How Hollywood makes High Quality Block Buster VFX Movies so Fast? – Part 1

VFX movies are becoming more and more visually rich with every major Hollywood blockbuster release. Ever wondered, how these high quality movies get release back to back? Learn how to make Hollywood movies.


how hollywood make vfx movies

VFX movies had became one of the most popular genre of Hollywood. In today’s scenario, every movie has some sort of Visual Effects and Animation for better story telling and content rich presentation. In fact, it had became an integral part of every major blockbuster movie. We are covering various breakthrough news in this Animation and VFX blog.

20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures (Viacom), Walt Disney Pictures, Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, Universal Studios are some of the giant Hollywood studios behind major high quality block buster VFX movies. These studios control various modules of Film making – from concept, shooting to distribution. Their network is spreaded all over the globe under various chains.

Making a love, comedy, musical, drama movie is comparatively less time consuming compare to VFX heavy action, superhero, futuristic, fantasy or period movies. The later category requires tons of digital CG (Computer Graphics) shots to complete the movie. Some of the sequences are partially shooted and then integrated with required CGI rendering passes and some are purely digitized from various 3D software applications like Autodesk Maya, 3ds Max, Side Effects Houdini or any other package.

The typical 3D and VFX movie workflow is as follows:

  • Concept art
  • Storyboard / Pre Production
  • 3D Cinematic / Animatics / Previs
  • Sculpting of main characters and props (if required)
  • 3D Modeling, UV unwraping, Texturing
  • Rigging, Animation
  • FX / Simulation
  • Shading, Lighting
  • Render passes
  • Live action shooting
  • Rotoscoping, Chroma removal, Tracking, Matchmoving, Wire removal, Paint (Prep), Matte painting
  • Projection mapping, Relighting
  • Compositing of all elements

The above mentioned workflow is just the raw outline of very complex VFX pipeline. It is modified for each movie with various modules, which are overlapped in back and forth method. They are interconnected with various small operations. It changes per movie, as per the project complexity, delivery deadline, quality and team size.

Each module takes its own respective time for development and execution. Although, Hollywood comes with lots of VFX based movies in shorter time span without compromising the quality level. Each major VFX movie breaks earlier movies effects and sets new benchmark. And again it is smashed in new movie – and the cycle goes on. It is achievable due to their ‘smart work’.

All major Hollywood production houses and studios have adapted new age technologies to increase productivity with greater details in less time. This is the reason they execute so many movies very fast. Check out the main technological advancements:

1) 3D Scanner and Digitizers:

Gone are the days of laborious modeling, uv unwrapping and texturing process. If the movie requires Digi Doubles (Digital Doubles) of real life actor, it is not modelled from scratch. The actor is digitally scanned which gives high detailed 3D geometry with the skin texture details. If required, this 3D mesh can be edited or deformed with complete control through different software applications. Right now, all major movies used Digital Doubles for complex camera movement shots. Everything is achieved without data loss!

3D scanning models are one of the major breakthroughs in the new era of film making. The director can focus on his/her visionary output rather than worrying about the complexity or technical details. The human character / prop is scanned from 360°. Various pictures are also taken from multiple angles as reference images. The 3D scanned data is aligned and merged until the accurate details are achieved. 3D modeling and texturing artist will do the finishing work. They remove all seam lines and maintains realistic textures.

It all started with ‘Light Stage’. It is a lighting dome where the actor sits and the light rig setup captures the character facial details completely. Gradually, it evolved on a huge canvas where the actor can do other physical activities rather than just sitting. Technological up-gradation included advanced texture capture, geometry alignment and full body performance scanning. The latest avatar is ‘Light Stage X’ with advanced LED rig setup and controls. USC ICT (University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies) is the major name for this innovative technology.

light stage x at usc ict

light stage x

Following is the list of some major 3D scanner companies that provides this service:

Digital Emily is one of the historical landmark. Light Stage captured high detailed facial expressions of Emily. Only digital face got rendered with several CGI render passes and it replaced the real actor. It was achieved by Image Metrics and USC ICT.

Check out complete CGI breakdown of Digital Emily.

Some of the notable 3D scanning works of blockbuster VFX movies are:

  • Matrix Revolutions
  • Spiderman 2
  • TRON: Legacy
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Avatar
  • The Social Network
  • Terminator Genisys
  • The Avengers
  • Gravity

and many more ….

hulk 3d scanning

Will Smith 3D Scanner and Digitizers

avatar 3d scannig face

3d scanning camera setup


Don’t miss out another chapters of this series >>>

Part 2: How to use 3D Camera Projection and Motion Capture (MoCap)

Part 3: How to use 3D Assets library and VFX Stock Footages

Part 4: How to use Animatronics and Prosthetics

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