Mohsen Mousavi, FX Supervisor / Head of Technology, talks about "Sucker Punch" and how his Pixomondo team created some of its stunning effects work.
Mohsen Mousavi has been an active force behind Pixomondo's achievements in the fields of special effects. Together with his dedicated team, he has built the FX and technology department from the ground up over the past five years.
From micro-designing gigantic shots on a conceptual andtechnical level to macro-managing the FX team, he had a major role in the creation of some of Pixomondo's best work.
Mohsen is currently working as the FX supervisor on the upcoming features "Hugo Cabret", directed by Martin Scorsese, "Red Tails", written by George Lucas, as well as the "Journey to the Center of the Earth 2".
Pixomondo supplies visual effects production and supervision, CG character creation, 3D animation and pre-visualization for feature films, television, commercials and live media. The international visual effects company has a global network of facilities in Los Angeles, Burbank, Toronto, London, Shanghai, Beijing, Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Stuttgart, allowing it to provide services to the global marketplace 24/7. With a talented staff of more than 500 artists from around the world, Pixomondo is positioned at the forefront of the ever-changing visual effects industry.
cebas: It seems that “Sucker Punch” was an important project for you (and your studio). Can you tell us how you were involved?
Zack Snyder loved the work we did on “The Red Baron”, which included lots of complex flight choreography and dog fight sequences in a WWII environment. We were approached by the production company to accomplish the entire WWI sequence including an extreme sequence of a zeppelin crash.
cebas: What cebas software did you use and why?
thinkingParticles plays a very important rule in any heavy FX-driven shot we accomplish at Pixomondo. It is an open framework focused on procedural, non-linear, and logical, particle-driven effects. We also use finalRender on some shots due to its perfect compatibility with tP and FumeFX.
cebas: How did you use our software to achieve the effects?
One of the most challenging sequences we worked on was the collapse of the zeppelin. The idea was to show the complexity of the structure as much as possible, and build it in a fictional way so we could pull it apart as realistically as possible.
We utilized thinkingParticles together with many other in-house tools and scripts to rig the structure of the vessel through a very cleverly rigged joint system done entirely in thinkingParticles.
cebas: What features in particular helped you achieve your goal and how?
The thinkingParticles procedural joint system and shape collision and the logic-driven Voronoi tessellation, has certainly changed the way things are done compared to a couple of years ago.
We were able to rig the entire structure of the zeppelin and all its Rigid Body Dynamics (RBD) constraints through logical rules, and pipe it as an asset for different shots.
cebas: What was the most difficult aspect of this project and how did you solve it?
Each Pixomondo VFX facility is concentrated on a certain aspect of the production with our Berlin studio focused on finalizing all FX-driven shots. Sometimes a shot goes through four or five facilities, which makes it extremely challenging to maintain communication in both the micro- and macro-management.
cebas: What was a step-by-step breakdown of a typical sequence?
Preparing the underlying structural assets to share in different shots enabled us to grab a proxy structure at any time and easily import the assets related to that proxy from the server. Both ends of the proxy were marked so we could access those polys in tP and create joints positions from there.
We developed a node in tP that would visualize the data flow and joint connection as an OpenGL line in the viewport. We spent a lot of time figuring out the best way of controlling the energy flow in the joint network, and how we could mimic the reality as much as possible.
The setup was done so that we could increase the distance to which every proxy could have a joint relationship. Using a masking network in tP allowed us to control the stiffness of different portions of the structure, as well as the condition under which it would rip apart.
With the system as an asset, we could bring in the proxy structure, pipe it through the network, and quickly have a first version laid out. We did many versions and, as we tried out different combinations, we got more ideas for making the event more and more dramatic.
Once the base proxy simulation was done, we would run our cloth rigger, which would analyze the entire network, and rig every patch to its corresponding structure with dozens of group constraints created on the fly, which would be impossible to do manually.
The cloth rigger has a lot of toolsets to allow designing the tears and dynamics on the cloth on many patches at once. With the cloth approved, we would go ahead and, based on the camera and what really made sense in the shot, convert the proxy model of the structure to a high-res model.
The fire and smoke was sometimes a combination of over 40 fumeFX grids per shot, which were managed trough our in-house FX-manager.
cebas: How did the cebas tools perform for you and what was the experience of working with them like?
I could not imagine many of the heavy FX-driven shots we have accomplished at Pixomondo without the thinkingParticles framework and the invaluable cebas support.
cebas: How did it compare to other software you may have used?
Prior to thinkingParticles, we were using different techniques to deal with particle or rigid body simulations. We were used to the linear workflow of Reactor and Pflow. thinkingParticles has completely changed the way we plan and accomplish a shot in terms of complex FX-driven assets.
The multi-layer caching framework has made it possible to break an effect into many different components and enable more artists to work on the same shot in parallel, and sometimes on the same element of one shot.
cebas: How did cebas software integrate into your production pipeline? How straightforward was it?
thinkingParticles, as a unique framework, sits at the heart of the FX department at Pixomondo. It has become the foundation of many different technologies we have developed and utilized during the past years. It has been an amazing journey to be part of the development of the software.
The SDK has enabled us to utilize many ideas in the shots and integrate many different in-house solvers, which binds nicely with the entire standard thinkingParticles logic and is extremely scalable.
cebas: What was the most fun or rewarding part of this project for you?
I think playing a major role in such a visually stunning project is fun in all aspects. It has been great to be one of the key assets that (“Sucker Punch” director) Zack Snyder used to bring his vision to life.
cebas: What new projects can we expect from you in the future?
Just some weeks ago we finished “Fast 5”. We are now working on Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo Cabret”, which is shot in 3D stereo, George Lucas’s “Red Tails”, and “Journey 2: the Mysterious Island”. This is of course as far as I can tell you due to the NDA with our clients.
I would like to say thank you to the fantastic team I had, which brought the impossible to the screen.
Click Here to learn more about Pixomondo and its feature movies.
Thank you Mohsen for taking the time to talk to us! We at Cebas Team would like to congratulate you on your continuous amazing work.
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