Guardians of the Galaxy 2: The biggest VFX movie of all time?

by Johrah Al-Homied, BSc Film Technology and Visual Effects student.

The hype for the Visual Effects (VFX) in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (GOG 2) started with director James Gunn claiming in an interview that Ego The Living Planet was going to be the “biggest visual effect of all time”. He said the film contains over a trillion polygons, and after watching it, I can believe that’s true. Ego contains thousands of animated elements. From the water to the leaves dropping on the floor, all these details could need thousands of individual models, depending on how detailed they are, and each model could contain millions of polygons.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy

However, creating a stunning, detailed world does not automatically make the VFX good.

According to a series of interviews done for the 14th Annual VES (Visual Effects Society) Awards, Marque Pierre Sondergaard, who has worked as VFX and texture artist on films including Deadpool and Jupiter Ascending, stated that there were two spectrums to good VFX: one where the effects blend seamlessly with reality, and one that makes no attempt to hide the effects. He puts the first Guardians of the Galaxy film in the latter category.

The second could be exemplified by Guardians of the Galaxy, where the over-the-top world of a comic book makes no excuses for bending the laws of physics if it results in cool images.

Although there are various arguments about what makes good VFX, most would agree that it should feel like the VFX belongs in the film. This is what GOG 2 has achieved. Its composition of thousands of elements not only makes the planet feel alive, but like the characters are physically there.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy

VFX is a combination of practical and computer effects. It is post-production heavy, but not completely done in post-production. Lighting, puppets, green screen (and in this case blue screen as well) are planned and shot with the actors before it’s brought into VFX houses where they churn away on developing it frame by frame.

To show you what I mean, I’m going to talk about a scene that was burned in my memory after I left the theatre.

In this scene, Quill dances with Gamora on Egos. To avoid any major spoilers, that’s all I’m going to reveal. Besides the beautiful design and stunning colour grading there are two things that sold it for me. The lighting and the couch. Yes, the couch. Let’s look at this scene in a series of shots.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy

Shot 1: The light from the sun hitting not only the edges of the railing, but also the back of Quill’s jacket. But look at the doors at the edges of the frame. See how the light is bouncing off the glass? It’s all these little details that make these shots good.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy

Shot 2: What? The couch was real? Or was it? There were multiple ways the artists could have done this – keying out (a technique in which a colour range in the foreground footage is made transparent, allowing separately filmed background footage or a static image to be inserted into the scene) a chair (or cushion) against a green screen, creating and animating a model of the couch or a combination of both. Quill’s simple action of throwing his phone on the couch made me feel like the characters were actually there and not in a studio, as they were engaging physically with the set.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

…Although they forgot it leave it in for the subsequent shots. But we all make mistakes, especially with thousands of frames to go through.

So that begs the question, is the VFX in GOG 2 the biggest VFX of all time? Possibly; to create an entire planet is no small feat. Is it the best VFX of all time? It’s not bad, but it has its flaws, especially with lighting in some cases. But for the scale of the film, I would say it is an impressive accomplishment in the field of VFX and will leave you in awe about how they even achieved such a thing.

Interested in VFX? Find out more about our BSc Film Technology and Visual Effects

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