How-to: extend a vampire face

Scanline VFX breaks down the process for ‘Blood Red Sky’.

A final shot that can fool audiences into how it was pulled off is perhaps the key goal in visual effects. Using multiple effects methods, say, a combination of practical and digital work, to get to the final can help tremendously, always leaving viewers guessing about how it was achieved.

On the Netflix film, Blood Red Sky, directed by Peter Thorwarth, the story called for vampires to be featured as central characters. A long-time domain of practical effects work, those vampires—Nadja and Eightball—did start out as actors in make-up effects overseen by prosthetic make-up designer prosthetic makeup designer. Then, to further enhance their bloody performances, Scanline VFX generated a number of CG facial extensions.

Here’s how they did it, as described by Scanline visual effects supervisor Falk Büttner. This article also appears in issue #3 of befores & afters magazine.

The brief

The transformation into a vampire happened in three stages. Mark Coulier’s SFX make-up team developed the look of all three stages and did a great job in putting silicon face prosthetics onto the actors:

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Stage 1—Blue lines appear on the skin and teeth and fingernails begin to grow. In a couple of shots, we painted out the blue lines on the skin and let them reappear. In some shots, we let teeth and fingernails grow, or wounds heal. Our approach was that everything would be done practically by SFX makeup. We then 3D tracked the bodies and heads of the actors, painted the practical veins out and let them reappear in comp. For wounds, it was the opposite.

Stage 2—The vampire’s teeth are there, and the face begins to change. Our work was limited during this stage to only some retouches or wound healing.

Stage 3—The face continues to change; jaws get bigger, and the distance of the eyes widens. In this stage, we widened the eyes of the two main characters, Nadja and Eightball, and replaced the lower part of the face in some shots with a 3D model.

Our briefing for the face extensions was to change the actors’ specific characteristics, but not to destroy their original performance while changing their faces, and to not destroy the great designs of the SFX make-up department. We needed to bring something supernatural into the faces, where the audience gets a feeling that there is something non-human, but they can’t really tell what it is. Finding the right balance of how far we could go with our face changes was a process that took a couple of weeks of going back and forth.




The methodology

We had 3D scans of the actors’ faces without any SFX make-up, with fully applied stage three SFX make-up, and 3D scans of the concept design busts from the SFX make-up department. Our modelling department used those scans as a basis to model the widened eyes and bigger jaws. Our senior comp artist, Tim Klink, came up with a method that enabled us to widen the eyes directly in comp in a very short time.

We 3D tracked the heads of the actors with the stage three scan, copied those transformations onto our extended stage three head model, and used the resulting differences between the models in the comp department to drive the distortion inside Nuke to widen the eyes.

For the CG replacements of the lower parts of the face, our animators roto-mated the original facial performance of the actors in Maya and then exaggerated those movements. In some shots, we opened their mouths much wider than a real human could do it. Lighting/shading/rendering happened in 3ds Max using V-Ray, and the final comp was done again in Nuke.




Dealing with blood

Due to timing, we decided to not use sim’d blood. We had to complete 529 shots in 20 weeks, so we needed fast solutions for everything. We wanted to keep everything related to blood inside comp to be able to react quickly to client feedback.

Alongside the SFX department, we shot blood splatter plates in front of a green screen, with blood splattering around from different angles. Those plates plus additional blood plates, which we already had in our library, were used in comp to create all the blood.

The director wanted to ensure there wasn’t too much blood. He did not want to make a typical blood splatter movie. So we had to hit the right point of having just enough.




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