How ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’s’ Martian Manhunter scene was made

Scanline VFX reveals the secrets behind the creation of a new superhero, plus a swathe of other scenes.

WARNING: This article contains major plot spoilers.

Scanline VFX was one of the visual effects studios that had delivered shots for the 2017 Justice League, later returning to provide more than 1,000 shots for Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

Scanline’s work on the project involved creating for several scenes that were re-imagined, plus conceptualizing brand-new ones, such as—spoiler alert—the end sequence involving Martian Manhunter. Entirely new sequences by Scanline were the opening re-visit of ‘Death of Superman’, the beach torture moment involving the Parademons and Atlantean guards, and new moments in the Russian melee.

Here, Scanline VFX visual effects supervisor Julius Lechner breaks down his studio’s work across some of the principal shots crafted for the new release.

Death of Superman

Julius Lechner: Scanline had worked on Batman v Superman, although not on the final battle with Doomsday. Warner delivered us the asset for him from their backup, which we then ingested into our pipeline and adjusted to be used in this particular close up shot. The plate material was from the principal photography of Justice League and was shot for this specific action.

The plates for Wonder Woman, Batman and Lois, were either taken from unused takes of other sequences or from Batman v Superman. For our digital character assets, we resurrected Superman’s digi-double from 2017 and Batman’s digi-double from Batman v Superman, to have the correct suit and cape.

Since we hadn’t worked on the final battle in Batman v Superman, we had to create a digital environment that would plausibly fit into the look of the original shots. While we could rely on our backup for Gotham in the background, we had to create new assets for anything closer to the characters.

The main challenges on the opening shot were mostly creative as well as the fact that it is well over a thousand frames long. Zack wanted to be very specific with the depth of field and guide the viewer’s eye with it. Starting with Doomsday’s bloody spike, going past the Kryptonian spear to eventually reveal Superman dying.

Beach torture

For the opening shot of this sequence, where the Parademons drag Atlantean guards to the shore, we started off with a plate of stunt actors in gray jumpsuits and Atlantean costumes. We really wanted to stay true to the actor’s performances and also keep as much of the real water interaction as we could. Parademons have quite different proportions compared to humans, so there was some tweaking involved.

Courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Media.
Courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Media.
Courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Media.
Courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Media.

It was important to keep the intersections between their bodies and the water close to the plate, to allow us to use some of the water interaction of the photography. For the CG water, we ran high resolution simulations and matched the wave pattern of the water surface as closely as we could, to seamlessly blend between CG and photography.

Flash rewinds time

A big change to final battle in Russia was Flash’s role. As the Motherboxes reach unity, first the city and then all of existence gets obliterated. Flash, having previously reversed time earlier in the movie, attempts to change those events by running faster than the speed of light.

Courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Media.

There were quite a few creatively interesting topics to solve, where we wanted to come up with a visually pleasing look that also made the storyline clear to the viewer. We had the two main stages, the Russian city and the cosmic environment, as well as an in-between stage, where we are in a deserted barren emptiness, with only the ground left, shortly before everything ceases to exist. This empty wasteland was an important part of showing the reversal of time, as we could use a clear leading edge and its direction as indication for it.

As Flash speeds up and time starts moving backwards, each of his footsteps would trigger a small Big Bang and a re-forming of matter, slowly accelerating until eventually everything around him is starting to rebuild. It was definitely a fun sequence to work on, as we could bring in a lot of our own ideas, which production supervisor John ‘DJ’ DesJardin and Zack were quite open to.

The plates for Flash we used in this sequence were generally shot at high-speed. While we usually kept most of Ezra’s performance, we had to replace most of his costume digitally to get the correct interactive light and reflection of all the electrical bolts around him. A lot of these bolts are actually created by hand, rather than an automated system, to ensure that they look exactly how we want, with the right concatenation between them.

Meet Martian Manhunter

The sequence when Bruce Wayne meets Martian Manhunter was created using newly shot material. Harry Lennix, who plays Martian Manhunter, was in New York at the time and because of COVID, we had to be creative on how to get the reference we needed to capture his performance.

Courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Media.
Courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Media.
Courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Media.

Since we did not have access to a head mounted camera, we set up regular witness cameras with good coverage of his face, as he was recording his dialogue. We then used facial motion capture software to track this material. While it was an unusual way of capturing his performance, it actually worked pretty well and we were able to get good facial tracks from it.

Zack wanted Martian Manhunter to look alien while keeping Harry’s face recognizable. Since the sequence was newly shot material and the restrictions surrounding COVID didn’t allow us to get a character scan of him, our modelers had to work primarily with picture references. Having Harry’s likeness retained in Martian Manhunter’s face helped translating his performance onto the digital character.

For Martian Manhunter’s costume design we referred to concept images and brought in some of our own ideas as well. For the cape simulations we could rely on our experience with Superman’s cape and use a very similar setup.

Batman’s house on the lake doesn’t exist anymore, so we had to create the environment digitally. We had the lidar scans in our backup of Batman v Superman, which allowed us to recreate an accurate digital version of the house as well as the surrounding area.

Leave a Reply