CS Interview: Scanline VFX discusses their work on Zack Snyder’s Justice League
As part of our continued celebration of the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, ComingSoon.net had the opportunity to chat with Scanline VFX, the special effects company that worked on the new cut and was responsible for delivering over 1,000 shots in a very compressed time period. The special FX, including a completely new redesign for Steppenwolf, are truly remarkable and it was interesting to hear some insight into the daunting production schedule.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is sees Batman (Ben Affleck) attempting to form an alliance with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to combat the villainous Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), who arrives on Earth looking for three devices capable of wiping out the planet called Mother Boxes. Yet, as the team grows stronger, an even more dangerous threat lurks in the shadows; and it will be up to the Justice League to unite to stop this oncoming threat.
Zack Snyder directs the film from a screenplay by Chris Terrio.
Henry Cavill, Willem Dafoe, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Amy Adams and Ray Porter co-star.
ComingSoon.net: Talk about your involvement in the Snyder Cut — how did you land the project and what was your initial thoughts about the production, especially considering you had less than a year to complete it?
Scanline VFX: Our involvement in the Snyder Cut made a lot of sense (at least to me) as we very familiar with the project having worked on the theatrical version and we were also already heavily involved with the project’s VFX Supervisor and VFX Producer on Godzilla vs. Kong. My personal thoughts on the production going in was that I knew it was going to be quite the undertaking given the vast scope and short time duration. I was excited to see it through though as it felt like one of those “lightning in a bottle” events as I can’t think of another project that has been completed like this.
CS: As mentioned in your notes, you guys had worked on the 2017 release of Justice League but then had to go back through your files to update shots and reformat according to the new aspect ratio — discuss this process and why it’s such a challenging task.
Scanline: The theatrical show was completed to a narrower vertical height. We protected that show to a 1.85 aspect ratio and with the new 1.33 aspect ratio of Zack’s version, the primary difficulty comes in that you have an additional 20% on both the top and bottom of screen to fill with information. For shots that would have been otherwise okay for this new version but were hard masked at the wider aspect ratio, we had to analyze and come up with a solution for each one. Many shots were put fully back into production just to create the extra information on the top and bottom.
CS: Of the various sequences you worked on — tunnel battle, park battle, Russian melee, etc. — what was the most difficult to either restore/rework or redesign?
Scanline: The Russian Melee sequence required the most work. As the sequence was new to us, we were building a lot of the assets for the abandoned Russian city from scratch and likewise with the animation and effects work. We did receive some of the assets used back then, which gave us a good starting point, but the sequence had changed a lot, so we could only keep certain parts of the original environment.
CS: Is the process of retooling previous work more or less difficult than starting from scratch? Why?
Scanline: In absolute terms of work it might not be as much work to retool some of the shots or sequences, however in terms of being able to surgically go in and attack the bits that need changing in a clever way – that requires a great deal more planning. Depending on what you are changing, since it’s been years since the project was archived, it becomes a question of do the various scene files still function properly until they get to the current pipeline? Then doing an assessment of how the shot is assembled so that the specific requested changes could be made in a non-destructive way without unintended consequences and ultimately executing that change.
CS: As you mentioned, there was a completely new design for Steppenwolf — how different were his animations compared to the previous design?
Scanline: The new Steppenwolf not only looked vastly different but his proportions had also changed substantially. He had much broader shoulders, longer legs and larger hands with seven fingers. So naturally, he had to move in a different way too. Partly because of his physiology but also due to creative reasons. His animation had to work hand in hand with his design and character, so not everything that worked for the old version, worked for the new one. We did however keep some of the general action the same and then made adjustments where needed.
CS: The FX in the film are absolutely outstanding — is there a moment, however great or small, that you’re particularly proud of?
Scanline: I think the team at Scanline really gave it their all and I’m quite proud of the work in totality. If there was a moment I’d bring attention to, it would be the “cosmic rewind” moment after the mother boxes destroyed the league and world by achieving unity. Seeing Barry phase through the destruction and break the rules to turn back time was something that I think is a really nice moment.
CS: What other projects are you working on that you’re excited to share?
Scanline: I am working on an exciting project that we aren’t able to share yet but stay tuned!
Check out Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max now!