Geoff Campbell—Creature Modeling in Jurassic World

–2015.6.29
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Mr. Campbell, what was your role on “Jurassic World”?

I joined Jurassic World in late March of 2014 as the Creature Model Supervisor.  At that time Industrial Light and Magic was crewing up for the show with delivery in April 2015.  I was very excited about the film because I had been a modeler and animator on the first Jurassic Park in 1992.

What was the biggest challenge for you on this project?

Collin Trevorrow wanted us to go back to the original Jurassic Park to capture the essence and feel of the Trex and Raptors in all their grandeur.  This required digital time travel back to our original models which we had mothballed back in1993 on archival tape and which required legacy software and hardware to open up and view.  Of course we could never use the original models because they were so out of date, but it was very helpful to compare them with the original Stan Winston maquettes and to see how the models differed.  It was a kind of digital forensics.

At the same time we took the physical 5×3 foot Winston maquette that was on display in our San Francisco, Presideo lobby and pried off the plexiglass cover.  Martin Murphy our Texture Supervisor and Steve Jubinville my lead modeler and the one who would build the Trex took a small scanner and a tripod and scanned the model in sections.  Tim Alexander our Visual Effects Director asked me to put together a comparison of the two models and then we had Steve take the best features from both of them and incorporate them into one digital sculpt.

Once Steve had matched the original models proportions, the challenge was taking this new healthy and muscular Trex and aging her 22 year.  For that Collin pointed us to an image of a shirtless, aging, Iggy Pop wearing a tight pair of blue jeans.  It might seem quite a jump to go from Iggy to Trex but it was fantastic reference on how muscles age over time even when the body is in the best of shape.  We wanted to find a balance between the powerful dinosaur she was in 1992 and what she would look like in present day 2015.  The most important attribute to retain was her eyes.  We had to make sure we didn’t lose the soul of Trex.

How was Jurassic World different from other shows you’ve worked on?

Some of major difference between working on Jurassic Park and Jurassic World are the exponential changes in graphics software and hardware.  On Jurassic Park, CG modeling tools were in the Stone Age and modeling was a slow and arduous process of construction mainly in wireframe, with the luxury of rendering a frame when you wanted to see the results of your `sculpting’.  Today with Zbrush we’re able to sculpt with clay like materials, intuitively and interactively in ways we couldn’t have dreamed of 22 years ago.  Software was also extremely unforgiving, crashing multiple times a day without saving your work.

As well as that we didn’t have the Internet on Jurassic Park, which in today’s world makes a huge difference to the way artists gather information.  Back then we’d grab a handful of books from a bookstore or library and of course we were working from specific artwork from the Art Department, but you didn’t have access to information at a moment’s notice and the plethora of videos on Youku or Youtube.  For example on Jurassic World we were looking for reference for the nictitating membranes, that translucent membrane that forms an inner eyelid in birds and reptiles to keep the eyeballs clean.  A quick search brought up incredible reference of crocodiles in super slow motion and that was helpful for understanding the movement of the skin not just of the inner membrane but how the skin and muscle around the eye also reacted to an eye blink.  We also didn’t know how many toes were on the front feet of the Ankylosaur so we searched online for fossil and skeletal reference.  Back on Jurassic Park along with our books we did have a couple of very informative sessions with paleontologist Jack Horner over in Berkeley, which was infinitely better than the Internet, but not as readily available for questions.

How to do the team work when face to such a big project? Any story between your team?

We were a small crew of modelers and texture artists in San Francisco and Singapore and we had an excellent crew of TDs, riggers and Compositors in Vancouver, Canada.  We were also fortunate to have ILM veteran Kelvin Lau heading up the hard surface modeling from San Francisco.   We took on three new creature modelers, Vaughn Smith, Matt Corcoran and Paul Liaw who modeled the triceratops, dimorphodons, stegosaurs, ankylosaurs and the Mosasaurus.  And on the texture side we had seasoned artists including Melanie Wallis, Ting Lo and Eric Halsey.  We also had Brian Giacoppo who did an amazing job overseeing digital doubles and modeling detailed grass and trees.  All these artists were part of ILM’s Digital Model Shop.  We still use the word `digital’ to differentiate from the original ILM Model Shop that started the ILM legacy on films like Star Wars all the way up through Pirates of the Caribbean.  A lot of traditional modeling techniques have been passed down through the years.

