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News Article

We Get a Sneak Peek at the 'Underworld: Rise of the Lycans' Visual Effects!


It’s a new day in the Underworld.  The third installment in the popular werewolves vs. vampires series, Rise of the Lycans, promise more action, more werewolves, and lots more technology.  Earlier today, we spoke with the film's director/creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos and executive producer/visual FX supervisor James McQuaide.  The two filled us in on shooting in HD and improving the Lycan technology, while they let us take a sneak peek at some footage.

We got to see all the different layers that go into creating one transformation scene, starting with the wireframe and wireframe with clothing.  Other layers include lighting, transition – human, transition – Lycan, transition – hybrid, transition – control mattes, transition – skin, fur, fur with shirt, and the final product.  Yup, that’s a lot of work for what might amount to only a few seconds of screen time.

One scene we got to see shows a pair of Lycans racing through a shadowy passageway, lined with columns.  Patrick was amused by this: “What is interesting about this is that [werewolf] movies used to have columns, before CGI, to kind of ‘hide’ the transformations.  Now that we have CGI, we still have columns to run in between.”  “We really tried to make a transformation as natural and as organic as it could possibly be,” James tells us.

What is the “ratio” between CGI and practical effects?

Tatopoulos: In the first two movies, you only see a few werewolves – it is more about the vampires, and werewolves in human form.  So you don’t see many effects for that.  With Rise of the Lycans, I was forced to go towards CGI – there is no way I can bring in 300 actors and put them all in werewolf suits.  I knew from the beginning this one would have more CGI, but we used practical effects whenever we could.  Interestingly enough, I had only one mechanical werewolf head to play with.  When you have 300 werewolves in a courtyard, it is difficult to do it with just one.  I had three werewolves without mechanical heads, and you quickly see that they look stupid.  But they became lighting references.

McQuaide: Someone was asking me about werewolf shots in Underworld 2 versus Underworld 3.  In 2, there were 29 CGI werewolf shots.  In this one, there are 80.  Beyond just the army of werewolves at the end, there are quite a few single and double werewolf shots.  When we made the first Underworld, not many companies were doing CGI creatures.  Now it’s – not quite commonplace, but certainly more so than it was seven years ago.

This film was shot all in HD.  Can you talk a little about the process?

Tatopoulos: This was my first directing job, so I didn’t really have anything to compare it to on-set.  When I was asked to shoot digital, I had no feelings either way about it.  I just wanted to make sure my DP felt good about it.  Ross Emery [DP] said it was no problem.  We talked about what material to use, and decided to go with Genesis.  I watched Apocalypto [which was filmed with Genesis cameras], and I thought it looked amazing.  To me, it didn’t feel like digital; it felt like film. 

Looking back, I realized that if we had shot 4K or even film, I would have had more control in the editing room.  I like to be able to crop within my shots.  With Genesis, you can crop very little, so you have less control in post.  But the advantages were that, on set, I could see exactly how the film would look.  That was a treat for me.  I’d like to use digital again.  After using it, I can’t really see myself going back to film.  I would like to work with 4K because I think it is going to be a better tool.

McQuaide: How about 28K?  The new Reds are going to be 28K. That is what they are shooting for in 2010.  I did a picture called Cave with Ross Emery.  About a third of that movie was underwater, and all that underwater footage was Genesis.  If we had stayed on schedule, it would have come out before the Star Wars prequels, and we would have been the first digital film to come out.  So Ross has a ton of experience with digital.  He did second unit on Superman Returns as well.  The thing I was concerned about was that Genesis doesn’t typically give you good blacks.  The colorist we worked with played around with it a lot to get those rich blacks you will see on screen.

What are we getting that is “new?”

McQuaide: From a technological standpoint, we tried to make the transformations better.  The guys here at Luma Studios did the werewolves in the second film, so they took that and tried to build on that.  In this movie, you will see we have guys on fire transforming, guys transforming to werewolves, from werewolves, three on screen at a time transforming… We tried to take the techniques we developed in the second film and make them grander.