Aquaman: Elevating the Underwater Action

With this DC Comics hero charting his own aquatic adventure, Animatrik was brought aboard to help with mocap challenges for key scenes in the new film, Aquaman.

After debuting in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and then expanding his role in Justice League, comics legend Aquaman has become one of the most compelling characters in the DC Extended Universe films. With a gruff, heavily-tattooed exterior—yet a heroic, selfless demeanor—Jason Momoa’s modernized portrayal can’t help but steal any scene he’s in.

That’s precisely why he was next in line for a solo flick, and Aquaman is Warner Bros. Pictures’ latest epic superhero affair. James Wan’s movie builds up an origin story for Aquaman, but then explodes into scene after scene of thrilling combat both above and below the surface.

Animatrik, having already lent a hand to both Justice League and DC’s Suicide Squad, was brought in to help solve unique mocap challenges for the filmmakers.

Transforming mechanical beasts

One of Animatrik’s chief tasks was to help the filmmakers understand how enormous, underwater CG creatures would look in the frame while still shooting on-set. The production team had built large, robotic-looking stand-ins for the actors to ride on in the studio, with all sorts of hydraulic levers used to mimic the underwater movements.

However, using Animatrik’s motion capture expertise, the filmmakers were instead able to view the actors seamlessly riding atop the swimming beasts via the monitors on set for blocking purposes.

“Because they’re so big, the filmmakers wanted to be able to visualize those creatures and see them in-camera,” says Brett Ineson, president and CTO of Animatrik Film Design. “By tracking those large objects with motion capture, we were able to render them live into the plate.”

Animatrik collaborated with visualization team, The Third Floor, to execute this technical challenge, using Optitrack cameras sat atop 15-foot towers to track the machines. NCam was then used for camera tracking to blend the CG graphics with the live action footage being shot right in front of them. It was a brilliant fusion of technology and talent to help the filmmakers achieve their vision for the sequence.

“Being able to see it all come to life with The Third Floor using the NCam system, and having it all work with the actors actually sitting on the CG creatures, was incredibly cool,” says Troy Provencal, motion capture specialist at Animatrik. “That’s what we set out to achieve, and it was really rewarding to see it all come together via that collaboration.”

Tracking tridents and then some

Animatrik also had a hand in a frenzied fight scene between two trident-wielding combatants. The scene had already been shot in live-action using stunt actors, but the filmmakers wanted to shoot a second CG version with motion capture to create exacting digital doubles of the fighters, thus providing much more flexibility in post-production.

Capturing actors in fast-paced combat sequences is familiar territory for Animatrik, given its work on the aforementioned DC films and other blockbusters, but the long-staff tridents and props added extra complexity to the tracking challenge. Even so, Animatrik helped execute the task with minimal hassle—which was ideal for the filmmakers, given all of the wire work needed for the exaggerated stunts.

“We mostly capture people, but capturing multiple hydraulic lifts was definitely a new one,” says Ineson. “It was an interesting and effective new approach that helped elevate one of the film’s key scenes, and we were the right team to help get it done.”