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As we know, you are expert for modeling, what do you think the key point to make a good model?

There’s a lot of things that go into making a good model regardless of if it’s a large or small production.  It starts with good communication, research and excellent reference.  It’s important to know the context of the model or character in the film and if it’s a hero model or a background character.  Good communication is an ongoing dialogue with your supervisors, the art department and your production team because the modeler needs to visually interpret many ideas and ultimately produce one coherent model.  Research and reference are key to making a great model.  Paul Liaw did an excellent job of this on the Ankylosaurs, gathering all kinds of animal and reptilian reference and sculpting rough examples of skin texture to show the production team on our model rounds in the mornings.  He was also very adaptable with his work and didn’t make any of it precious or personal.  If he sculpted the legs from Monitor lizard reference and Tim wanted to go more Iguana, then Paul would erase and rough out the changes in zbrush while we were at his desk, so that he’d have to good direction for the rest of the day.  This was true of all the modelers and what I really think helped the whole team to make amazing dinosaurs, was that all the artists shared their personal techniques with each other and would take the time out of their own schedules to help one another if they were stuck or looking for new techniques.

In addition to all this, the key to modeling great dinosaurs is having really top sculpting talent.  Steve Jubinville modeled not only the Trex but also the hybrid Drex and I was amazed by his sheer sculpting talent, his speed, and his technical knowledge.  Vaughn and Matt were also super knowledgable when it came to zbrush and finding new techniques for sculpting skin texture.

Since you first project until now, what’s your hardest work? Why?

Funny but the hardest work is always the most rewarding.  I think Rango presented a lot of challenges because it was ILM’s first digital feature film.  I’m usually so focused on realism that I found it difficult at first to make the transition to creating the essence of a character without all the detail.  I used to think that making characters with big eyes and simplified faces would be easier but in many ways the simpler forms are much more demanding.  This is because you have to reduce the face down to its basic components and project onto it the qualities that make up the character.  I remember Gore Verbinski telling us that Rango’s face needed to project an unpredictable nervous tension, as if everything could blow apart at any time.  He pointed to the two curves that ran across both eye ridges and down to the base of the nose and said we should feel the tension of those curves like two over taught tent poles about to explode.

What’s your favorite character which you have made?

I’ve enjoyed most of them starting with modeling and animating the brachiosaur in Jurassic Park to the raptors in Jurassic World.  I loved modeling Priscilla and Beans, in Rango mainly because I’m a big fan of Crash McCreey’s brilliant artwork on the show.  Modeling Yoda and his facial expressions on Episode 2 was fun because we were playing homage to the original puppet from The Empire Strikes Back.  I remember Rob Coleman and me talking to Frank Oz about Yoda and how he manipulated the puppet with his hands.  I realized from that conversation that the integral facial movements of Yoda, resulted in how Frank’s hand gestures compressed the foam material of the puppet, giving Yoda his signature expressions.  We needed to mimic that process as well as evolve it for a broader range of motion.

I think Davy Jones, on Pirates of the Caribbean; Dead Man’s Chest, still ranks as my favorite character though I wasn’t the principle modeler.  I started roughing out the character with our ILM Art Director, Aaron McBride before turning the model over to Jung-Seung Hong who did an incredible job fleshing out the model and creating Davy’s facial expressions.  It was our first show using subdivisional surfaces and using zbrush which allowed us to add a much higher level of complex detail like sea life barnacles and decay.  An important part of our ILM pipeline is the backend where Modelers spend 2-3 months cleaning up models by animating hundreds of corrective shapes to `keep on model’.  For Davy Jones we took almost every frame of every character shot, shape animating over top of the final animation to make sure the sculpt was matching all the subtleties of actor Bill Nighy’s performance.  That was some of the most challenging shot work and the most rewarding.