Creative BC News

Chappie shines a light on Vancouver VFX talent

Mar 10, 2015 | Interactive + Digital Media, News, Uncategorized

A robot who can think and feel?  Seem impossible?

In the near future, crime is patrolled by an oppressive mechanized police force. But now, the people are fighting back. When one police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself.  As powerful, destructive forces start to see Chappie as a danger to mankind and order, they will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo and ensure that Chappie is the last of his kind.

Chappie showcases the important role that Vancouver VFX studios play in the international motion picture arena, creating imaginary characters that are miraculously brought to life on-screen.

Director Neill Blomkamp (of District 9 fame) continues his close association with Vancouver-based VFX house Image Engine, where the visual effects were overseen by Visual Effects Supervisor Chris Harvey, and WETA Workshop, where the physical effects team was headed by WETA Specialty Props Effects Supervisor Joe Dunckley.  Weta (based in Wellington, New Zealand) and Image Engine collaborated directly on the robot designs – these being the police Scouts, Chappie and the Moose. Additional contributions came from the Embassy VFX (also from Vancouver) and Ollin VFX.

One of the crucial aspects to bringing Chappie to life was having the role performed first by actor, Sharlto Copley, Copley performed the role on camera, performing in each scene opposite the other characters.  Not only did this allow Chappie to feel like a very real and authentic character, but it helped the other actors to bring their characters out to the fullest.  

Later, in post-production, Blomkamp worked with the technical and creative wizards at Image Engine to bring Chappie to fruition, painting the robot Chappie over Copley’s performance and creating the robot from Copley’s movements.  The way that Copley emoted in his scenes informed everything about the robot – from the way Chappie moves, or sits, or holds his head… even Chappie’s ears.  

“This was a different process for us,” Harvey says.  “On Elysium, everything was built at WETA and then came to Image Engine to create digitally.  On this movie, Neill went with a different approach.  Neill spent months working through original concept art with WETA, and then sent that art to Image Engine as 2D sketches.  From that artwork, we fully realized the characters in three dimensions.  We were able to solve a lot of animation mechanics before the practical models were built; we were able to refine the design so that we knew he would actually work.”  From there, Image Engine shared the digital models with WETA Workshop, working back and forth to refine the design, so that the WETA team could build a practical model.

The final 3D pipeline for Chappie relied on animation in Maya, effects in Houdini, rendering in 3Delight (via a newly built physically based shading setup at Image Engine) and compositing in NUKE.

Image Engine has delivered visual effects shots to an incredibly diverse range of feature films including the Academy Award nominated District 9, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The Thing, Battleship, Zero Dark Thirty, R.I.P.D., Elysium and Lone SurvivorThey are known internationally for creating incredible creatures to epic environments, stunning CG vehicles and extraordinary digital effects that make them highly sought after by filmmakers around the world.

(Source: Chappie Production Notes)