has a unique look because we’re inside
it,” Burnheim explains. “We had old reference to work from, but we had to
develop the effect further and create something that would work with the plate
“One thing
that happens in the scene is that Thor is pushed into the side of the bridge
and it shatters,” he adds. “That raised the question, what is it made of? Is it
light? Is it physical? It took many iterations to get it to feel right.”
RSP also
contributed to a scene featuring Hela’s troop of skeleton soldiers, which again
involved the use of digital characters. Additionally, artists created a 3D
version of Thor’s famous hammer for a scene where it is crushed by Hela.
Despite the
project’s complexity, lengthy schedule, and growing shot list, the work
proceeded smoothly. Mackintosh attributes that to the unique structure of RSP’s
production pipeline. Its integration of animation, character development and
compositing facilitates collaboration between departments and allows the studio
to turn out iterations and finished work fast.
and creatures are separate entities at many studios, but we’ve unified the
departments in a single smooth pipeline,” Mackintosh says. “When working to deliver
shots, there is always a lot of back and forth between the teams, and we feel it’s
vital to keep them working together.”
Howe notes
that the cohesiveness of the RSP team (most senior artists have been with the
studio for years) also promotes efficiency and delivers cost savings.
“As always,
we gave our all to ensure that everything we delivered was spectacular and
exceeded expectations,” says Howe. “The results are a testament to the
dedication and creativity of our artists, and the strength of our pipeline in
managing photoreal creature animation; complex, interactive lighting and look
development. It’s a big step forward for RSP.”
Rising Sun
Pictures department heads included Senior VFX Supervisor Tom Wood, Executive
Producer Gill Howe, VFX Producer Corinne Teng, Head of Production Alana Newell,
CG Supervisors Hubert Maston & Noah Vice, Head of 2D Anthony Smith, 2D Lead
Jess Burnheim, VFX Supervisor Dennis Jones, Head of Creatures Tim Mackintosh,
Head of Layout Damian Doennig, Head of Modelling Anto Bond, Head of Effects Sam
Hancock, On-Set VFX/Concept/Pre-vis Adam Paschke and Head of Lighting/Look
Development Shane Aherne.
About Rising Sun Pictures:

At Rising Sun Pictures (RSP) we create
inspirational visual effects for major studios worldwide. Creating outstanding
images is at the core of our existence. At the heart of our talented team,
there is a diverse knowledge and skill-set, enabling a collaborative core where
we can work together to solve problems and deliver great visuals to our
clients. We have achieved some truly amazing visual effects work by providing
innovative solutions to technically challenging work. We have the capacity and
talent pool to scale to suit the needs of our clients. RSP has worked on over
100 films including Thor: Ragnarok;
the X- Men, Harry Potter and Hunger Games
franchises; and Game of Thrones.

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