The Scorpion King VFX Supervisor Opens Up About the "Worst Visual Effects Shot Ever"

Visual effects artist John Burton, Jr., an ILM veteran behind The Mummy, Men in Black, and Terminator 2, joined the YouTube series Corridor Crew this week to discuss some of the best and worst visual effects shots not just of his career -- but of all time. Of course, he had to address an elephant in the room: the infamous attack of the Scorpion King from The Mummy Returns, which Corridor Crew had previously made a video about. They had deemed it the worst visual effects shot of all time, so the idea of Burton joining the Crew to discuss the shot is a pretty cool moment both for fans of the series, and for Burton.

The veteran artist makes no excuses for the poor quality of the shot, but explained that he made one crucial error, and it was worsened by the technology available at the time. First, he had to take a quick shot at Corridor Crew, though.

"It was a dark day in my life," Burton joked. "When I went on the internet, Google said, 'Hey, check this out. Here's a thing you might be interested in: the worst visual effects shot in the history of ever.' And I'm like, 'but wait — that's the Scorpion King.' And I was like, 'Should I watch that video?' And I watched it, and I felt bad."

He joked that it wasn't their video, but someone who did it years before them, that made him feel bad. Still, he explained that the visual effects team did not have the high resolution photo reference he needed to map Dwayne Johnson's face, and that he had enough confidence to believe he could make it work anyway. He also explained how Corridor Crew managed to do much better than he did using simple deepfake technology.

"The biggest thing about the Scorpion King in this movie is that we didn't have the reference that we needed," Burton said. "This isn't really an excuse, but it's an explanation of the way things work in movies sometimes. We asked for that, of course. We needed a day with Dwayne Johnson to photograph his face in high detail and do all the stuff that you would do. Because he was busy with his incredible WWE career, that was not possible. We had him for three days, I think, in Morocco to shoot his scenes. So when you guys did your deep fake, you had 2 hours of reference that did not exist yet because The Scorpion King came out after this."

You can see that video below.

"In our case, what we would have used that for was all the reference from three dimensions to be able to do an understanding of the model makers to make that face really perfect," Burton explained. "We had shaders for subsurface scattering but they were also kind of rudimentary, but what we didn't have was the ability to make the kind of textures that create the structures on the face…those are the kinds of things that didn't make it in. I think if we had all that stuff, the animation would work better. It's meant to be a little cartoony here, and I think that informed our decisions about whether or not these shots were done and ready for the movie. There was an expectation at the time of this needing to reach a certain level. The thing with this sequence is that there's a bunch of shots that are not looking great, but there's a bunch of shots that are looking great…if you look at the shots that are less challenging, the ones where ehe's in profile or he's fighting with somebody or all that kind of stuff, where the focus is not so much on his face as on his action, those scenes work much better."

He compared the challenges in extreme close-up to the kind of mistakes made on The Polar Express and other movies around the time of The Mummy Returns's release.

"When you have something like this, you have to get past the butt-hurtedness of it, and think about what you learned. I knew we needed reference, but we couldn't get it, and I thought, 'Well, we could make it anyway.'"