Despite our recent recognition for our previs work on “The Final Battle” sequence, we originally dove into the massive underwater sandbox of Aquaman in a postvis capacity. The VFX crew had recently wrapped principal photography and we came in to help design some of the connective tissue in their still-developing cut.
Utilizing our Unreal Engine pipeline, our team led by senior supervisor Ryan McCoy, began working alongside VFX supervisor Jim Berney in conceptualizing and executing the “Atlantis Construction” flashback sequence as well as look development and animation of the signature Aquaman “Telepathy Montage.”
Meanwhile, editorial was revealing that the bones of their earlier previs and storyboard work for the third act needed a major story retooling, so Jim set us off on breaking it apart, and putting it back together in a real dynamic way. Jim needed a creative partner to “...go out to Joshua Tree, smoke some peyote and come back with some new ideas.” (This may, or may not be, a direct quote.)
Ryan took to task, holding brainstorming sessions: We’ve all seen a thousand battles done a thousand ways — but what if it happens on the ocean floor? The battle required a complete rethink on how to apply those signature battle notes within an environment of underwater dynamics.
Director James Wan wanted us to focus on certain areas to increase the level of theatricality so as to build to something maximally climactic. The initial entrance of Arthur atop the Karathan, for instance, and the massive clash between the armies and sea creatures were main points of focus.
With the support of a handful of storyboard artists helping to quickly flesh out these moments fresh from James’s mind, we took select frames and made them work in CG with their complexities of scale (the Karathan was many sizes before it landed at its final version) and the speeds of objects (including cameras) moving through frame.
During another session James started on the idea of combining a number of shots into a big one. He started piecing together beats with the Fish Princess flying down to the Brine carriers, through the paratrooping soldiers beat, to a massive catapult slinging lava into oncoming seahorses, leading to Orm’s Tylosaur swooping down and eating a dude in the foreground. It was such a long string of shots we named it Lavapalooza and Grant Olin, one of our leads, had a blast making it work.
Another big one was the idea of a massive 'David Lean wide' as we watch Aquaman charge into battle with his army of telepathically led seafare against the gathered armies of the underwater kingdoms, zipping along the lines of violent collision until we got up close and personal with the PG-13 carnage of chum.
This massive convergence of aquatic armies, or The Zipper Shot as it became to be known, was another team brainstorming effort: How would sea creatures engage an enemy flying around in armed vehicles? What were their weapons? What kinds of groups could we put together? These turned into an intricate shot that included flyers being blinded by pools of squid ink sending them into barrel rolls which dislodged soldiers to be skewered by hellbent units of narwhals.
To partner up with the Aquaman creative team was a privilege and also just great fun — it’s very rewarding to collaborate with the creators — it always reflects in the work. We feel our VES Awards nomination for Best Virtual Cinematography in a Photoreal Project is a humble testament to that. Congratulations to the entire Aquaman VFX family. We can think of a billion reasons to do it again. — By Richard Enriquez, Producer, Halon