Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist
THE PHYSICS OF THE HADOUKEN _ FROM CONCEPT TO FINAL COMPOSITE
Research and look-development for the hadouken began early on, long before the pre-production started.
This effect was the ultimate test that we used to showcase our vision and approach for the project. In fact, the concept art for the hadouken we created, resulted in a full live action shot of how it moves through space.
This video won this project for us. Joey (Joey Ansah – the director) had a very clear idea of how the hadouken should look and he was very specific about the stages that we should simulate in order to show the creation process of this special move. Starting with the very birth of the embryonic Hadouken forming between the hero’s hands in the form of a mirage, which would give birth to dispersed condensing plasma. This would ignite into a white-hot singularity, which In turn would grow in incremental stages leading to the launching of the full sized energy ball at a target. He sent us numerous examples of physical research and scientific videos on Youtube to explain the phenomenon in big depth.
“I think this initial stage was invaluable for us, because it gave us a good understanding and “physical roots” of this fantasy and non-existent effect. All of this helped the whole team to create something that not only looks cool, but looks like it can exist in the real world. We started to build the effect layer by layer, simulating all of the elements required to build this iconic special move for street fighter fans. We tried to use as little stock footage/elements as possible, because we believed that if we built all these elements by using dynamic simulations we’d end up with more credible effect. At the end there were about 25 layers for the fully finished hadouken and I think that every little thing in there helped us to achieve the desired visual impact.” – says Victor (VFX Supervisor) of the project.
“One of the challenges on this project for the compositing team, was to come up with a system that allowed us to easily dial the parameter of the hadouken so we could simulate more than 20 different appearances of it in the film, ranging from just a slight air disturbance to a full blown Metsu(Dark) Hadouken. By designing and building an “Uber” gizmo in nuke, we were able to take care of all that and it helped us to reduce the time for the creation each hadouken to a ¼ of what it would otherwise have taken. On top of that we used some clever tricks to get around the problem of doing dynamic simulations for every shot. We used pre-rendered sequences, but we were able to manipulate them according to their position so we can preserve the real depth and feel of it.”
MAGICAL EFFECTS IN A PHOTO-REAL ENVIRONMENT
From the beginning it was clear that the biggest challenge for us would be to integrate all the various “magical” effects in to the live action plates, so they can blend seamlessly into a real world environment. I knew that most of the scenes would be happening during bright daylight, which made the task even tougher. Every movie that features VFX with light-emission related effects, uses some sort of a cheat to create contrast so the effect pops out, either by shooting in lower light conditions - dusk/evening or by stylized color grading. Here those two approaches were useless, because the grading was meant to look natural and because of the tight shooting schedule we ended up with footage shot throughout the whole day, from dawn till dusk. At the same time the special moves, like hadoukens, auras etc. not only had to look like part of the real world but they had to have enough punch to stand out. The use of a full ‘floating-point’ pipeline allowed us to do very precise color grading of the elements so they perfectly match the plates. We used a lot of mattes for various elements so the fine balance in the picture is kept. It is not very often when the VFX team and the color grading process work so close together, but this was essential for us to pull off this natural result. Having the color-grading suite on the next floor down definitely helped a lot.
PRACTICAL VF CG - STRIKING THE RIGHT BALANCE
Early on, Joey stated, that he is not a big fan of full CG shots and that he would try to use as many practical elements as the time and the budget allowed. I explained my idea to use light rigs throughout the shooting so I can get the almost impossible to re-create interactive light bounce from the actors and the environment. I still think that this was the best we could do on set and despite the fact that those LED rigs resulted to a lot of additional clean up and roto they were a key ingredient in making sure the audience believed that the hadoukens and any other light effects were really happening on set.
We had fireball rigs, we had small LED disk lights on the palms, we had R.C. speedboats to create a ‘hadouken wake’ across the lake and we even planned to light Chris’ (Ken) fist on fire for the flaming shyrouken.
Some of those ideas worked really beautifully, some others, like the toy speed boat were a complete disaster, because it was too small and we had to recreate everything in CG.
For some, we just didn’t have enough time on set to prepare and had to count on a full CG approach, like the fire shyrouken. “ I was blown away by how good those two effects came out” says the director. ‘Victor was telling me regularly, that these type of natural phenomena are very hard to convincingly be created in full CG and almost always you can tell if it is CG or not, but when I saw the wake he created across the lake it was perfect!
The same applied for the fist on fire, by having it created fully digitally gave me full control on how the fire trail wraps around Ken like a spiral, which is exactly like it happens in the game (during Ken’s Shinryuken). We would never be able to achieve something like that if we tried to shoot it for real. I still hear people discussing those shots and thinking we used real fire. I might be biased, but this is one of the coolest, most satisfying CG fire effects I’ve have seen on screen.
For the intro animation we used a symbol of the hadouken combined with some particle and fluid effect, which are forming the kanji "ten" (天) — meaning "Heaven".
COLOR GRADING - FINAL TOUCHES
VFX ON SET SUPERVISION
The main reason this series looks so well polished, despite the low budget and fast turnaround times, was because we had full control of what was happening on set. I have to thank the producers and the director for believing in what we do and delegating extensive control on how all VFX shots are approached and executed on set (despite their tight filming schedule). The use of interactive light devices, rigging real explosions big and small, shooting live plates (that helped the process of clean up) were amongst the many factors that helped us to deliver the expected quality on time.
By being true to the fans and the story, by building a believable and natural environment, by choreographing beautiful fighting sequences and executing all VFX shots with a maniacal precision, the whole team created a piece of art which was accepted incredibly well by the audience. It is rare nowadays for one to see thousands of comments and 99% of them to be very positive, the high rating on IMDB and Amazon.com and the buzz surrounded this series, allowed the team behind all this to secure a sequel which is now in development, with bigger budget, more insane fights and over the top VFX. Stay tuned!