Mojin director Liu Song, Visual effects supervisor Sam Khorshid, Visual effects producer Wang Lei, Visual effects supervisor Douglas Smith, speaking at the Golden Horse awards ceremony
The amazing news of Mojin: The Lost Legend picking up the VFX award at the Golden Horse awards came up as a joyous moment of recognition for the great work of the teams at both Phenom and Bottleship. The production all the scale, thrills and exciting design that make a hit blockbuster, confirmed by a spectacular box office. Phenom films is a Chinese post-production company which was in charge of the whole post-production process of Mojin: The Lost Legend. Concerning the movie visual effects side, Phenom films undertook the guiding work, on the other side provided VFX production process together with high quality work, according to time schedule.
Bottleship worked on the sequence with the destruction of the underground temple. Besides the large scale destruction of the temple, it also involved big waterfalls, diving through a Maelstrom funnel, set extending water around swimming characters and underwater shots – an abundance of water and destruction work.
Within a compact schedule, Bottleship tackled several major challenges. The first was putting the the complex geometry provided by Phenom through the destruction pipeline. It was solved by working in layers, with three detail level versions of most assets. The lower resolutions were used for simulations where possible, and the resulting base animation drove the motion of the higher detail levels. Elsewhere high detail assets were split off into separate destruction events and later patched into the main scene. Our Thinking Particles based workflow allows us to follow a modular approach where we build a setup for each project based on our growing library of blocks. Avoiding ground-up builds saves us time and focuses our resources on the specific challenges of the project. Thinking Particles is great for quick implementations of complex dependencies and dynamic interactions, which helps a lot, too.
One of the shots was a special challenge because of its conceptual complexity. A long camera move, starting from the surface of a pond as it swirls up, diving through the funnel, down through a crack at the bottom of the lake, amidst water streams gushing from each side, all the way to a new lake at the bottom of a cave below. It was only possible to deal with it by breaking it down into virtual subshots, and areas within them. Since there were plenty of waterfalls done for the show, by that time we had built several waterfall assets of different detail level that we assembled together with simulated in place waterfalls, to get a big simulation mosaic at the end. The water funnel was separately done and fit nicely on top of everything else, getting conformed to the outline of the chaos below. Handling all the water effects required a significant upgrade on the pipeline and IT sides. When that was in place, the workflow was quite streamlined. From base rigid body and liquid simulations, to various whitewater and splash secondary simulations, and assembling everything together to render. Thinkbox Software’s Krakatoa proved its value once again – a flexible, impressively fast manipulation and rendering for the large volume of particles and fields we often need to produce.
Another type of challenge was the collapsing crystal cave ceiling, under the pressure of the water above. Large areas of crystal, in a complex cave lighting environment, with splash and foam coming through, were difficult to light well, but eventually very satisfying. We ended up relying mostly on the bounced light off the crystals, faking the refracted light from the lake above them with big flickery lights, and minimal fill light from inside the cave. This gave us an emphasis on the best elements in the shot, with V-Ray’s shaders being very helpful in fine tuning the complex contrast between water, crystal and rock.
Topping that off was the unusual task of doing water set extensions, where the actors were shot on greenscreen in a swimming pool, and the water had to be extended for hundreds of meters, vanishing into the cave mist, and pounded by distant waterfalls. That turned out to be unexpectedly light on the geometry level, with simple wave spectrum deformed geometry and careful lighting setting the stage for a rich blend of many layers of mist and fog simulated in Sitni Sati’s FumeFX. Another one of our proven workhorses, it’s been growing lately by adding deeper control, even better performance and open file format support. That gave us more flexibility in rendering it with either Krakatoa or together with our main geometry renders, where we rely on V-Ray. It’s unparalleled performance, feature set and support have been really great for us.
We are enjoying a great relationship with Phenom and their lead team, Sam Khorshid for several years now. Our collaboration spanned ever bigger amounts of work ranging from TV commercial, through ride film to feature. People on both sides mostly remained the same, and this has strengthened the bond and made things smooth on the organizational side. That’s why we decided to ask Sam a few questions about our work together and this is what he said to us.
Sam Khorshid, VFX Supervisor/Creative Director , Phenom VFX
What did you send to Bottleship, and why?
” We have a great relationship with Bottleship and have cooperated on several projects over the last few years. Bottleship’s focus on fluid simulation and RBD makes them the perfect partner when we need to ramp up the onscreen mayhem. ”
What parts Mojin did Phenom work on?
” Phenom had a very large and varied role on Mojin, we provided preview, test shooting and RnD during pre-production. During shooting we provided DIT, Blue/Green screen set up, and VFX supervision. Then during Post Production, DI, Stereo Conversion, final mastering, and of course VFX. The VFX consisted of 1600 shots, mostly consisting of set extension, fantasy environments, and environmental destruction. ”
What was the most challenging effect you had to build?
“ The end sequence of the film where the Goddess’ tomb ceiling comes crashing down and floods with water. It was a very complex series of shots and took very tight integration with Bottleship to pull them off. Coincidentally these shots were approved by the director the first we showed him, A rare occurrence…
What did you learn from managing a sprawling production like Mojin?
“A good pre-production is key to a successful show, it minimize the surprises during shooting and post-production! “
Douglas Hans Smith, Visual Effects supervisor
‘The team at Bottleship did a great job on a difficult sequence that was key to making the story work. The director loved the results. They are methodical problem solvers who have the tools and expertise to do the most complex simulations.”
And here are a few words from Martin Naydenski & Hristo Velev about the work together:
Martin Naydenski , co-founder and CG lead, Bottleship VFX
”For Mojin, we had a mixed pipeline between the two studios. Models and animation generally came from Phenom, FX work from Bottleship. Compositing was split between the two studios, and supervision was on the Phenom side. It does require a level of synergy to pull this off, and I’m happy to say we operated very well. A special thanks goes out to the dedicated production people on both sides who sometimes lived in each other’s time zone, for making it smooth for the rest of us!”
Hristo Velev, co-founder and FX lead, Bottleship VFX
”Our Mojin experience was exciting – both pushing us in new directions and giving us the opportunity to expand our core expertise. Feels even better to see the great work by the talented people in the Bottleship and Phenom films get some well deserved recognition! With our continued good partnership with Phenom, both studios’ expanding capabilities and more than matching growth in the VFX driven box office both in China and globally, we’re looking forward to what’s coming next.”