“Much of the movie’s scene-stealing is left to Rocket, a CGI character impressively crafted by the Guardians’ crack VFX team and voiced with panache by Cooper.” – The Hollywood Reporter
Rocketing to a record-breaking opening weekend success and being labelled one of the best Marvel films yet, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy takes the Marvel Cinematic Universe into deep space with the universe’s most unlikely bunch of heroes.
Framestore created one of those heroes in the form of Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and animated both him and his arboreal companion Groot (Vin Diesel) in the middle act of the movie that spans more than 40 minutes and 633 final shots. We also created the cavernous expanse of Knowhere – a giant mined out skull that’s home to a whole city – the most complicated environment we’ve ever built.
Working with overall VFX Supervisor Stephane Ceretti, our work was overseen by Framestore VFX Supervisors Jonathan Fawkner and Kyle McCulloch, with the latter on set at Shepperton and Longcross studios in the UK.
The making of a space raccoon
Our first creative challenge was creating a believable talking, bipedal raccoon. Rocket needed to look naturalistic, but at the same time he had to be made to do things raccoons don’t do. Like shoot people with a big gun for instance. “If you exaggerate his performance and make him too cartoony you’ve lost the audience but if you go too real it won’t be entertaining or won’t do Bradley’s voice justice,” explains Animation Supervisor Kevin Spruce.
As we were leading the Look Dev on Rocket our Creature FX team had their hands full with his fur and clothing. Imagine you need to simulate a million hairs for a coat of fur, normally you might choose 10% of those as guides to drive the full groom, but for Rocket we simulated every single hair and how it collides for the first time.
“Rocket is the strongest and most central character that we have animated without a doubt,” says Jonathan Fawkner. “Underneath there’s a lot more to him than just anger and as a title character he’s got sequences that posed really beautiful challenges from an animation and an acting point of view. We had to make sure he could hold his own on screen."
Our section of the film begins with our heroes captured and transferred to the Kyln prison. It’s one of the biggest sets Marvel has ever constructed, but we still needed to extend it from two storeys to 30. It was fully built, lit and rendered by Framestore, which might seem like overkill for a set extension, where normally you might use a matte painting, but with the environment being viewed from so many different angles it was essential.
Suddenly, the prison is thrust into zero gravity. Luckily we know a little bit about that! “The shot of the soldiers beginning to float off is one of the ones I’m really, really pleased with because it’s matched exactly in complete CG to a live action shot seen just three shots earlier and you cannot tell the difference,” says Jonathan.
- Read more in Rocket: the making of a space raccoon
The middle of Knowhere
Knowhere, a city inside a severed head floating at the edge of the Marvel Universe, became our most complicated environment build so far – three miles across and designed with distinct neighbourhoods comprised of 85,000 separate pieces such as towers, pillars, turbines, favela huts. We even brightened up those districts by hand-placing around 10,000 street lights.
We then had some odd creatures to animate on the gambling table and some huge FX problems to solve in the Collector’s lab before animating a high-speed space-ship chase that explores every inch of Knowhere. The chase takes place at hundreds of miles an hour and so from shot to shot the action might travel a quarter of the way around the environment, meaning you soon see every part of the environment. The camera takes in all the geometry, from large-scale things such as the towers right down to individual little railings, light fittings and doors.
- Read more in The Middle of Knowhere
Our part in this hilarious, hyper-colourful entry into the Marvel canon ends shortly after the dog-fight. It was fantastic to work with such an unlikely group of heroes and to help create such a complex one in Rocket. “The best part of this movie was James Gunn being so engaged and involved from beginning to end. It was wonderful to work on a project where people cared so much” said VFX Supervisor Kyle McCulloch.
- Read more about the R&D behind Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel Studios presents a James Gunn film 'Guardians of the Galaxy'. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, featuring Vin Diesel as Groot, Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Lee Pace, Michel Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, with John C. Reilly, with Glen Close as Nova Prime and Benicio Del Toro as the Collector. Casting by Sarah Halley Finn. Music Supervisor Dave Jordon. Music by Tyler Bates. Head of visual development, Charlie Wen, Co-head of visual development Ryan Meinerding. Visual effects supervisor Stephane Ceretti. Costume Designer Alexandra Byrne. Edited by Fred Raskin, Craig Wood. Production design Charles Wood. Director of photography Ben Davis. Co-producers David J Grant, Jonathan Schwartz. Executive producers Nik Korda, Stan Lee, Victoria Alonso, Jeremy Latcham, Alan Fine, Louis Desposito. Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman. Directed by James Gunn. © 2014 MARVEL