Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3, the final film in director James Gunn’s Guardians trilogy and the 32nd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe opened in theaters this month! The MCU is back to the box-office monster it has become known for over the past 15 years, making $118 million in its opening weekend at the box office, and will cross $275 million before the month is over. Produced by Marvel Studios president and NYFA guest speaker Kevin Feige, the film, like the two before it, is a comedy-driven space adventure filled with creatures and aliens never before seen on the screen. The film dives into the past of fan-favorite character Rocket, a space raccoon, which allows for introductions to all sorts of new and interesting aliens.
To bring these creatures to life, Gunn uses a combination of computer-generated images (CGI) and animatronics, real-life models that move like robots. Part of the technology used to create these animatronics was AnimServo, an animation software used to develop movement and expressions in physical models. Created by NYFA chair of 3D Animation & Visual Effects Craig Canton-Largent, This technology was developed at AT&T Shape, an immersive event showcasing technology in entertainment, which NYFA had the privilege of being a partner at their 2018 event!
AnimServo is the Latest Advanced Technology for Some of Hollywood’s Biggest Blockbusters
AnimServo was created to provide a more straightforward plug-in animation service to use facial motion capture to control animatronic puppets. Working with Autodesk Maya, a powerful animation tool, AnimServo has access to high-end animation software and a strong talent pool of animators, which will allow AnimServo to control more than just facial expressions in the near future!
What does all this mean? Basically, the creation of imaginary creatures is becoming more realistic than ever with the help of this technology. AnimServo was created by VFX legend Craig Caton-Largent, who has worked on creating creatures for movies for almost four decades, providing puppets and creating animatronics for movies such as Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, Batman Returns, E.T., and more. With this advance in technology, both real models and computer-generated models are able to look more realistic—Craig has recently used his knowledge of artificial expressions to work on animated blockbusters like Tangled and How to Train Your Dragon 2. Craig has been a proud member of NYFA’s faculty as the chair of 3D Animation & Visual Effects, and we’re lucky to have such a talented artist guiding our animation students! Check out a video of AnimServo creating expressions for a creature used in the Hobbit trilogy and learn more about the technology here.
NYFA at the AT&T Shape Fair
In 2018, NYFA was a sponsor at AT&T Shape, where AnimServo first premiered. Working in the technology of our own, NYFA’s booth at the fair involved visual effects just as AnimServo does. Guests to the fair could come to the booth and create their own VFX video, using a green screen we had set up and visual effect programs. Guests could select different VFX from a list as well as virtual costumes. Examples included a King Kong costume, where guests could pick a virtual city and record themselves destroying it, and then have it sent over to them. Media organization Bionic Buzz was one of the guests and recorded themselves in that specific situation.
The Shape fair provided guests and NYFA students with a unique look at some of the most advanced technology of the time, including a 360 projection dome VR experience, a motion capture process through KUKA Robotics, and advanced content on the RED Hydrogen One smartphone before it was released to the public. The event also had a large amount of visionary speakers, including Ava DuVernay, CEO of Intel Brian Krzanich, 2017 Best Visual Effects Oscar Winner for Kubo and the Two Strings Brian McLean, and NYFA alum Issa Rae. Through these exciting technological advancement displays and guest speakers, NYFA students were at the forefront of the future.
AnimServo In Guardians of the Galaxy
To create an entire universe of extra-terrestrial beings, director James Gunn opted to use a combination of CGI and animatronics to give the film both an other-worldly but also grounded feel. With many scenes involving creatures that look nothing like human beings, the puppet and models need to look realistic and lifelike. Much of the plot of the film involves experimentation on animals to make them more human, thus creating a Utopia world. AnimServo was used for these animals as kids to emote these talking, small animals for the flashbacks, including animals like a baby raccoon, walrus, otter, and rabbit. Later in the film, we meet a planet of beings with animal faces that stand and act like humans, including examples like a Panda wearing jeans and driving a car.
These animals are unique in their mechanical parts and human qualities, unlike anything seen on screen before. Since we aren’t actually able to film a lizard cooking dinner for its family, this is where AnimServo comes in, able to take these puppet and animatronic animals they are actually filming and give them the realistic human expressions and movements that are required for the story. Through the animation software that AnimServo uses, it is able to program these animatronics to move and look like they are real. With James Gunn using practical effects for the animals, he creates the reality even more, by filming tangible objects in the camera, and giving the main cast of human actors something to work off of, rather than adding in the animals as fully CGI in post-production, the interactions feel more genuine, and the story is more believable.
3D Animation and VFX at NYFA
A lot of roles on a film set go into creating a realistic-looking creature, including the directors, production designers, and costume designers, but none are more important than the VFX artists. With Craig Caton-Largent as the chair, you can check out all the different degrees, programs, and workshops offered in the 3D Animation & VFX School here.