Directed by renowned Chinese director Zhang Yimou, The Great Wall is set during the Song Dynasty, 960 through 1279 AD, and follows William Garin (Matt Damon), Lin Mae (Jing Tian) and Wang (Andy Lau) as they try to discover the real reason behind building the 13,000 mile long ancient fortification (SPOILER ALERT – it’s to keep out flesh-eating monsters known as Tao Tei!)
Zhang Yimou is known for his visual flair and rich use of colour, which meant the VFX team at Animal Logic had to pull out all the stops to bring his vision to life. The team delivered 50 shots for the film, developing a range of environments and elements for key story points.
The artists created set extensions for the top of the Great Wall, as William takes off in pursuit of Lin Mae, set amidst burning balloon debris and surrounding chaos. They also worked on traveling balloon shots following the “path of destruction” left behind by the Tao Tei. They created views from William’s cell room, shots of William rescuing Lin Mae from attacking Tao Tei in the Imperial City and cliff and tunnel extensions at the base of the wall. The photo below shows the moment when the generals discover that the Tao Tei has tunneled under the wall.
The tunnel opening was shot on stage as a partial set build against green screen. For the opening shot Animal Logic extended the wall up from the base of the cliff and the tunnel entrance below. CG soldiers abseiling down the wall were also added to the shot.
One of the most iconic scenes in the film is when William and Wang are atop a wall preparing to launch their hot air balloon. To create this sequence, Animal Logic used ILM assets of the wall and its surroundings. Houdini was then used to create the balloon silk extensions, which needed to blend into the practical silks. Fire, smoke simulations and extra soldiers were also added to the wall.
The Animal Logic team built a CG environment for shots of the “Path of Destruction” left behind by the Tao Tei. Animal Logic’s proprietary instancing tool ‘Spawn” was used to populate the terrain with trees and debris. The sequence also features a CG balloon with digital doubles, CG fire, burning debris and smoke.
Animal Logic also worked on the Imperial City sequence which sees William aboard the hot air balloon rescuing Lin Mae from the Tao Tei. “They had a practical base for the balloon gondola, with Lin Mae on wires against green screen” explained Andy Brown, VFX Supervisor. He further adds, “we had to add in the entire view below, which was the courtyard, an asset that we got from ILM, to match the practical set. We dressed the set with burning debris and animated the attacking Tao Tei below.” The sequence ends when Lin Mae throws a grenade down the throat of a creature and it explodes. In the wide shot Lin Mae is replaced with a digital double to improve performance. All of Animal Logic’s shots were rendered using our in house renderer Glimpse.