Morbius is an American superhero film, produced by Columbia Pictures and based on the Marvel Comics character Morbius, the Living Vampire. When the primary VFX vendor on the show, Digital Domain, needed the most precise 4D facial capture for two lead actors, they called on DI4D to collaborate on the project. The DI4D PRO system was used on location to capture facial performances for Jared Leto (Dr Michael Morbius), and Matt Smith (Milo).
1 April 2022
Capturing Nuance and Emotion for Believable Transformations
Leto plays Dr. Michael Morbius, a biochemist who inadvertently turns himself into a vampire when a life-saving scientific experiment goes wrong. The story sees Leto’s character struggling to contain the demon within. Morbius’ facial transformations needed to encapsulate the tortured existence and the range of emotions that the character wrestles with. Throughout the action, we see Morbius ‘bloom’ in varied transformations, from his normal self to his vampiric alter-ego. With facial transformation and ‘likeness’ to the actors so essential to the Morbius plot, Digital Domain enlisted specialists DI4D.
Joel Behrens, Digital Domain Visual Effects Supervisor explains that the decision to engage DI4D on the project was an easy one to make. “We’ve had some very successful collaborations on previous projects, and have been very pleased with the data and results we’ve achieved using their technology.” He goes on to say “the capture process with the actors was easy and professional, and both processing and delivery of data fast and efficient.”
Delivering realistic and believable facial animation sequences for this movie was imperative. “We had to be sure that the nuance and emotion of the individual actors were accurately represented in the digital, vampiric versions of themselves,” says Behrens.
Ron Miller, Digital Domain Facial Model Supervisor explains how the DI4D PRO system captured the two actors and then the data was used in Digital Domains’ proprietary machine learning pipeline,‘Masquerade’. “This helped us capture the most accurate facial performance possible from the actor, then create the final asset seen in shot.”
The constant transformations, or blooms, required the highest level of accuracy for each actor. “We needed to go from plate seamlessly into CG, and back. This is only possible with a very accurate model and performance match.” DI4D were able to help deliver this for each actor.
Saving Time and Money with DI4D’s Pipeline
Phil Cramer, Digital Domain Animation Director, praised the robust nature of the data from DI4D when summarising how they helped deliver what was needed. The use of DI4D also helped make the production more efficient and save on cost – “The fidelity and stability of DI4D’s data made it an easy decision to choose their solution over other vendors.” says Cramer, “Another big factor was DI4D’s ability to deliver the data back on Digital Domain’s head mesh. This removed an internal step which saved the project time and money.”
One of the key aspects of the value added by DI4D was the technology “allowed us to have the most accurate representation of our actors in motion. This was a critical step for us to understand how each pore moved. We utilized this data as training material for our Masquerade pipeline. In turn, we are able to output identical data via the very low-end head mounted cameras the actors are wearing in each shot. This enabled us to provide the best quality of data on the go.”
Given that making the most effective use of time is important for any production, Behrens comments on how DI4D fitted into the show pipeline seamlessly: “Given that we’ve had successful collaborations in the past, we were able to use the DI4D data without any issues, and were able to quickly integrate it into the workflow for our characters, helping to create the realistic performances that we’re known for.”
Flexibility and Fast Turnaround
In summing up, Cramer says “DI4D provided us with fantastic, proven data, and was able to operate on a small footprint, which allows for greater scheduling possibilities as we can make it part of our tech day on the mocap stage.” Miller concludes “Working with DI4D was easy and collaborative. When it comes to this type of data it can sometimes be very iterative, as we are trying to get the best results possible. When iterations were needed, DI4D had fast turnaround times and was reliable in its deliveries. For capturing an actor’s performance DI4D are very flexible and able to work remotely at whatever location is needed. This way we’re able to do all data acquisition for the actor in one place.”
View Digital Domain’s VFX Breakdown of the ‘Subway Escalator Fight’ here: