Creature Comforts

Adelaide’s Rising Sun Pictures conjures visual effects magic for international blockbuster Animal World by Slade Phillips

In a project spanning six months, Adelaide’s Rising Sun Pictures produced eighty-six visual effects shots for Animal World, a new fantasy adventure film that debuted to considerable fanfare at this year’s Shanghai International Film Festival and is currently in international release. 

The film centres on a young man named Kaisi (Yi Feng Li) who becomes trapped on a gambling ship operated by a menacing impresario (Michael Douglas) and is forced to take part in a violent game whose stakes are continually ratcheting up. Animal World marked the studio’s first major project for a Chinese film production aimed at an international audience.

A scene from the film 'Animal World' - DOP Max Da-Yung Wang
A scene from the film ‘Animal World’ – DOP Max Da-Yung Wang

The Adelaide studio worked under the guidance of Visual Effects Supervisor John Dietz, whose company, BangBang Productions, provided support for several recent films made in China. “Rising Sun Pictures and their work is second to none,” said Dietz, who was particularly attracted to RSP’s incredible work on X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) and wanted to bring that talent into key sequences in this film.

Australian character animators got to flex their creative muscles with a sequence involving a creature called Hightower (pictured above). Elsewhere in the film, the tall, reptilian creatures are portrayed as vicious warriors, but here they sit in the casino relaxing over a game of cards. “We had to modify the creature for our sequence to give it hands,” explains CG Supervisor Ryan Kirby. “That required high-definition muscle simulation. We needed to make sure that the body performance was up to scratch because we had them so close to camera. They also had to ‘act’ a bit more.” Visual Effects Supervisor Malte Sarnes says the sequence ranks among the studio’s best character work. 

One of the film’s most exciting sequences is an elaborate car chase where one of the film’s characters, driving a BMW coupe, is pursued by ninjas on motorcycles through a crowded city. Rising Sun Pictures created a central part of that sequence where the pursuit enters a tunnel and things literally spin out of control.

Nearly as complex is a sequence involving an exterior view of the ship ‘Destiny’ that appears at the opening of the film. Both the ship and the surrounding ocean environment are CG creations. “The ship appears to be a chemical tanker that was transformed into a casino,” says Sarnes. “There is secret military stuff happening on deck while the gambling goes on below.

Artists spent months honing the details of the massive ship, the sky and the ocean. 2D Lead Jess Burnheim notes that the length and prominence of the sequence made it essential to get the details right. “The audience has a lot of time to scrutinise the work and if something looks false, they’ll notice,” explains Burnheim. “So, we used everything in our bag of tricks, adding flares and lights, wisps of smoke in the background, to give it an increased sense of realism.

In all, Rising Sun Pictures contributed to seven key sequences in the film, shot by cinematographer Max Da-Yung Wang. Collectively, that amounted to nearly nine minutes of material that was either completely or nearly fully computer generated. Executive Producer for the Australian studio, Gill Howe, says that the scope and variety of the work made it a gratifying project for the whole team. “We got to do creature animation, create far out digital environments and produce interesting effects,” says Howe. “It touched all the areas we excel at and so it was a great opportunity for the company to show what Australians can do!

Slade Phillips is a writer based in Sydney.

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