Jumaji Replay
Karen Moltenbrey
March 7, 2018

Jumaji Replay

In 1995, two kids playing a magical jungle-themed board game unwittingly released a man-child trapped in the game for two and a half decades. In doing so, they unleashed a host of powers and creatures (including charging rhinos, flying bats, angry lions, hungry crocodiles, stampeding elephants, and more) into the town where they lived. The only hope they had of stopping the mayhem was to finish the game. 

That family adventure film, called Jumanji , was a box-office success. Released in mid-December 1995 by TriStar Pictures, it became the 10th highest-grossing film that year.

Almost 22 years later to the day of the original release, Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures rolled the dice with a brand-new adventure, releasing Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. This time, four teenagers as different as can be find an old video game during detention and soon find themselves transformed into avatars each had selected, and then transported into the dangerous jungle world of the game. Like the others before them, they must play Jumanji and win before they become part of that world permanently, or worse. 

Jumanji 2 is directed by Jake Kasdan; Sony Pictures Imageworks’ Jerome Chen serves as visual effects supervisor. 

Gameplay Evolution

As the filmmakers point out, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is not a sequel, but rather a continuation – another Jumanji adventure in the same universe as the first movie. The big difference is that in the original production, the elements of Jumanji were transported to our world; this time, the players are the fish out of water in the Jumanji world, where they must work together to be released from the supernatural hold the game has on them. 

The original film’s principal photography took place in New England; the effects were a combination of traditional techniques (puppetry and animatronics) and cutting-edge digital work by Industrial Light & Magic. ILM had developed new software used to create the first photorealistic CG hair and fur, for the film’s digital lion and monkeys. Also, ILM’s Caricature software gave the animators the ability to move shapes on a character’s face to create expressions, while iSculpt let modelers create large libraries of facial expressions. 

“I saw [the original] Jumanji in the theater when it came out, and the effects were very unique for its time – the animals and the whole notion of a game that could come alive,” says Chen. But the connection to the film goes even deeper. “It also so happens that the visual effects supervisor on that movie was Ken Ralston, who would become one of my mentors. From a professional standpoint, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to work on a franchise that one of my mentors supervised,” he adds.

In Jumanji 2, some things are certainly different. First of all, the movie was shot in Hawaii. “For the audience to believe our heroes really had been pulled into the jungle, we had to go to the jungle,” says Producer Matt Tolmach. “Hawaii has a variety of lush jungle environments that gave us everything we needed.” And when reality was not enough, Production Designer Owen Paterson performed magic of his own, transforming the landscape into one reflective of the fantastical world of the Jumanji video game.

Moreover, the Hawaiian backdrop provided plenty of reality when it came to things that crept and slithered. But this was the world of Jumanji, so everything had to be bigger and badder than it is in real life – oversized mosquitoes, rhinos, hippos, snakes, jaguars, and more, all cursed by the Jewel of Jumanji. 

The Jumanji Effect

Like its predecessor, Jumanji 2 contains a mix of practical and digital effects, this time by a number of vendors, including Crafty Apes, Mammal Studios, Iloura, Rodeo FX, and Moving Picture Company, among others. Among Rodeo FX’s contributions were a hungry hippo, a very focused snake, and creepy crawlers. Iloura crafted a horde of albino rhinos and a complex particle effect when the players enter and exit the game (they each have three lives in the game world).

Visual effects crews were given a number of tasks, including wrangling the CG animals that run amok in the movie. For Chen, whose past credits include Suicide Squad and The Amazing Spider-Man, photorealistic CG animals stretched into new territory. 

As Chen explains, it was necessary to have photoreal animals in order to sell other aspects of the film inspired by the video game setting. “Jake [Kasdan] really wanted to ground the effects – the movement, texture, and feeling of them all had to be real. Because of that, we could push their size – the elephants and rhinos are one-and-a-half times the size that they are in real life,” he says. “The jaguars that guard the peak at the end of the film are twice the size of normal jaguars. They are larger than life, more ferocious.”

