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July 2014
Issue: April 1, 2011

Luma creates VFX for 'Thor'

VENICE, CA — Visual effects studio, Luma Pictures (www.lumapictures.com) was humming leading up to the release of Marvel Entertainment’s epic film, Thor. The studio was tasked with bringing an essential antagonist in the film to life: the mighty “Destroyer,” an enchanted suit of armor created by and imbued with the powers of the gods. 

Luma worked with Marvel’s creative team, infusing the aesthetic of  The Destroyer from the original comic books, paired it with Legacy Effects’ character sculpture and crafted a believable and loyal rendition for the new film. Luma used Maya and Z-Brush for the character modeling, and the studio’s own in-house toolset for the rigging. This model, combined with a barrage of custom shaders, gave The Destroyer its photoreal sheen. 

One challenge Luma faced with The Destroyer was maintaining the rigid look and feel that a heavy metal suit of armor should convey while still allowing for a sufficient range of motion needed to execute the shot. The Destroyer is made of hundreds or metal slats, each one perfectly aligned to its neighbor. This design works well as a static pose, however becomes very complicated when animation is applied.

Marvel wanted the slats to remain entirely rigid, without any apparent bending of the metal. In order to allow the character to move, a sophisticated rig was created that dynamically amortizes the slat translation across multiple regions in order to circumvent large gaps or stretching during joint rotation.  

 

The Destroyer’s energy beam was designed in-house. Luma used reference movies of rocket engines from JPL. The energy pools inside The Destroyer as though he is charging up, before firing. The blast and internal energy was created using a mixture of high velocity fluid simulations and dense particle renders driven by geometry.

Luma developed The Destroyer battle on Midgard (Earth), which includes an elaborate fight between Thor and The Destroyer. During the battle, Thor spins his hammer at incredible speeds, spawning a super tornado that lifts CG cars, debris and ultimately The Destroyer into the air.

The studio’s in-house software programming staff designed tools for the VFX team to help visualize the large amount of data needed for the super cell generation. This allowed them to design the lighting and shot composition before rendering dense data sets.  

Luma Pictures also created some of the film’s environments and mystical special effects, including the opening nighttime scene in Midgard when Thor is delivered from the heavens via the “Rainbow Bridge.” The Bridge is a transportation vortex that manifests as rays of light extending from a complex supernatural storm comprised of an aurora, thunderheads and spiraling tornadoes, dubbed the “Bifrost” in the film.  

The effect called for several layers of environmental effects on top of and interacting with one another at once. Using voxel rendering techniques and complex lighting rigs inside the funnels, Luma created a dynamic effect that delivers the film’s hero to Earth.