Behind the VFX of Venom

DNEG's Paul Franklin talks about his role as Overall VFX Supervisor

Paul Franklin, you are DNEG’s Creative Director, you’ve worked on dozens of iconic movies such as The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Interstellar and many more. Two years ago, you worked on Venom, one of MCU’s most iconic anti-heroes. Today, we want to take a look back and see what that project meant to you.
How do you prepare for a project such as Venom? Where do you draw inspiration from?

The great thing with Venom is that there is a wealth of comic book reference to draw on – it was amazing ot see how different artists have tackled the character over the last 30+ years, each one responding to Venom in unique ways, extending the range of the character.  But we had to make Venom look real, as though he were really there when the cameras were rolling – we looked at a wide range of real-world reference and took inspiration from sea creatures, worms and all kinds of slimy things, which was great fun!

You’ve worked on a wide variety of projects in your career. What do you think are the key things that make for a great comic book adaptation?

The most important thing is to remember that it is an adaptation and not just a straight translation of the character and its world onto the screen.  You have to think of ways to make what previously had only existed as a drawing, with all of its attendant stylisation, into something that can live and breathe as part of the film and stand side by side with the rest of the cast.

What did you learn from working on this project?

That Venom is always hungry!  Seriously, though, I learned just how much passion the fans have for Venom which pushed us to do our very best to honour the spirit of the comics while making something that would hold up as great entertainment for people who had no previous knowledge of the symbiote.

How long did the project last and big was your team on the project?

I joined Venom in May of 2017 and we delivered the show at the end of September 2018, so around 17 months for me.  In total, we had around 1500 people working in the VFX team all in.

What are the biggest challenges for VFX in productions like Venom?

The biggest challenge was figuring out Venom’s physical reality and then working out how to convey that to the cast and the shooting crew.  We employed standard tricks such as markers on the end of poles, but we also had a very tall (six foot seven inches) stunt double who was made even taller with a special hat to give us a physical reference on the set.

How closely did you work with the physical effects team?

The best results always come from a close relationship between VFX (digital) and SFX (physical on-set).  In particular, we needed to make sure that we understood what SFX were doing on set so that we could hook it up to the action of the digital creature in post.  The other big component of this was the Stunt department who delivered incredible physical action, which we often had to back into in post production to provide the motivation for the action, such as when Venom picks someone up or throws them across the room.  The best way to do this is to have lots of communication so that we’re all on the same page as to the story that we’re telling on screen.

What was your favorite shot?

My favourite shot is probably the one where Venom first reveals himself at the end of the motorbike chase, the goo flows up and over Eddie’s body, rippling across his face and for a moment you wonder what’s going on, but the distorted shapes quickly reveal themselves as Venom’s features and he cracks that huge toothy grin at us.  It was great when we got that one right!

What was the most difficult shot and why?

The most difficult shots were the ones in the “merge fight” at the end of the movie when we
see Venom and Riot swirling together in a raging storm of alien flesh. The surging goo opens up for a moment and we see Eddie and Drake within the symbiotes, fighting for their lives.  Lots of complex animation going on in the middle of a three-dimensional Jackson Pollock abstract painting!

What has been your involvement with the upcoming return of Venom?

I’ve been helping out, getting everything in place to make sure that the new movie is every bit as exciting as the first one, taking us to new heights in the ongoing saga of Eddie and his symbiote friend!

Tell us something we don’t know about the making of Venom.

The night we shot the first reveal of Venom in the street it was freezing cold, around -6˚c.   I’m amazed that Tom Hardy and the rest of the cast could hide their shivers on screen – I stayed as close to our on-set heaters as possible!

Watch Sony’s latest behind the scenes video on Venom below:

London

Vancouver

Mumbai

Los Angeles

Chennai

Montréal

Hyderabad

Chandigarh