Feature Film VFX
Fin Design + Effects
The Fin team are proud to have been the visual effects partner entrusted with bringing the infamously ‘companion-turned-murderer’ AI robot doll M3GAN to life in the acclaimed comedy horror, directed by Gerard Johnstone and produced by Jason Blum, Blumhouse Productions and James Wan, Atomic Monster.
Responsible for the realism and continuity of M3GAN, Fin delivered the 550 visual effects shots which encompassed the full scope of VFX disciplines: rom numerous invisible effects, CG facial replacements, FX narrative enhancements, to complex CG solutions.
Right from the outset, Fin was consulted more as a ‘creative partner than a vendor’, spending months ahead working on the previs with director Gerard Johnstone, and producers Melissa Brockman, Couper Samuelson and Jennifer Trent Fin. The overriding focus in all the creative conversations on script visualisation was that M3GAN had to feel “almost real” - as a convincing, lifelike mechanical robot with associated movement and expression limitations, yet capable of subtle (and chilling) facial nuances that create connection.
This translated into “complex and specialised visual effects work” by the Fin team to seamlessly “blend” the different filmed and created versions of M3GAN.
The Fin VFX artists, worked off detailed references including Lidar scans of the robot models to faithfully recreate CG replications of M3GAN’s skin, eye, hair, and interior mechanics, and working with actual fabric swatches and patterns to recreate her dress. These were then crafted to meticulously match and create photorealistic consistency of expressions between the onset animatronic, puppeteered dolls, the silicone prosthetic mask worn by the stunt performing actor Amie Macdonald, to the full digi-double M3GAN (created for the entirely CG climatic robot battle scene).
The different forms of M3GAN and performance techniques were the dominant challenge to the visual effects team, as Rick van de Schootbrugge observes. “The different types of puppets used, plus re-creating a fully CG M3GAN, and achieving the consistency between them all – to wonder which one is the truth? –that was probably the longest ongoing challenge of the film and getting this subtle likeness right.”
“We'd have reference plates where they put the doll into the frame, and then we’d go back and meticulously compare that with our CG renders and the final comp – making sure that the dress, skin, and hair and all those subsurfaces in each, look the same. It came out pretty close directly from CG, but then we’d have to push the last 10% around to make sure it sits in perfectly with all the black levels, the grain, and then plus it up with environment atmospherics, as well. Nailing those expressions was key. It was just about ensuring everything gels together and tells the story credibly.”
On the simulation and animation of M3GAN’s CG dress Phil Slogett, CG Supervisor elaborates: “Funnily, when we asked for the patterns we expected to be sent an Illustrator template, but we actually got a giant cardboard box with genuine fabric swatches and the physical patterns used by the tailors. We laid those out and did some photogrammetry, then traced and stitched them together in Marvelous Designer.”
Another challenging and complex CG enhancement work in the film was one of the most unexpected and largely invisible visual effects elements required for continuity: a toolbox and tools.
“During the confrontation scene between Allison and M3GAN, there's a series of three shots where Allison’s character shoves the table out of the way sending a toolbox flying,” outlines Sloggett. “Then in the edit, in three subsequent shots, the toolbox was missing! This was a big bugbear for the filmmakers who really needed that toolbox in those shots.”
Fin then set to work on modeling a replica CG toolbox and tools. “We were working to extensive animation notes on how that toolbox and each tool should individually launch and fall off the table.”
Another creative stretch was achieving the believable look of M3GAN’s ‘destruction’ by getting the textures and lighting correct as her dress and body are torn apart revealing her ‘insides’.
The climactic battle scene between M3GAN and Bruce, besides the CG robots, required extensive CG interaction with falling objects and shelves.
Some of the other storybinding invisible effects included removing spoken F-bombs when the audience rating was dropped to PG; reworking the environments when reshoots were done months later in a different setting and slimming down the lead actor's belly who by now was visibly pregnant, the ripping ear scene, as well as set extensions inside the home, and several rig removals.
“M3GAN was one of those unique projects that stand out in bringing Fin’s agility to the fore, as there truly was something for every VFX artist,” said Rick van de Schootbrugge, Fin Compositing Supervisor.
Subtly nailing all the nuances in M3GAN’s plausibility was simultaneously a creatively and technically challenging but totally rewarding achievement across all FIN VFX departments. CG Supervisor, Phil Sloggett, attributed the film’s success to “the great cohesion and coordination between all Fin artists, the director, producers and all on set, stunt and production design crew”.
Rick van de Schootbrugge
Chris Van Noy-March
Visual Effects Executive Producer
Head of Visual Effects
Visual Effects Supervisors
Chris Elson & Jonathan Dearing
Visual Effects Producer
VFX Production Coordinator
VFX Production Coordinator