Midway through Season One comes one of Ren: The Girl with the Mark‘s most important visual effects: the moment when the Mark manifests on Ren’s face. We interviewed visual effects artist Chris Taylor to find out how the effect was achieved, and get some insider tips on how you can create similar VFX yourself.
First, here is how the sequence was described in the script, by Kate Madison and Christopher Dane: “Hunter and Baynon watch in wonder as the bioluminescent like substance forms into lines and starts coursing around Ren’s body like blood through veins. It penetrates from the tips of her fingers to the tips of her toes as the spirit bonds to her. The bioluminescent light abates and eventually disappears through Ren’s closed eyelids. In its wake it leaves markings around Ren’s eyes and forehead.”
Let’s find out from Chris Taylor how this went from script to screen. Chris produced several effects for Season One, including digital fixes on Hunter’s fight scene in the village, and enhancing the moment when Hunter wipes away Lyanna’s fake Mark. His impressive list of other credits includes Solo and Rogue One, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hateful Eight and The Dark Knight Rises.
Chris, what direction did you receive from Kate regarding how she wanted it to look?
Kate mocked up a version of the effect which I then built on top of with refinement. I think after the initial brief I suggested using a technique something similar to in Iron Man 3, which was an effect that Andrew Kramer on his Video Co-Pilot site had a pretty cool tutorial on how to achieve, so I used this as a jumping off point.
I understand you used footage of falling snow and feathers as part of the effect?
These were all Kate’s suggestions based on the idea of trying to maintain an organic feel. The snow felt a bit magical and had a direction to it which helped to sell the effect rolling over Ren’s body. I also used an animated noise effect which was custom built in After Effects.
How did you isolate and track Ren’s face and arm?
All the tricky tracking was done using “Mocha for After Effects”. It comes with the Adobe CC suite and is a cut-down version of the full version of Mocha. It’s a planar tracker, which means that rather than just tracking a single point, you draw out a shape of the area you want to track and it attempts to create a plane out of that which then creates a corner pin track. It works very well on organic footage and was great for the big reveal as the effect travels down Ren’s arm.
What was the most challenging aspect of this sequence for you?
The main reveal shot went through quite a few iterations because Kate wanted the effect to travel down from the head to the finger tips and then back up to the head. This all had to happen as the camera performed the same camera move. Since the effect is quite subtle in some ways it was a challenge to make the effect feel natural but still read clearly on camera. There was quite a bit of back and forth about the speed it travelled down to the hand and how quickly it receded back to the head.
The other shot which was pretty tricky was the head close-up at the end as the Mark appears on Ren’s head. To achieve this effect I had to remove the Mark from the plate so it could transition to the Mark being there. This was done with a lot of paint work, clone-brushing in from areas of the head where there was no Mark, but since the dots of the Mark were quite dense it didn’t leave a lot of clean areas of skin to clone from. If I could’ve turned the image into a still it would have been pretty simple, but the paint strokes had to be dynamic due to the flickering firelight off camera which caused the face to have a lot of subtle variation in the lighting.
Thanks, Chris. We look forward to seeing what you come up with for Season Two!
If you want to learn more about the Mark, check out our recent video about designing and applying the make-up.