Tuesday, 6 August 2019

The Making of "Venom"

Troy Saliba, animation director at Double Negative, gave a talk in London earlier this year, to talk about his work on the blockbuster release: Venom.

Troy was my animation director on "Monster House", way back in 2005, so it was a pleasure for me to see him again, and welcome him to London, where he is now working for DNeg in Soho.

Troy's talk was a masterclass in how animators work alongside VFX artists on FX-heavy films, where the final result, with all the FX work added, can often look quite different to the animator's initial keyframe animation.

The result is that, on films like Venom, animation and FX are heavily interlaced, requiring careful collaboration between departments, and plenty of back-and-forth to get the right final result.

Troy Saliba presents Venom
Getting started
Troy began his work on Venom by immersing himself in the concept of the character, reading all the comics, and understanding the Venom universe.

Troy explained that he always tries to make sure that any film is as true to the original vision as possible, although, in the end, films such as Venom are made for a global mass audience, with commercial priorities - you can't just make a movie for the fans.

The Symbiote
The Symbiote is the alien version of the species; they need a human host in order to become fully formed. Troy described the Symbiote as "basically a black blob with tentacles"; it took lots of animation tests to get the right look and feel for what was in effect "a scary-looking snot creature".  The animators created the performance, and the FX department would take it to the next level.  There wasn't much live-action reference that the animators could look at, because nothing like the symbiote actually exists in nature, though the animators looked at creatures such as octopuses to get a feeling for how it might move.

Venom takes control of the host's body, through tentacles. So DNeg had to do "close to 100 different versions" of the tentacles, to get them just right.

Skin and muscle systems
The Venom character rig had a complex set of skin and muscle systems, to make the animation feel as believable as possible.

Venom is "made of goo", and he has to feel slimy all the time. But Venom has no brows, no nose, and no cheeks, so creating facial expressions was not an easy task. Lipsync was also hard because Venom has such big teeth - it was particularly difficult to create closed-mouth shapes like Ms and Bs and Ps.

Project pipeline
Troy worked on Venom for about 14 months, a relatively short gig, compared with many.  He described the "on-set experience" as being "one of the most fun parts of the process", in part because it's relatively quick, just a few weeks of live-action filming - compared to the many months required to finish the VFX. Troy explained that, as an animation director, it really helps to be a part of the pre-production part of the pipeline, because this way you can help to control the process and make the director's vision come to life. 

Troy's advice for students
Troy advised student animators not just to learn the art and craft of animation, but to "study movies. Learn the language of film-making, and what makes movies tick? How does the cinematography support the story?" As an animator, you "will be involved in a pipeline, and you need to understand how things are staged, how the film-makers guide the eyes of the audience".

VFX and Animation in London
Troy also explained that "there is a lot going on in London". Troy has "lived in five countries, and moved a lot. This is not an industry for people looking for a 20-year job." But we are fortunate to be going through a commercial and artistic renaissance in animation in the UK right now, and our students are unlikely to have to relocate (as many do) in order to find work.

For more on the experience of studying at Bucks New University, come and visit us at one of our Open Days, take a virtual tour of one of our animation studios, check out what our students think of our course, and see why we're ranked in the top 12 creative universities in the UK.

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