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September 2016

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BITS & PIECES 5 POST SEPTEMBER 2016 HOW A HEROIC SQUAD OF VFX ARTISTS HELPED BRING THE ANTI-HEROIC SUICIDE SQUAD TO LIFE Bringing DC Comics' anti-heroic comic book series Suicide Squad to the big screen this summer took a heroic squad of visual effects artists from Sony Pictures Imageworks (, which, since its inception in 1992, has helped render some of the biggest DC and Marvel comic book ad- aptations to date, including Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy (2002-2007) and 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy. Led by visual effects supervisor Mark Breakspear, a 30-plus year veteran of the effects industry, Imageworks was responsible for rendering your typical big comic book movie action sequences for the film, along with certain Squad char- acters whose looks couldn't be achieved through makeup and prosthetics (as was done with Jared Leto's Joker and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's Killer Croc). Those characters included the CG-enhanced villain Enchantress (played by Cara Delevingne) and her right-hand monster, the entirely CG-rendered Incubus. According to Breakspear, the primary challenge with Enchantress was getting her costume right, something the movie's wardrobe department was never quite able to do. "They tried to achieve something unique with her costume but it never hit the mark for David," he says. Without an agreed-upon costume, the filmmakers did something rare in the business: "Essentially, they decided to shoot [Cara] with no clothes — i.e. with just a bikini; a tight and blended-in-with-her-body bikini," says Breakspear. Once Delevingne finished shooting, it was up to the Imageworks team to properly attire their movie's bewitching villain. "We ended up building a costume that worked on her body and with her movements. But in order to carefully match Cara's movements, we had to build a special rig." Imageworks also animated Enchantress's magical and penetrating tattoos. "If you look carefully, the tattoos on the surface go down deep into her skin. In fact, her whole body is slightly transparent and you can see through to her heart, which is this green, glowing thing. So, when you put all that together and you have the jade squares that make up her costume and this big headdress with gold human eyes that are always looking around, it was an amazing pro- cess and, in many respects, completely different from how we did Incubus." In order to create Incubus, whom Breakspear lovingly describes as a "gi- ant amber snow globe," Imageworks began with a simple drawing from the art department. "But a drawing doesn't really explain the character mechan- ics, like how he moves," Breakspear adds. "So we started asking questions like, 'What sort of body structure does he have? When he gets formed by these three or four different people, which body does he take on?' Obviously, we were going to take on the most attractive body, not the slightly portly doctor, because no one wants to see a superhero that gets out of breath walking up some stairs." In addition to rendering Incubus' outside shape, Imageworks also had to animate his inside shapes. "He's hollow on the inside and made up of all this amber goo and body parts of the people he's absorbed. So, inside him are all of the heads floating around and arms and limbs and a gun from the cop." Speaking of weapons, the most innovative CG work on Incubus involved his unique gun and firepower. "We didn't want him shooting the sort of standard magic [laser] you see in a Harry Potter-type movie…or your typical super- hero laser-beam. So we started looking at fractals and how fractals exist in three-dimensional space." For those unfamiliar with the term, a fractal is defined as a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. In recent years, animators have even created three-dimensional fractals called Mandelbulbs. "If you go on YouTube and look up Mandelbulb animation, it'll blow your mind. And to get that level of detail into a kinet- ic-type weapon that converts solid matter into another material was always the goal," says Breakspear. Incubus's fractal-firing weapon also helped the effects team maintain the mov- ie's PG-13 rating. "There are moments where Incubus decapitates or cuts some- one in half, but there's no blood or guts, which usually pushes the rating instantly," says Breakspear. "Instead, the weapon converts a person into a different material so they become almost like a statue. So, when we then see someone get cut in half, you don't think of it as gross; it actually looks quite beautiful." When asked about the movie's most challenging visual effects sequence, Breakspear doesn't mention the expected third-act climactic showdown between the Squad and Enchantress at Midway City Train Station. Instead, he references an earlier moment in the film — and that intriguing "f" word again. "We had to do this shot that basically explained the creation of the fractal engine Enchantress builds," he says, comparing the challenge to "animating a giant pile of BMW engines that are rotating and turning around with each other. And we had to design it using fractal geometry and three-dimensional shapes that had infinite depth. It was an amazingly-difficult challenge because there's no existing visual vocabulary for people to go, 'Oh, that's the kind of fractal that I like.'" — BY HARRISON J. PIERCE Suicide Squad features a CG-enhanced villain, Enchantress, completed by Imageworks.

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