Duncan Evans travels to darkest Soho to talk about Cinesite’s work on big-budget Hollywood film Clash of The Titans
The mortal son of the god Zeus embarks on a perilous journey to stop thte underworld and its minions from spreading their evil to Earth as well as the heavens. That’s the plot anyway. Cinesite was awarded around 200 shots for the film, 120 of which were centred around the Scorpioch battle sequence. The Scorpiochs are scorpions on steroids, ranging in size from large and scary to huge and downright pant-messing. Simon Stanley-Clamp, VFX Supervisor for Clash explained that Cinesite had been working on the title for around 13 months, just wrapping it up at the end of January.
3D Artist: So what elements did you cover?
Simon Stanley-Clamp: Mainly the Scorps, CG sword, baton transformation into his magic sword, background effects.
3DA: Why was the film shot on Tenerife?
SSC: The primary location for the scorpion battle is in the desert and we were given access to the national park. It’s a fantastic location because it’s a volcanic island and you’ve got the volcanoes, but it’s also really varied. This is just 20 minutes from the forest location. We were working very high, up above the cloud-line, so we wanted to get some shots of the clouds to give you the feeling of being up in the gods.
3DA: In one sequence, Calibos gets his hand chopped off. What did you do there?
SSC: That hand’s been cut off and it’s transforming into something, but you don’t know what yet. This takes you to the location for the scorpions’ battle. There’s one big location in Tenerife, divided up into three areas. Here you’ve got a big vista with some matte paintings.
3DA: The scorpions were modelled with Mudbox; was there any reason for using that rather than, say, ZBrush?
SSC: We actually used ZBrush a bit as well. We used Mudbox because it’s a tool my 3D Supervisor likes, knows a lot; his background is sculpting. It’s quick, very organic and gets results you want.
3DA: So were you on set while they were filming this?
SSC: Yes, I was there for a month. It was a three-week shoot for this sequence. I went out a week before for surveying, stills references, HDRI reference, setting out for the gimbal shoot.
3DA: How long did it take you to come up with the models for all the different scorpions in the scene?
SSC: We started this pretty quickly and there were some production designs, but they were quite scanty. I did essentially 12 designs and took elements of those designs and moulded them into one. There are four different types of scorpions. The palanquin is the mother scorpion and that was the important one to get right. Get that right and all the others are variations of that. There’s a 65-foot one, a 40-foot, a 30-foot one and several 15-foot ones, the little angry ones. That took about, oh, three months.
3DA: Did you have to study actual, live scorpions to get the designs right?
SSC: We did. They had a scorpion farm out there. The smaller they are, the angrier they are, running around. We got that right. The big ones we made move slowly and carry things on their backs. The real ones are just too quick; we had to slow them down, gave them more mass and weight. It came through from the director; he wanted them to be powerful but athletic.
3DA: What about the colour changes?
SSC: As you move through different scenes, they are not chameleon or camouflaged, but take on the colours of the environment. So, when in the desert, they are orange and here (in the slate landscape) they are a little blue.
3DA: The texture of the scorpions looks very rocky, craggy.
SSC: We went very deep on the textures. Almost more detailed than was needed. That said, during reshoots we got a lot closer than was planned.
3DA: What about the fight sequence where the guy gets spiked? What’s going on there?
SSC: Originally it was going to be a spike. We removed the spike from his costume; here this is an entirely digital shot. It was made up from 25 still plates using Maya and Nuke – we rebuilt that with CGI elements, CG dust, the sword falling away. That had to hook up to the real guy. He wasn’t shot moving out of the plate, so the bottom half of him is digital as well, with digital lets.
3DA: Were there any specific problems with matching up the movement of the camera on set with the CGI scorpions?
SSC: There were. I went in March to do an initial recce; we did a Lido scan, our own photography, we covered everything we needed. The shot that caused the most problems was one where I wasn’t on location when they did it. I got a call when they shot it on location in Wales, but I’d been waiting a week with them saying, “We’re shooting it today, we’re shooting it today”, then they said, “We’re shooting it now”, but it would have taken seven hours to get there. So, on this shot, because it’s long and slow, you can’t see the ground. We replaced everything in CGI, so there’s the scorpion, tower, fabrics, leaving only the actors. The problem was we hadn’t done the preparation and an accurate survey. It’s a tricky one because the vehicle has its own motion and the camera and the crane, all opposing each other.