Resident Evil Tech: D. Eric Robertson on Visual FX


Talks the creatures of Afterlife

On the set of Resident Evil: Afterlife, Shock Till You Drop spoke with D. Eric Robertson, visual effects production manager from the company Mr. X. Below he talks about working in 3D and the sundry creatures you can expect to find in the fourth chapter of the cinematic series. Be warned, however, there are some spoilers in the final answer!

For our set report click here.

Shock Till You Drop: Has there been much of a learning curve with the 3D involved?

D. Eric Robertson: It’s been a fair bit. There’s certainly a lot of information that has to be processed and stepping outside the box and saying, “We can’t do that anymore, let’s figure out how we’re going to do it,” there are a lot of times when shooting things isn’t necessarily feasible due to peril issues, due to physical restraints and time and cost of building rigs that are massive and complex. So we’ve relied on those techniques in the past just to achieve things in a reasonable time frame and with reasonable cost. And we’ve had to step back and say, “Okay, well actually we can’t do that. Let’s figure out a way that we can still make it palatable for production, still give Paul what he needs to execute the visuals properly and do it in a timeframe that’s reasonable.” This show has a pretty fast post-production schedule, so we’re pressured to get things back in a challenging time frame.

Shock: Producer Jeremy [Bolt] was saying that production and post-production are going on simultaneously.

Robertson: They absolutely are. In fact, in the studio now we’re pipelining over 100 shots that have already been turned over. Paul’s very FX-savvy and so his close relationship with Dennis [Berardi] over the past few shows like on Death Race have enabled him to probably exceed the amount of trust that’s given to the visual effects department by turning things over earlier and not locking himself into those cut-links when would be normally expected. So yes, we’ve started building all of the major assets, digital Tokyo, the creatures, the tentacles, all of the major things that we built in post-production and pipelined with the shots after the show’s been finished in principal and then locked in the cut. That’s all happening concurrently. By the time we reach Christmas fully half the show will be turned over and that enables us to deliver by next summer.

Shock: Can you talk about some creature work, what we can expect?

Robertson: Well, they’re bigger and they’re more complex and there’s many more different types of undead. The dogs, the Majini, and the undead, the burrowing undead, the underground undead have all kind of eclipsed their previous counterparts in complexity and frankly, just in the size and frame and how much we’re featuring them, that’s grown as well. Most of the work that we’ve done in the past prepares us for that, but we are doing everything from scratch.

Shock: A lot of the creatures that you mentioned are in the games. Are you feeling obliged to sticking with some of those designs? Or, are you guys having a little bit of freedom?

Robertson: Not so much obliged, but Paul wants to stick to the game. He’s asked us to follow the reference that he’s given us virtually frame by frame. They’re happy with the look. We are certainly doing more detail and texturing those elements that in the game appear fully fleshed out, we’re going further. And of course, the animatic in the game doesn’t have quite the level of detail that we can achieve in a 35 millimeter motion picture.

Shock: How fun is it to create – and this is the first time that we’ve seen zombies in 3D aside from a few shitty films in the past. But, this is the first time we’re seeing waves of zombies in 3D – how much fun is that developing those characters?

Robertson: It’s fun. I mean, sometimes it’s hard to see past the hard work that goes into making it real and making it perfect, but it’s a blast. I was part of the second movie and that franchise was a lot of fun because it was very conventional. We’re doing the same things, the miniatures, the undead. But now, we’re hitting a new plateau in the action genre in 3D with these elements and it’s a blast, it’s really great.

Shock: You clearly have to have a higher level of detail when designing the creatures when you’re in 3-D. Can you talk about that?

Robertson: You’re just seeing more of it. All of the shots wrap around the creature and that perspective brings it forward in the viewer’s perception a lot. So if you think about what that means in terms of time, I’d say that we’re spending three times as much effort to achieve the level of detail that’s reasonable to say that this is a powerful, exceptional shot. So, it’s more than double the work. We’re doubling the cameras, but I’d say we’re tripling the work to make it happen and that’s a great challenge. We don’t often get the resources to do work of that caliber. And of course, this being the fourth part of a franchise, it’s often that the resources are diminished than in the past incarnations. But with this film actually we’ve been given more resources than any film before in the franchise, so that’s pretty exciting.

Shock: Also, one of the challenges in the fourth installment is you want to have a sense of continuity with what’s come before, but you also want it to be fresh and new and something people haven’t seen before. Talk about those things – the designs especially.

Robertson: You know, the characters retain that continuity and their approach to the fictional mythology of the show brings, I think, the audience from one and two and three into four, but we can change the look. We get to revitalize the look of the film whereas three was a very dry, almost western kind of look, we’re now dealing with some interesting contrasts, pure whites, which is a staggering look. It’s so clean and tight along with some real darkness too that may evoke a bit of a feel of Silent Hill. So we’ve got the extremes, but it’s definitely a unique look for this incarnation and it’s been fun to see those looks.

We see some visual reference there, prosthetics give us concept work. We do a little bit of concept work. They give us maquettes and sculpts so that we can see where it’s going. What you see on the set, the actual prosthetic elements, it’s a product of two months of design and research and making it and everyone’s thrilled to see. And of course, growing to scale has been an integral part of that design process, making it just a little bit more scary, a little bit more threatening, a little bit more interesting than prior versions and bigger, always bigger and better and more time on screen.

Shock: We saw some of the dogs out there and what you guys are going to do in post. For the monster movie nuts out there, what’s been the most fun creature to design or play with so far?

Robertson: You know, so far I’d say that Wesker and his eventual demise has been great. I mean, the undead and the dogs aren’t part of the drama as much. I mean, they’re certainly an integral part of the fear and the action, but those characters don’t have as much input into the overall storytelling whereas Wesker’s a character that we see over and over through the movie and, you know, he interacts quite closely with the cast. So anytime you do that and have a creature as part of the mix, it’s been a lot of fun doing him.

Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor