Our team was proud to create bespoke VFX for Roland Emmerich’s epic sci-fi disaster film Moonfall. Starring an A-list ensemble cast that includes Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson and John Bradley, the film follows a mysterious force dubbed ‘the anomaly’ otherwise known as the ‘nano swarm’ that knocks the Moon from its orbit and sends it hurtling on a collision course with Earth - threatening to end life as we know it.
Framestore was involved in the creative process from early concept art through to the show’s final VFX, working closely with internationally renowned director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012) on complex VFX space work. The team worked on sequences including the ‘First Mission’ opening scene, creating the terrifying nano swarm and, of course, the moon itself. Framestore VFX Supervisor Bob Winter (Army of the Dead) and his team worked on 180+ shots that took in expertise from the studio’s vis dev, animation and VFX teams. “It was a really interesting challenge to find that balance in creating fictitious effects that are grounded in some sort of physical reality and relevant to the story,” says Winter. “At some point the moon and the Earth touch, and that’s a perfect instance in which we need to find that sweet spot so as to have the work realistic enough to suspend the viewers’ disbelief.”
Framestore’s team worked on the opening sequence named ‘First Mission’, where we are first introduced to the nano swarm as a group of astronauts are being sent into space to investigate changes in the moon’s orbit. The team was tasked with creating the space shuttle launch to the moon and called on a NASA astronaut to ensure its accuracy. “It was a huge undertaking in terms of Environment work; at some point, the nano swarm digs a hole into the moon which leads to its destruction, and that calls for complex visual effects which involves a moon cracking with dirt and dust getting sucked by earth’s gravity,” explains Winter.
In terms of creature work, the nano swarm presented a number of challenges, as it is in itself shapeless: an ever-in-flux, strangely mechanical swarm of particles that can essentially take on any shape. “It essentially creates matter and brings that into the physical world as a particular system that then takes on a shape,” explains Animation Supervisor Thiago Martins. As well as an intimidating, antagonistic presence, the nano swarm is also unique from a technical standpoint, being an intricate creature that doesn’t follow the laws of physics; it’s able to transform into anything, and our team of artists developed a workflow that would allow for a flexible approach to create its look and feel. “After our vis dev team locked its creative look, we worked with traditional animation in Maya, and then much of the final look was established in Houdini with our FX artists having a significant amount of input in the animation,” says Martins. “We created a flexible, procedural-based creature that does not fall within our traditional character animation workflow.”
As well as visual effects artistry, the team created a toolkit including LED content to support the Lighting crew and action scenes during the on-set shoot. “During prep, we generated all of the content and I was on-set with the LED team to see that through,” says Winter. Framestore’s team converted 3D scenes used by previs to simulate the interactive lighting on the LED panels. “We created a library of lighting cues matching the action in each scene.” “The DP could add and remove lighting cues as needed, which made the process really flexible and gave the filmmakers room to make adjustments on the fly,” concludes Winter.
“This was a fantastic project to work on, and it really showcased the level of artistry we have here at Framestore. It’s especially exciting that the film was shot and produced in many of the artists’ hometown here in Montreal,” concludes Winter. “As well as being a source of pride for everyone at the Montreal studio, it also represents a real commitment to - and faith in - the incredible talented VFX artists we have living and working here.”