Murder, glamour and intrigue are three words that describe Rian Johnson’s latest murder mystery, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. This sequel, which premiered on Netflix back in December, follows detective Benoit Blanc, who takes on another mysterious case. The ensemble cast includes Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kate Hudson and Dave Bautista, and is set in a world of the rich and famous.
To bring the mystery to life, Dneg delivered 510 shots across 15 sequences, and created the large building structures and environments in which the story plays out. The majority of the VFX work for the film was done by the Dneg team, including creating the titular Glass Onion. A fully-glass dome, the Glass Onion is the focal point of the island. Along with the concept art received from the filmmakers, the Dneg team took reference from other glass buildings, including the Syon Park Conservatory in London, The Glass Crust in Moscow and the Dancing House in Prague. These inspirations helped in creating what would be a 50-foot-tall, 29-foot-wide structure.
One of the main challenges for the team was to render such a reflective and refractive structure, and to ensure it properly sat in the different light situations of the plates that were provided.
“The most challenging sequences were the daytime exterior shots of the Glass Onion,” explains Dneg VFX supervisor Sameer Malik. “We had to find the right index of refraction and transmission in order to show more reflection of the environment in the daytime. We tested the IOR (Index of Refraction) value under the different transmission values within the context of each sequence to find the right balance. In the end, we had to discount the physics a bit to find the impressive look we were going for with more reflection in the daytime than at night.”
The team also created sections of the villa that houses the Glass Onion, and the surrounding Greek island. The villa and island were shot in different locations, so the challenge for the team was to showcase them as one. To achieve this, both locations were recreated in full-CG, along with a 360-degree Greek island backdrop. The team also added elements around the villa, including plants covering the walls and sides of the building, ground lights and the pathway to the lighthouse.
The Dneg team also created the explosion that brings the movie to a close. The brief from director Rian Johnson was that this needed to be similar to a gas explosion, as opposed to a bomb, and that the Glass Onion should explode like a balloon, with a large burst of gas and fire.
The team had no visual reference for the fire shots, so they created the light interaction, fire sims, fire jets and main explosion from scratch. They worked with production VFX supervisor Giles Harding on multiple references and showcased a lot of fire sims before agreeing on the final explosion that viewers see in the film.
“Production was able to add interactive light to the villa, which served as the base of Miles’ island home,” explains VFX executive producer, Philipp Wolf. “We ended up replacing big parts of the original villa for more control of the interactive light and shadows. For me, the explosion shot is my favorite from the whole movie. Recreating a hydrogen inspired explosion within a glass structure was such a highlight!”
Images courtesy of Dneg © 2022 Netflix, Inc.