Union VFX - Annihilation


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Director | Alex Garland

Union help bring about Annihilation

Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist and former soldier, joins a mission to uncover what happened to her husband (Oscar Isaac) inside “Area X” — a sinister and mysterious phenomenon that is expanding across the American coastline. Once inside, the expedition discovers a world of mutated landscapes and creatures, as dangerous as it is beautiful, that threatens both their lives and their sanity. From visionary writer and director Alex Garland (Ex Machina, 28 Days Later) and based on the acclaimed bestselling Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation also stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny. 

One of the first locations Lena encounters as she enters the shimmer is a boat house that’s been enveloped by beautiful, unique flowers.

The boat house in the shimmer was constructed as a set and dressed with real white orchids and veronicas so that the actors could interact with the scene.

As with everything in the shimmer, there is a kind of real meets unreal mutation going on and Union had to imagine what the flowers would look like.  

The team created concept ideas using Photoshop to paint wide and close up stills from the shoot to determine the creative direction.

Once the director was happy, we created a matte painting for the wide shots.  Individual mutated flowers were built in Maya, textured in Mari and graded in Nuke before being dropped into key locations in CG passes.

For the hero close up shots where Lena examines the flowers, live action was shot with real orchids.  We then substituted CG, rigged mutated flowers complete with cloth simulations to add believable interactive movement.  The matchmove was tricky as the mutated flowers are a different shape from the real ones.  The animation had to be pinpoint accurate and we had to rebuild some of Natalie Portman’s fingers to finish off the shots.

As Lena travels into the shimmer she encounters a version of her suburban midwest home covered in organic life, but also experiences flashbacks that feature her real home.  

A set had been built of the house in the shimmer, but not it’s suburban equivalent.  A CG version had to be created. 

We had a plate and LIDAR scan of the set that had been constructed of the house in the shimmer, but given the flora covering it, we had a lot of work still to do.  Fortuitously a member of our team was on holiday in a similar US suburban location, so we tasked him with shooting a lot of reference stills from which we could create a concept matte painting and set to work building the house in CG.

We went on to create the fully CG house complete with accompanying surroundings including fence, lawn, swings, phone lines, satellite dishes, flower beds, shed complete with rakes and atmospherics to provide a bit of life.  There was also a cityscape background which we created as an additional matte painting.  A 2.5D version of the entire environment was also required in order to perform the director’s desired camera moves.

The team also provided camcorder look effects for diary footage as the team explore the shimmer and did clean up work.

Paramount Pictures and Skydance present a Scott Rudin/DNA Films Production, ANNIHILATION, available on Netflix from 12.03.18.