LOS ANGELES — Digital Domain created 227 visual effects shots for the new Paramount feature, G.I Joe: Retaliation, which opened on March 29. The film is the sequel to the 2009 movie, and has 700 visual effects shots in total. Digital Domain handled several key sequences for the film, including Firefly’s weaponized exploding motorcycle, the Zeus satellite and ICBM exploding in space, the tank battle, and the reveal of the President as an imposter. The studio was challenged to create vehicles and aircraft that look fantastic and amazing, but which are also plausible. That work included a fully-CG version of Cobras’ complex, the high-tech HISS Tank, the Zeus Satellite and the Cobra commander’s dual jet engine-powered helicopter.
For the reveal sequence, in which the evil Zartan reveals that he has been impersonating the President, Digital Domain created the high-tech disguise out of “nanomites,” microscopic robots that form a living mask on Zartan’s face.
The nanomites themselves – a weapon carried over from the previous movie, have evolved. Director Jon Chu wanted them to look metallic and organic; not greenish and gaseous, as they had been. Nor could they be bloody or gory in executing the transformation. The effect Digital Domain created is that tens of thousands of microscopic shapes are scaling up out of Zartan’s skin, almost like tiny pin pricks emerging, filling in the knife wound and rushing to re-form the President mask before disappearing back into his skin.
In a climactic sequence, the hero Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) defeats the Cobra Commander’s three giant HISS tanks in his own mini-tank. Of the three HISS tanks, only one is real — the other two are completely CG, created by Digital Domain and Reliance.
Special effects coordinator Michael Meinardus built one incredibly detailed, working practical tank. Artists then built two identical CG models using the practical tank as reference.
And for the Zeus Satellite sequence, which concludes with a spectacular explosion, the effect was created completely in CG.
This sequence was actually a plot twist added just six weeks before the show was to be delivered. Digital Domain was challenged to conduct the development work to determine how to explode the satellite in space and how best to break apart the model, as well as complete all shot work, in this extremely short period of time.
The Art Department created concept drawings of the satellite, and artists in London created a 3D model that was highly detailed, logically laid out and easily shared with other facilities. Digital artist Jeremy Hampton and the FX team created the effect in Houdini using a simulation that ripped the satellite apart in procedural way, based on Digital Domain’s proprietary Drop system developed for the film 2012. The RBD simulation triggered and drove a pyroclastic blue fire explosion to finish off the effect.
The studio also worked on the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) scene, in which, leaders from nations around the world, under false pretenses devised by Zartan, all fire their ICBMs all at once. Zartan, to demonstrate his power, blows them all up in space, saving the world from total destruction. Digital Domain’s Jeremy Hampton and the FX team created the massive ICBM explosion, which, at 10 billion voxels, is the biggest simulation by far that the studio has ever created.
Firefly’s weaponized motorcycle is another effect the studio created. The motorcycle deconstructs into missiles and explodes into the bunker where the world summit is being held. Filmmakers shot a live-action motorcycle and stunt rider making the jump, then Digital Domain created a digital double for the rider and a CG version of the motorcycle, replaced them in mid-air in the shot, and had the CG deconstructing bike crash the bunker and bring it down.
The shot was challenging in that it was very long, and the bike breaks apart in slow motion. Choreographing the camera move with the motorcycle and the CG breaking-up of the bike into pieces required both artful hand animation and algorithms to smooth the effect.