The VFX of 300: Rise of an Empire

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300: Rise of an Empire hit our cinemas earlier last month, packed with visual style and a few gallons of blood. CG supervisor at MPC, Sheldon Stopsack talks about the freedom and constraints of working within this style.

All images copyright: MPC

It’s been 7 years since the first 300 film stormed onto our screens, with its color-drenched, action-packed visuals and chiseled abs. Now it’s back with 300: Rise of an Empire, where Greek general Themistokles must lead an attack against Xerxes invading Persian army. How have the intervening years affected the visual effects and very specific styling of these films? CG supervisor, Sheldon Stopsack gives us the lowdown on MPC‘s latest project.

Sheldon Stopsack: Thank you very much, it’s a pleasure. I think it’s fair to say that working on visual effects for projects such as 300: Rise of an Empire is always a challenge. What made this one particular challenging was the tight turn around. From start to finish we had around 5 months to produce the work you can see on screen today. But that also made it fun in a way. You just get on with it and be very clever about keeping the different departments running. Organization and being efficient was a big part of this project.

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3dt: Do you have any favorite moments that we can see from the trailers?

SS: Of course the answer has to be the work that MPC did. But in all honesty, there were several things that stood out to me and I quite liked. One of them was certainly the scenes based on open water. I quite like the 300 movie for its stylized look. It’s fun to work on something that is more graphical rather than truly photorealistic. It presents you with very different challenges.

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3dt: What were the biggest challenges you needed to overcome?

SS: MPC was involved in a few sequences throughout the movie. The largest chunks were the battle of marathon and Xerses’ coronation. Technically the biggest challenge was probably dealing with the massive speed ramps which are quite typical for the 300 movies. MPC build on top of an existing toolset in our pipeline which was developed during another Zack Snyder movie, Sucker Punch. Adam Davis, our head of crowd and CG supervisor on this show, did a brilliant job extending the existing tools to deal with the evolved requirements.

Unlike Sucker Punch, where footage was typically shot with a maximum of 120fps, we now had to deal with the occasional shot with 1200fps. Rather than animating, simulating and rendering 1200fps, we had to allow the retime to be a flexible asset which could change at any time during production without too much hassle for any discipline.

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3dt: 300: Rise of an Empire has a very specific visual style – did this make your work more challenging and/or enjoyable?

SS: Definitely both. More challenging and more enjoyable. It’s a nice change from common photorealistic visual effects. It allows for a little more creativity during the process and leaves some creative decision in the artist’s hands. At the same time it’s challenging because the original 300 movie dictated a very specific look and feel. Deviating from this look too much wasn’t possible either. We had to find our look within 300 universe.

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216_tid_E_CX_sequence_publicity_stills_v2.1001-2.jpgSS: The technology between the time these 2 movies were shot has evolved massively. This automatically led to a slightly different style. The trick was to stay true to the style of the original movie, but still push for a more advanced technology. The best example I can give you is probably the blood FX. The original 300 was much more spray/particle-based when it came to blood splatter. Whereas, on this movie, we certainly see much more of a fluid, simulation-based look.

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3dt: How many artists worked on them and how do you find collaboration?

SS: At its peak, we had roughly around 300 artists in Vancouver, London and Bangalore working on this movie. The multi-site aspect was relatively easy for us. It’s something that has become more and more common for us over the past years. The difficult part was to keep up the efficiency among the different departments. With a very tight turn around you are almost forced to work on all aspects in parallel. That makes it difficult to keep everyone on track and in sync with each other.

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3dt: Are there any other movies or games from the last 12 months you have been impressed with, VFX-wise?

SS: Working in this industry always make you look around to see what everyone else is coming up with. And there are always aspects that fascinate me and leave me impressed. But the single biggest movie that I admire from the past 12 month is certainly Gravity. It’s a beautiful showcase for what visual effects can do when involved early on in the film making process.

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3dt: What are you working on at the moment?

SS: I just finished working on the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past and I am now working on Guardians of the Galaxy. MPC were also lead studio on Godzilla and completed lots of work on Maleficent and The Amazing Spiderman 2 which we are all looking forward to!

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