Moon Knight- VFX Breakdown by Union VFX

Moon Knight (Marvel’s six-episode, Disney+ miniseries) was Union‘s first outing with Marvel Studios and it was all hands on deck to tackle Union’s most ambitious CG to date.

The story follows Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac), a mild-mannered gift shop employee, who becomes plagued with blackouts and memories of another life. Steven discovers he has dissociative identity disorder and shares a body with mercenary Marc Spector. As Steven/Marc’s enemies converge upon them, they must navigate their complex identities while being thrust into a deadly mystery among the powerful gods of Egypt.

Union created a host of vast and varied VFX.  They were the lead vendor on episode one and also contributed to episodes four and six.   Their broad range of 2D and 3D work included CG environments, green screen driving array comps, CG vehicle creation, animation and FX, as well as some CG insects, animated tattoos and blinking time-jump effects.

The stuttering time-jump effect is a key part of the narrative, a signature element used throughout the series.  Designed and created by Union in 2D this was subsequently rolled out to other vendors on the show to use.

Working closely with overall VFX Supervisor Sean Faden, Union’s contribution was led by their VFX Supervisor Dean Koonjul, CG Supervisor David Schneider and Head of CG Rob Hopper.  

Their most dramatic VFX work was in an almost comedic chase sequence where the protagonist, Steven, is hounded through the treacherously windy roads of the Alps to the chirpy pop sounds of Wham’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.

Driving a brightly coloured bakery van with a huge cupcake on its roof, Steven tries to avoid a whole host of threats in this frenzied chase – most of them hurtling towards him courtesy of Union.  The surreal carnage unfurled in the form of vehicle crashes, truckfulls of falling and splitting logs, explosions, muzzle flashes as well as digi-doubles and animated CG vehicle destruction FX.   This chase itself was filmed on a road in Slovenia, so Union had to add the fully CG alpine environment to include mountainous horizon and the nail biting sheer drop. 

“Episode one was huge for us,” says Dean. “We created the biggest VFX sequence of the episode, a pretty high octane car chase that was a lot of fun to work on and looks incredible.  We were all very excited to be working on a Marvel project, it gave us a chance to push our boundaries and create VFX work that we haven’t before, the more action VFX I guess.  I’m proud of the whole team for what they produced, it looks impressive and despite a tight turnaround we did it!”

The Union team was also responsible for a desert dunes environment sequence at the start of episode four, as well as animated tattoos on Harrow and the disciples in episodes one and six as well as a CG beetle. 

As well as being some of the most complex and ambitious CG Union have produced, Moon Knight was the first project to make use of Union’s newly developed USD-based CG pipeline. “The pipeline allowed artists the freedom to choose between Maya and Houdini when creating assets and lighting shots. Assets could be moved freely between software packages with very little effort,” says CG Supervisor David Schneider.

“We also honed our ingest pipeline in response to the amount and type of data provided by the client, and our environment lead developed a Houdini-based procedural set up on the show for generating rocky terrain and cliffs, which was used to varying degrees in conjunction with the on-set lidar we had available.”

Moon Knight is available to watch now on Disney+ and stars Oscar Isaac, Ethan Hawke, May Calamawy.

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