Seamless CG and practical effects combine to bring title character to life in Grant Sputore’s highly-anticipated Netflix film starring Hilary Swank
Fin Design + Effects, one of Australia’s leading post production houses, brings its VFX and visual storytelling expertise to highly-anticipated upcoming Netflix film, ‘I Am Mother’. Directed by Grant Sputore, the post-apocalyptic film stars Hilary Swank, Rose Byrne, and break-out star Clara Rugaard.
In ‘I Am Mother’, a teenage girl (Rugaard) is raised underground by a robot ‘Mother’ (voiced by Byrne), designed to repopulate the earth following an extinction event. But their unique bond is threatened when an inexplicable stranger (Swank) arrives with alarming news.
Working closely with director Grant Sputore, Fin Design’s Sydney office built a CG version of the AI robot ‘Mother’ to be used interchangeably with the practical robot suit built by Weta Workshop. Fin was involved from the early stages of the process to help develop the look of ‘Mother’, completing extensive design work and testing which then fed back into the practical suit.
In total, Fin produced over 220 VFX shots - other contributions to the film involved the creation of a menacing droid army as well as general enhancements to the environments and bunker that this post-apocalyptic story resides in.
Fin Australia’s managing director, Chris Spry, comments: “Grant was keen on creating a homage of sorts to old school science fiction films and embracing practical filmmaking techniques, so we worked with him to formulate the best approach that would still achieve the wow-factor - seamlessly combining CG and practical effects. We created an exact CG copy of the suit, visualising high-action moments such as running, or big stunt scenes that the suit couldn’t perform in real life – which ultimately accounted for around 80 shots.”
Director Grant Sputore comments: “My enormous gratitude for the team at Fin is only matched by the endless lengths they’ve been willing to go to on this project. Their brilliant team has worked tirelessly to make the most of every shot - but more than that, they’ve proven themselves to be invested in making the entire film as good as it can be. They offer suggestions and bust expectations. In particular, they delivered visual effects magic with our CG Mother, one minute having her thunder down bunker corridors and in the next moment speed-folding intricate origami creations. For the most part, the robot at the centre of our film was achieved practically - but in those handful of moments where a practical solution wasn’t possible, it was paramount that the audience was not be bumped from the film by a sudden transition to a VFX version of one of our central characters. In the end, even I can’t tell which shots of Mother are CG and which practical - and crucially, neither can the audience.”
To create the CG replica, the Fin team paid meticulous attention to detail – ensuring the material, shaders, and textures perfectly matched photographs and laser scans of the practical suit. The real challenge, however, was in interpreting the nuances of the movements.
“Precision was key,” comments VFX supervisor, Jonathan Dearing. “There are many shots cutting rapidly between the real suit and CG suit, so any inconsistencies would be under a spotlight. It wasn’t just about creating a perfect CG replica but also interpreting the limitations of the suit. CG can actually depict a more seamless movement but, to make it truly identical, we needed to mimic the body language and nuances of the actor in the suit [Luke Hawker]. We did a character study of Luke and rigged it to build a CG version of the suit that could mimic him precisely. ‘I Am Mother’ was a real pleasure to work on – the atmosphere was incredibly collaborative, with everyone involved coming together to give it the best outcome.”
Fin finessed its robust automation pipeline for this project. Built to ensure greater efficiency, the system allows animators to push their work through lighting and comp at the click of a button. For example, if a shot didn’t have a specific light rig made for it, animators could automatically apply a generic light rig that suits the whole film. This tightly-controlled system meant that Fin could have one lighter and one animator working on 200 shots without compromising on quality.
‘I Am Mother’ premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and is set for global distribution on Netflix on 7th June 2019.
Director: Grant Sputore
Producer: Kelvin Munro, Timothy White
Executive Producer: Paris Kasidokostas-Latsis, Terry Dougas, Jean-Luc De Fanti, Grant Sputore, Bryce Menzies, Philip Wade, John Wade
DOP: Steven D. Annis
Writer: Michael Lloyd Green (Screenwriter)
Co-Producers: Anna Vincent, Michael Lloyd Green
Executive Producers: Larry Hirsch, Matthew Hunter (Co-Executive Producers)
Editor: Sean Lahiff
Production Designer: Hugh Bateup
Props: Weta Workshop (Physical Robot)