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Captive State

Amblin Partners
Feature film
Release Date
29th March 2018

Drawing from the film’s backstory and methodology, explore a distinct design language for Captive State’s antagonists - The Legislators - their ships and the drones that keep tabs on the community. Jellyfish were tasked with delivering concept designs, models and the full VFX approach. As principal VFX vendors on the film, this included supervising the on-set/location shoots, creating all CG elements and environments, and delivering over 150 shots.

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As principal vendors on the film we developed a close relationship with Rupert Wyatt, the Director and Co-Writer on the film. We were lucky enough to start early and deep conversations about the whole VFX approach, including the design and concepts for the Aliens (legislators), Space Ship, Walkers and Drone designs. Our principle VFX Supervisor, Luke Dodd also went out to Chicago to supervise all the VFX shoots for the movie.

Jellyfish's art department worked closely with Rupert to realise his visions for the world of Captive State. The first task was to tackle the ship design. The team started with creating mood boards collating lots of references and experimenting with different design approaches. Every ship and creature required multiple iterations and refinements, trying out different ideas and accentuating design details. This process led us to designs that were expressive and delivered on Rupert’s vision.

The CG team worked very closely with the art department. The concepts evolved as the film progressed and the balance between the organic and mechanical nature of the creatures and ships was critical to the vision and back story of the movie. The CG team developed sculpts to support the concepts, which informed what was possible in terms of lighting and matching the real grounded feel needed for the film, the art department then did further iterations on the concepts to help arrive at the final models that eventually made it on to the screen.

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It was important Captive State’s antagonists, the Legislators, exuded complete power, with nuances of vulnerability. This manifested itself in the ‘aliens’ wearing a full conflict armour. This armour had different modes relating to the Legislator’s emotions –a relaxed ‘hirsute’ state which is visible most of the time and a spiky ‘porcupine’ state, which is activated when they are threatened. The aliens within are only exposed at the 11th hour, revealing a frail almost decrepit being, which shows, in actuality, the Legislators’ vulnerability.

When creating the physical movement of the Legislators, the animation team used a basic asymmetrical bipedal rig. The evolving requirements of the animation meant the creatures were on all fours and sometimes upright. The intricate work for the team came in when looking at the fur and the way their spikes move. To create the desired effect our team used a heavily modified Yeti system with a lot of custom attributes that drove the grooms and transformation between states. To make this work when the true identity of the Legislators is shown at the climax of the film, we created a second model with a detachable piece and separate groom, which was shaped to be held in Daniel’s (the film's protagonist) hand.

To create the dirty metallic feeling of the Legislators’ spikes our CG team used a mixture of procedural and custom textures. We introduced a more traditional three-point lighting environment based on the HDR information gathered by our VFX Supervisor on set, with rigidly controlled secondary specular bounces on selected lights only, controlling noise and preserving form.

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In addition to the creature development and heavy CG work, our team delivered a number of set extension shots. One of the biggest environments we worked on was the Legislators lair, where our VFX supervisor was on set during shoot to ensure we had all the correct information. Through matte painting we enhanced the environment with a 3D extension of the set.

Another key environment for us was the landing shot of the Legislators’ ships at Soldier Field. We digitally replaced trees and inserted atmospheric dust for when the ship lands. This was all done in Maya and Houdini.

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I can’t thank you enough for the fine work you have done - it’s some game changing stuff. The scenes play beautifully and retain what I always hoped - like we caught something on camera rather than created it. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that level of support and investment on your part. You guys were admirable in your level of professionalism

Rupert Wyatt, Director and Co-Writer, Captive State