March 4, 2009

Intelligent Creatures Brings Rorschach To Life in Watchmen

Toronto, Canada - Intelligent Creatures, a Toronto based Visual Effects Company has created 326 visual effects shots for Zack Snyder's upcoming film Watchmen. In bringing the popular graphic novel to life, Intelligent Creatures enlisted an international team of 60 artists to develop and animate the inked mask of Dave Gibbons' iconic hero, Rorschach.
Lon Molnar, Intelligent Creatures' VFX Supervisor on Watchmen notes, most of the artists at IC were already fans of the novel, which "created a positive buzz throughout the studio, as each individual wanted to exceed expectations. This helped the team come together producing an outstanding product that we are very proud to have in the film."

Intelligent Creatures was vigilant in maintaining the integrity of the novel. Molnar says, "To satisfy Zack, DJ (Desjardin), Warner Brothers, and the comic book fans, it was very important to stay faithful to the source material. Our work demonstrates the care taken to preserve the character within the novel, and the spirit and passion everybody brought to bringing Rorschach to life."

Intelligent Creatures' challenge was to create an entirely digital head and mask that blended perfectly into the film. This involved a complex process of tracking actor Jackie Earle Haley's head and facial movements, in order to replace them with the animated mask and inkblots that would respond to the emotion and intensity of the scene and his environment. Minute details such as the texture of the fabric, subtle lighting variations and re-creating the shadows cast by the fedora and other objects sell Rorschach's digital elements as photo real.

Greg Astles, IC's 2D Supervisor on the film, explains that the opportunity for Intelligent Creatures to work on this project was "the chance to go for true photorealism, to blend CG seamlessly with a live action performance."

Nowhere is this more evident than in the creation of the animation technique used for the inkblots that are Rorschach's namesake. Jeff Newton, who acted as IC's 3D Supervisor on Watchmen, explains how IC went back to the basics, starting with hand-drawn images "based on those drawn by Dave Gibbons" that could then be easily manipulated and wrapped around the 3D image of the face. This resulted in a more streamlined and organic feel to the movement of the inkblots. "We wanted to make the inkblot animation process as intuitive as possible for our animators," says Newton. This enabled them to work quickly but also "ensure that the overall look and feel of Rorschach's mask was retained in the translation from the comic to the big screen."

Darren Bell, IC's Executive Producer, describes the impact working on Watchmen had for him, "it was a gratifying experience to be a part of the innovative and imaginative team that brought this legendary character to life; and to see the months of hard work displayed in all the effects created by IC is truly inspiring."

In addition to the work done on Rorschach, IC also contributed various New York city street environments and set extensions throughout the theatrical release and Director's Cut.