Dneg’s Animation, VFX & Matchmove Sups. share making of ‘Paul’

By AMRITA VALECHA | 12 April, 2011 - 12:40

Double Negative, Singapore & London was responsible for all the VFX of the recently released film, Paul by Greg Mottola.  The film stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as comic book geeks who have close encounters with an alien as they travel across the U.S. in a RV.

Led by VFX Supervisor, Jody Johnson, Animation Supervisor, Anders Beer and VFX Producer, Hal Couzens, work on Paul began in 2007 with the first tests of the alien character to get an idea of scale, eye design, how it worked to different voice recordings. The main challenge was to create a photorealistic and appealing character that the audience wouldn’t question. Seth Rogen’s (who was cast as Paul) voice is big and gravely and the animators had a huge task in integrating the two.

Across the project almost 300 people contributed to the work on 750 shots. Although the creation of the Paul character was a huge job, the team also created a series of other VFX work for the film, this included Paul’s invisibility capability, the digital bird, mind-meld sequence, spaceships and other ‘Paul’ aliens and numerous green screen replacements. A considerable and necessary amount of work in 400+ shots that hopefully the viewer never really notices!

Before animating could even begin, however, Paul had to be built.  The rigging requirements were very heavy for Paul and presented a major challenge as the team worked out what kind of interface was best needed to assist animators from all kinds of backgrounds.  Details, such as the shape of Paul’s eyes (large, almond shaped and set at an odd angle) needed to be accurate and they needed to be articulate.  A lot of time was also spent on Paul’s mouth, creating pleasing mouth shapes. 

 Jody Johnson – VFX Supervisor

What was it like working with Director, Greg Mottola since it was his first VFX film?

Beautiful, Greg is the perfect director to work with. He always focuses in on what is important and lets us get him there. We worked together for over 2 years and developed a wonderful understanding. He is also a great guy. The important thing is to be able to understand what a director needs and push it to the next level by bringing some of your own visual sensibilities. Despite it being his first vfx film, Greg worked with us just like another department in the film making process, he conveys what he want and lets us get on with it.

Was there any scene that was particularly exciting to work on?

The scenes in which Paul escapes the clutches of the FBI were very exciting. Paul bursts from the house and leaps onto Agent Zoil’s (Jason Bateman’s) back. We were faced with lots of interaction issues for Paul in this scene. We needed something to put up a fight and provide weight on the back of Zoil. Originally we planned to use our Paul stand-in, "Stephan", but height was the only characteristic he shared with Paul. I was chatting with the stunt coordinator about this and he mentioned his son Tanner was coming to visit him. Being closer to Paul’s fighting weight and having limbs close in thickness, along with his stunt training, meant Tanner was perfect for the role. So we dressed him up in green and had him leap from an apple box onto Jason Bateman’s back, he hung on and grappled and fought whilst Jason thrashed around. Once the edit was locked we had to replace Tanner with Paul.

We body-tracked Tanner and Nick Frost as well as the camera. Paul was first animated to match the Tanner track and from there extra animation began to add life and weight improving the energy of the performance. Once the animation was locked the differences in proportions and performance meant we had plenty of Tanner left for the Paint crew to clean up. Lighting was crucial, close proximity meant that Paul’s lighting had to be an exact match to Zoil as well as being dynamic enough to give a sense of travel and reorientation as the fight ensues. The tracks need to be exact to give occlusion and shadows from Paul onto Zoil and vice versa. The comping team then worked hard to give realistic integration and layering, using roto and mats for Paul’s individual limbs as well as fine balancing of Paul’s look.