Guardians of the Galaxy 2 VFX Boss Talks Creating a Living Planet

At one point, James Gunn said Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was one of the biggest visual effects spectacles ever made. From gigantic space fights to alien races of all shapes and sizes, nothing was impressive as the massive asset created with Ego the Living Planet, a groundbreaking piece in film effects. With breathtaking visuals both on the planet's surface and in its interior, the VFX team crafted something incredibly realistic and life-like from nothing.

The visual effects team was led by one Christopher Townsend, who tells that it was hard at first to understand the massive scale needed for this one asset in particular.

"It was really interesting at the time when we read in that in the script. We thought, 'What? I don't really understand what that means,'" Townsend says of Ego. "I think that it took an amount of original vis dev artwork that was created, and then our production design team on the show created this beautiful artwork and really tried to nail down sort of the shapes and the forms and the colors."

"It was this idea that Ego had crafted and created his own planet and had manufactured it, but had manufactured it in an organic manner," he continues. "So that's why those algorithms that are used to create that sort of artwork, that was so specific and worked so well.

With blockbusters increasing in size by the minute, each movie's visual effects team is made up of dozens of artists from vendors all across the globe. When it comes to creating Ego as a digital art asset, that responsibility fell to the team at Weta Digital, a special effects company based in New Zealand.

Co-founded by filmmaker Peter Jackson, Weta has won six Academy Awards and has their hand in helping out on several properties set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Suffice to say, a firm of their stature was more than well equipped to handle one of the biggest assets Marvel's ever needed created.

"We did have set pieces that all the actors worked on," Townsend says. "We had platforms and things that were all painted and sculpted in a manner to help studios use some of it, but most of what you see on screen is ultimately a full virtual world, and that was something that Weta created and had to animate."

As Townsend puts it, their goal was to create an organically-produced planet that was living and breathing, leading to a massive model not entirely all too common in the industry.

"It was a tremendously heavy model, full of details, but it was all based on original artwork that was what we created, and spent a lot of time trying to figure out the look of, 'What is a living planet? What does that mean? How do we portray that and how do we do it in a beautiful and ornate way and create something where, hopefully, you have this incredible map of information interspersed with some big open spaces that allow the eye to breathe?' So yeah, it was an interesting time. Fascinating."

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is now streaming on Netflix.

What'd you think of Vol. 2? What do you hope happens in Vol. 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or by hitting me up on Twitter at @AdamBarnhardt to talk all things cosmic Marvel!



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