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Case Study

Oscars 2024: Framestore on Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 3

6 minute read

VFX Supervisors Alexis Wajsbrot and Stephane Nazé deliver a mixtape of secrets from the final film in Marvel Studio’s blockbuster trilogy.

The award-winning team at Framestore assembled an Avengers: End Game number of artists who spent over fifteen months on Director James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 3. The result of their galactic efforts? VFX Supervisor Alexis Wajsbrot and the studio (along with partners Marvel Studios, Sony Pictures Imageworks, and WETA) are nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

"I'm very excited. This is my first nomination. It's a great feeling. I'm like a kid at Disneyland," says Wajsbrot. "But at the end of the day, it's a team effort. You are representing a group. You didn't do much on your own. Without an army of people, we could not have done it."

VFX Supervisor Alexis WajsbrotVFX Supervisor Alexis Wajsbrot, Framestore’s London team

That army included over 800 people (!) working across Framestore's London, Montreal, Mumbai, and Vancouver locations. Artists relied on Boris FX Silhouette and Mocha Pro to help tackle tons of complicated roto, paint, and motion tracking work.  

Wajsbrot (London) helmed the poignant backstory behind everyone's favorite lovable scamp, Rocket, while VFX Supervisor Stephane Nazé (Montreal) piloted Cosmo, Groot, and Knowhere.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Painstaking Prep Work

The stampede near the film's end was one of the most laborious sequences. It included around 50 cast members trying to grab the animals escaping from the High Evolutionary's exploding ship. "The animals needed to interact with the characters, go between their legs, and go behind them," states Wajsbrot. "It was extremely time-consuming. I think it took us 75 days of roto in each shot."

“The standout sequence for us was when Rocket returns to free all the animals, and fights the High Evolutionary. We used Silhouette on these shots to paint out wires frame by frame, as well as roto,” remarks Shayne Farrier, Head of Paint & Roto. “We also used Mocha Pro to planar track areas in a shot, either for adding patches in paint or to add tracks to roto shapes within Silhouette.”

The stampede also included a tech challenge due to its sheer scale. The team didn't rely on crowd simulation tools. Instead, they chose to use a hand animation system. This required developing some internal tools to make it work. "You need to optimize everything to load 600 running animals and start hand animating," notes Wajsbrot. "We piggybacked on the technology and pipeline created for the 'Under the Sea' sequence from Disney's live-action Little Mermaid (which was running slightly ahead of our project timeline). They had so many creatures in that sequence. We used the same technology and built upon it since we had the addition of fur on the animals. Typically, you never do more than 500 shots on a Marvel Studios movie, but because we've done so many creatures now, have the pipeline, and can scale, we could do 1200 shots."

CG Characters with Heart

Rocket's flashbacks feature an unlikely friend group of genetically and physically modified animals. The actors' performances inspired the animals. However, Framestore did not create them using mock-ups. The main creative challenge for Wajsbrot and his team was how to convey emotion using CG characters in a full CG environment. 

"Are we trying to find the right animation first? A raccoon (Rocket), an otter (Lylla), or even a walrus in a wheelchair (Teefs) moves differently than an actor would. Or are we trying to convey what Bradley Cooper does when he voices Rocket first?" asks Wajsbrot. "How do we mix that with the animatic looks so that it works altogether? Then, we still have to find the right lighting for these shots because the animals and their cages are full CG shots. It wasn't only VFX that made it. James Gunn directed some great performances with great cameras. It was a gigantic team effort."

Teefs the walrus from Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 3Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 3: Teef the walrus (courtesy of Framestore and Marvel Studios)

When Nazé and his team were initially briefed about creating Cosmo, the telepathic Soviet space dog, Gunn was concerned. "He said, let's do a CG dog because Stephane Ceretti, Marvel Studios' VFX Supervisor, is super confident we'll get a photoreal dog, but I'm not so sure, so show me a dog," says Nazé. "And when they saw the dog, they were like, oh my God, it looks like a real dog." 

Cosmo the space dog from Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 3Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 3: Cosmo the space dog (courtesy of Framestore and Marvel Studios)

Gunn and Ceretti asked the team to do tests with Cosmo mimicking human reactions versus more dog-like reactions (not emoting too much), but soon realized Cosmo should be more animalistic. "There is always a thin line, and our Animation Supervisor Fernando Lopes Herrera did an amazing job," comments Nazé. "One wrong detail, and your eye will say, oh, that's not real. It's CG. It was a real challenge to find the right balance continually."

VFX Supervisor Stephane NazeVFX Supervisor Stephane Nazé, Framestore’s Montreal team

Favorite Scenes

"The film's second shot is my favorite. You follow Rocket directly through Knowhere, which we had to completely rebuild because it was destroyed in Avengers: Infinity War. You see all the characters. You'll notice different details each time you watch it. You can see Cosmo in the background," continues Nazé. "We put everyone in. That was the idea — to block everyone and see absolutely everything. Radiohead's song "Creep" is playing in the background. I love the visuals and the music. It's a good intro because some of the shots I love are very sharp. Cut, cut, cut. It's a lot of action, but this shot is very long. You take your time. It has a nice vibe, and you enjoy what you see."

Rocket walks through KnowhereGuardians of the Galaxy, Vol 3: Rocket walks through Knowhere (courtesy of Framestore and Marvel Studios)

"It's hard to choose because there are a lot of shots I love. But if I had to pick one that really resonates with me, it's the moment Rocket opens the cage at the end of the movie, and there are many baby raccoons," adds Wajsbrot. "It's not only the end of the movie. It's the trilogy's end because he realizes he's a raccoon. For three movies, he's said, I'm not a raccoon. Don't call me a raccoon. You see tears in the baby raccoon's eyes. We specifically simulated the animations so you see the water level rising in their eyes. Trying to get specific emotion in a CG shot is unique. That shot works really well. I'm very proud of it." 

"When you work so long on a show, you give a lot of yourself. So sometimes you love a shot, and people don't understand," ends Nazé. "It's great, but why do you love this shot? We put so much effort into it. That's why we love it."

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