“Much of the movie’s scene-stealing is left to Rocket, a CGI character impressively crafted by the Guardians’ crack VFX team and voiced with panache by Cooper.” – The Hollywood Reporter
Shooting to a record-breaking opening weekend success and being labelled as one of the best Marvel films yet, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy wrenches the comic book world into deep space with the universe’s most unlikely bunch of heroes.
Framestore developed one of those heroes in the form of Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and animated both him and his arboreal companion Groot (Vin Diesel) in the middle act of the movie that spans more than 40 minutes and 633 final shots. We also created the cavernous expanse of Knowhere – a giant, mined-out skull that’s home to a whole city – the most complicated environment we’ve ever built.
Our work was overseen by VFX Supervisors Jonathan Fawkner and Kyle McCulloch, with the latter on set at Shepperton and Longcross studios in the UK.
Our first creative challenge was creating a believable talking, bipedal raccoon. Rocket needed to look naturalistic, but at the same time he had to be made to do things raccoons don’t do. Like shoot people with a big gun for instance. “If you exaggerate his performance and make him too cartoony you’ve lost the audience but if you go too real it won’t be entertaining or won’t do Bradley’s voice justice,” explains Animation Supervisor Kevin Spruce.
As we were leading the Look Dev on Rocket our Creature FX team had their hands full with his fur and clothing. Imagine you need to simulate a million hairs for a coat of fur, normally you might choose 10% of those as guides to drive the full groom, but for Rocket we simulated every single hair and how it collides for the first time.
“Rocket is the strongest and most central character that we have animated without a doubt,” says Jonathan Fawkner. “Underneath there’s a lot more to him than just anger and as a title character he’s got sequences that posed really beautiful challenges from an animation and an acting point of view. We had to make sure he could hold his own on screen.
Our section of the film begins with our heroes captured and transferred to the Kyln prison. It’s one of the biggest sets Marvel has ever constructed, but we still needed to extend it from two storeys to 30. It was fully built, lit and rendered by Framestore, which might seem like overkill for a set extension, where normally you might use a matte painting, but with the environment being viewed from so many different angles it was essential.
Knowhere, a city inside a severed head floating at the edge of the Marvel Universe, became our most complicated environment build so far – three miles across and designed with distinct neighbourhoods comprised of 85,000 separate pieces such as towers, pillars, turbines, favela huts. We even brightened up those districts by hand-placing around 10,000 street lights.
We then had some odd creatures to animate on the gambling table and some huge FX problems to solve in the Collector’s lab before animating a high-speed space-ship chase that explores every inch of Knowhere.
The chase takes place at hundreds of miles an hour and so from shot to shot the action might travel a quarter of the way around the environment, meaning you soon see every part of the environment. The camera takes in all the geometry, from large-scale things such as the towers right down to individual little railings, light fittings and doors.
Our part in James Gunn’s hilarious, hyper-colourful entry into the Marvel canon ends shortly after the dog-fight. It was fantastic to work with such an unlikely group of heroes and to help create such a complex one in Rocket. “The best part of this movie was James being so engaged and involved from beginning to end. He wrote it, it’s his baby, and it was wonderful to work on a project where people cared so much” said VFX Supervisor Kyle McCulloch.
Production Company Marvel/Walt Disney Pictures
Director James Gunn
Framestore VFX Supervisors Jonathan Fawkner and Kyle McCulloch