Previs: 'Hercules'
Issue: August 1, 2014

Previs: 'Hercules'

LOS ANGELES — The original superhero, “Hercules” fills the big screen with his larger-than-life presence in the new summer blockbuster of the same name, directed by Brett Ratner. The Third Floor ( in Los Angeles began working with Ratner in November 2012, providing previs for a number of important VFX sequences.

The Third Floor began with previs of the film’s first big battle, the Bessi Battle, which explored the tone of the movie and the abilities of the principal characters. “Once those things were established we moved more quickly through the other sequences,” says Josh Wassung, one of the company’s co-founders and project supervisor on Hercules. 

The opening, featuring three of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, got kudos from Ratner, who liked its dynamism. He wanted to show Paramount the potential for the film in stereo 3D, so he asked Wassung to repeat the previs in 3D. The Third Floor rendered out two cameras, one for each eye, adjusting for depth so the cut would work. The previs must have been convincing, since Paramount opted to go forward with Hercules in 3D.

Previs helped Ratner determine how to approach all the major battles in the film, “what he could and couldn’t achieve in camera, the number of people it would take, where he needed extensions,” Wassung says.  “Previs helped him develop a cohesive vision. It’s a great visual communicator.”

Any scene featuring Cerberus, the multi-headed hellhound, required previs to “help see the character design in motion,” he notes. “Cerberus probably went through the most exploration. He plays a pivotal role in the psyche of Hercules and sometimes appears differently to him, so there was more than one look to find.”

Previs for the dungeon sequence was based on photos from the art department of a maquette of the set and blueprints. The Third Floor also got plans for the vast Temple of Hera, a huge outdoor set near Budapest with a courtyard and buildings. “We did the previs showing set extensions and the huge statue of Hera,” Wassung explains. “It was neat to see that we had such a close representation of the final sequence.”

The Third Floor used Autodesk Maya and Adobe After Effects as its primary previs tools. The company’s animators also deployed their wireless Xsens MVN motion-capture suits for sequences requiring lots of realistic human movement — from sword fights to chariot riding. “That enabled us to get quick results for all the characters,” says Wassung.  “Then [our] animators could take over adding supernatural skills and stunt work.”

Working early with the director, VFX and the art department meant a more accurate previs process for Hercules, he notes. “Previs was a way of capturing the feeling of the movie. Then we passed the baton to hundreds of other people who worked very hard to make Hercules better and better.”