Making of Rocket Raccoon for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy by Framestore Studio
How Framestore Studio created Rocket Raccoon for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
Raccoons don’t often walk on two legs, and they don’t regularly start bar fights, fire huge guns or pilot spaceships either, but then Rocket, the star of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, is no ordinary raccoon. Here’s how we developed and then animated him in our section of James Gunn’s record-breaking space opera, plus a look at some of the film’s other weird beasts.
For an overview of the rest of our work on the film head over here, while we also have a features on our environment work and R&D. Make sure you see the movie before you read on of course!
Nailing the performance
As the strongest and most central character that Framestore has ever animated Rocket needed to look photo-real and naturalistic, but at the same time he had to be made to do things raccoons don’t do. After all, part of his character is that he doesn’t even know he is a raccoon. “If you exaggerate his performance and make him too cartoony you’ve lost the audience but if you go too real you’ll end up with something that isn’t entertaining or doesn’t do Bradley’s voice justice,” explains Animation Supervisor Kevin Spruce.
“James Gunn instinctively had a gut feeling of what was right for Rocket. He often wanted to keep him casual and low-key, rather than over-acted,” he continues. “He was very big on the fact that when you shoot live action the actors don’t always look at each other when they’re talking, whereas there’s a tendency for animators to always make characters face who they’re talking to. The animation team worked hard to get all that observational detail into Rocket and became really intuitive to what he would do in any situation.”
We referenced Bradley Cooper’s vocal performance as an anchor point in terms of lip-sync, along with a level of interpretation required to translate a human face performance to a raccoon muzzle. “People talk a lot about lip-sync and facial animation, but really a good performance is a combination of everything – the body poses, the amplitude and of course the timing – and those elements coming together and looking like one thing. We had Bradley’s voice, James Gunn’s brief, post-vis and reference of the animators doing Rocket actions to nail the physicality. We used all of that as reference to create a performance” adds Kevin.
Fur and fibre
As we were leading the Look Dev on Rocket our Creature FX team had their hands full with his fur and clothing. Imagine you need to simulate a million hairs for a coat of fur, normally you might choose 10% of those as guides to drive the full groom, but for Rocket we used our in-house software to simulate every single hair and how it collides for the first time. The groom was split into three different sections – the head, the arms and tail. This meant we could easily remove parts of the fur which were not visible in shot.
We rendered in Arnold and the shader we used was based on the disneyISHair model, an artist friendly, physics inspired hair shading system that uses importance sampling for hair scattering. For the markings we used multiple colour maps that were then mixed in different ways along the length of each hair. For the short fine hair we were able to achieve the speckled look along each hair which is present in real raccoon fur by swapping between the different maps in certain areas controlled by mix masks. The longer hairs had less colour changes along the length which gave the recognisable raccoon mask.
Rocket starts off in his preferred bounty hunter gear before switching into the raccoon-sized prison uniform his jailers manage to find for him. As it was an asset that needed to be a shared with another VFX company we set the bounty costume up in a way to make that as easy as possible. “It’s quite a rigid space suit, so we decided that the top part could be mainly rigged and the trousers would be cloth simmed,” explains CFX Supervisor Sylvain Degrotte. The prison outfit was more difficult. “It was less rigid so it needed to collide with Rocket’s fur underneath and be able to slide and wrinkle in a more fluid, less mechanical way.”
“We built that costume in quite a novel way,” continues Sylvain, “at the beginning we took the approach of ‘OK let’s do it like Gravity take a physically accurate, pattern-based tailoring approach,’ but the costume already existed in real life so instead we decided to do a photogrammetry scan by taking 360° photos. It was much quicker and we still got all the details we wanted. We just had to fit it from our human model to a raccoon. It was an area we really pushed forward in and did something differently that worked for this particular show.” With the systems set up we developed our in-house software Jet to automate the simulation process. Artists could click a submit button and all it would run all the required simulations – the bounty hunter trouser simulation or the prison costume plus the three different groom simulations combined together – and publish a package that was used by lighting to render later on.
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