MPC completed 160 shots for the movie, including some animals, over 12 months. Bob Winter, MPC VFX supervisor, oversaw the studio’s work from Montreal and interfaced with the team there as well as with those in MPC’s London and Bangalore, India, locales.

In fact, it was the team at MPC that created the CG jaguars, along with a CG elephant, a den of CG black mambas, and a swarm of insects and vermin for the film’s antagonist, the big-game hunter Van Pelt, who can manipulate Jumanji’s animals by possessing a special jewel, the Jaguar’s Eye. The teens, in their adult avatar bodies, must locate and return the jewel to an enormous jaguar statue. 

“Our direction was to create realistic performances for all our animals,” says Winter. “They, of course, needed to hit specific performance beats to tell the story, but their motion was modeled after their real-world counterparts.”

The MPC artists used Autodesk’s Maya to rig and animate the animals they were responsible for in the film. The skin (physically accurate muscle deformation) and fur dynamics were also done using Maya as well as MPC’s own proprietary tools. Creature lookdev and lighting, meanwhile, were done in Foundry’s Katana and rendered with Pixar’s RenderMan. Meanwhile, Foundry’s Nuke was used for shot compositing.

As Winter explains, each animal posed its own unique creation challenges, although animating the den of black mambas was especially difficult. “The scene called for a den of a couple thousand black mambas, and we knew we could not keyframe that many snakes, and our crowd tools weren’t created for the unique challenges of dealing with entangled creatures with long, thin anatomy,” he says. To resolve this issue, the animators divided the den into smaller groups called “pods” and used keyframe animation to create the complex motion and interaction of the snakes within each pod. Then they fed that into their crowd system to add variation and higher-level swarm behavior.

In addition to MPC, Rodeo FX contributed 96 shots, also including some iconic creatures. But while realism was essential, they also had to fit within the story’s magic. 

“Director Jake Kasdan wanted the creatures to feel cursed, so our team held back from making them too realistic,” says Rodeo FX’s VFX Supervisor Alexandre Lafortune. “The hippo is a great example of a creature that would have appeared scary if we had made it look real, so we made it bigger and faster, and changed the pink flesh in its mouth to black. These changes make the hippo fit in with the comedy.”

Aside from the hippo, Rodeo FX’s other work included the black mamba snake that engages Bethany in a staring contest. The snake was created by Rodeo FX based on a puppet used on set by the actors. Rodeo FX used a 3D scan of the prop and brought it to life in CG, making key adjustments to its appearance, including coloring and mouth shape. The VFX studio also delivered shots of a scorpion, crocodiles, and of a tarantula and centipede that complement the sinister tone of the film’s villain.

Performance Plus

In addition to the animals, MPC created digital doubles for three of the main characters used in some of the intense action sequences. To highlight the characters’ video game powers and weaknesses, a good deal of wirework and gimbals were used on set, complemented by visual effects. For instance, when Spencer (Dwayne Johnson) punches someone, he flies 30 feet into the air; Martha (Karen Gillan) can leap 30 feet – all accomplished by practical and digital effects. Added debris helped sell the scenes. 

But the “crown jewel” of MPC’s work involved CG jungle environments for the film’s finale, including a CG extension to the jaguar statue set piece. The revered jaguar statue is a hybrid comprising a practical 120-foot-high section with a CG build of the midsection to the base, which was a massive rock formation in Hawaii. The 40-foot head was a combination of sculpted foam and concrete.

“We also created the CG background for Spencer’s dirt bike ride up the jaguar statue,” says Winter. In addition, MPC generated the curse effects at the start and end of the film, including transitioning Van Pelt from a human into a swarm of insects and vermin, plus the green energy effects that surround the jewel and the CG environment extensions for the cut-scene as the players enter the game.

Indeed, history often repeats itself, and to a large extent it did so in the world of Jumanji with this latest edition. But the adventure may not be over, as there is discussion circulating about a possible Jumanji 3. Are you ready to play again?   

Karen Moltenbrey is the chief editor of CGW.