Lycans of the Underworld — Underworld: Evolution
The success of Underworld quickly led to the production of a sequel. Len Wiseman returned as the director of the new film, and with him Tatopoulos Studios to bring the Lycans to the screen again. The same basic design for the creatures was used, and most of the moulds were actually reused. An innovation in the design was represented by the greater quantity of hair on the bodies of the Werewolves. This aesthetic modification was implemented to portray the first generation Lycans of the prologue scene, as well as the climax of the film. “We changed up the Werewolves a little bit, made minor alterations to them,” Wiseman said, “because a lot of the Werewolves in this one were in some flashbacks that show the past, and we wanted them to look a little less evolved.” For issues of time and budget, the same suits were used to portray both the newly mutated first generation Lycans as well as the second generation Lycans.
The new designs were also devised to include structural innovations for the suits that would allow the creature performers a wider range of movement. “The first batch of Werewolves we did for the first movie… the design, I think, Len was very pleased with,” Tatopoulos said, “but there were some issues. I tried to give them big necks — and then we realized those necks were very stiff. They did not allow the actor to move as well as he wanted to.” Len Wiseman added: “I wanted much more mobility with them. I felt like I loved the design that we came up with, but at the end of the day [we] had a big action figure that couldn’t move that much. And then so all of the joints and everything, we reworked them to where they could move. [When] I’m casting the guy to play the monster himself – I like his movements, I don’t want to weigh him down and not allow his performance to come through.” Both Brian Steele and Kurt Carley returned as the main Lycan performers. Joining them was Richard Cetrone.
Since the structure of the first film’s Lycans’ neck limited the movements of the performer, it was redesigned to be slimmer, and more comfortable and safe to move in. The fur covering on their bodies was consequently increased, in order to hide a gaping hole inside the neck. This expedient allowed the suits to be mounted onto the actors in less time than before — for the previous production, the actors had to be entirely covered in foam latex, a condition that was also uncomfortable for them. The material the necks were specifically made of was also changed: in place of foam latex, the special effects crew used spandex and sheet foam.
The leg extensions of the creature suits were also changed for practical purposes. Tatopoulos Studios refined the technology used for the first film, and enlarged the foot base to give the performers more stability, giving them the possibility to perform movements that they were unable to achieve with the previous suits. An advanced and adjustable Y-shaped wirework on the back of the extensions enabled the legs to bend without particular effort. “A big issue we had from the first one was a really small footprint that we designed,” Himber said. “It looked really neat, but it was a practical piece. It did not really give the guys a strong platform to walk on. So one of the things we explored on this one before we even built the suits, we did some wider footprints and changed a few bits in the leg extensions. Once we got the performers were really happy with, we based the sculpts on what worked with the foot pieces — kind of a reversal of the first one. The guys do great with them — they can stand on one foot and do all sorts of crazy things with them, which they couldn’t on the first one.”
In the flashback sequence at the beginning of the film, as well as in the climax, the mutation of first generation Lycans is shown. Due to the viral and unpredictable nature of the disease, they do not transform following a precise template, but rather mutate in a seemingly random pattern. Mid-transformation make-ups were applied on actors to portray the very first stages of the transformation. David Beneke provided the Lycan prosthetic teeth.
The Lycans of Underworld: Evolution were also brought to the screen with their digital model counterparts, created by Luma Pictures, a visual effects company that had already devised some visual effects sequences for the first film. “Every time you see a wolf close-up,” Tatopoulos said, “even full size, it is pretty much a practical beast. In a town where everyone uses CG, it is very refreshing to be able to see real things like this. That doesn’t mean there is no CG in the movie, however — whenever the motion becomes too crazy and the wolf leaps from one side of the castle to the other, we use CG. Sometimes we combine both together.” Luma first showed Wiseman their new achievements with The Cave — which the director was impressed with. The company was thus assigned most of the intensive visual effects of the film — including all the digital creature effects sequences, which surpassed the 100 shots.
Compared to the transformations in the first film, the new Lycan transformations were far more detailed. “The creatures’ skeletal systems needed to change, stretching the muscles and tissue with it,” explained Luma digital effects supervisor Vince Cirelli. “Skin needed to roll over bone mass, veins pop and blood spurt. One of the transitions happens so close to camera that you can see its pores.” The Lycan digital models and the transforming models were devised by a team of modelers led by Miguel Ortega — using Maya and zBrush. “The transformations had to look painful and sporadic,” Cirelli continues. “For this we devised underlying influence objects that pushed and pulled the skin. That was sequenced with a shader that output passes for compositors to make capillaries burst and skin bruise. We also employed stress maps to raise the creatures to photo-real level. Even with all this technology, the creatures would not look like they do without the incredible work of the modelers and texture artists here at Luma.”
The process of creating the models started in Maya. “We use Maya for animation and creation of our base cages [low resolution models],” Cirelli said. “But our modeling pipeline is more and more heavily relying on ZBrush for etching out the definition of the models, including the creatures and the CG environments. As a matter of fact, for this movie, we had characters that needed to be able to transform into multiple different characters. So our base character mesh was shared across many of them. Then, all of the detail that was painted into the creature with ZBrush was applied as displacement at render time.”
“At the beginning of production,” he continues, “we experimented with different techniques that would allow us to push the characters range of motion and skin deformation beyond most CG creatures, Cirelli says. Using ZBrush, we painted displacements to simulate muscle flexing, tendon bulging and skin wrinkling for each muscle group. These maps were separated into color and displacement. Once this was done, we needed a way to trigger and blend between specific displacements and surface textures based on how the creature was animated. For this, we developed a system of animating and blending localized displacement maps using a custom shader. The shader evaluates where and what has translated or rotated on the rig. It then sends this information to the blender which determines how much of each displacement to use and where to use it. So when the werewolf rolls his shoulders, muscles flex, tendons bulge and veins become visible on the surface of the skin.” Certain creature shots seamlessly blended the digital versions into the practical suits filmed beforehand.
Underworld: Evolution introduced a new kind of Werewolf — represented by William Corvinus, the original Werewolf and ‘viral’ father of all Lycans. “A totally different take [on a Werewolf],” Tatopoulos said. Unlike the Lycans, William represents the completion of the transformation process, and is unable to return to human form. In the first drafts for Underworld: Evolution, the character was conceived differently: the original idea depicted the Monster as an enormous, 14′ tall creature — that moved on all four limbs, and only occasionally used bipedal stance. The massive size of the Werewolf was to be achieved through forced camera perspective and greenscreen techniques. As production progressed, however, the idea was abandoned in favor of another direction — the eight-feet tall William seen in the film.
“In a sense, [William is] a more traditional Werewolf as you know them,” said Tatopoulos, “with a more wolf-like head.” Len Wiseman added: “Patrick and I actually went through a lot of designs, in drawing the jawline, and making it look very frightening and sort of bulky — it had to look mean, and not the pointy Wile E. Coyote look, which happens quite a bit. So we actually have a fairly heavy, pronounced jaw on William.” The director further elaborated the concept in an interview: “We’ve got one of the old ones that’s much more in the traditional Werewolf vein. He has a little bit more of a snout, more of a wolf presence than the other ones. I really wanted to make a point that in the first film I didn’t want them to have the long snout, because I wanted them to have a different style that we hadn’t seen before – I’d seen that look, quite a bit. But this character in this film dates back quite a bit further, so it’s like an evolution process; we wanted it to feel like it was a little bit closer to the wolf.”
William was created as a single hero creature suit. An entirely new sculpture was devised by Steve Wang and other sculptors. Brian Steele performed inside the suit for all the scenes involving the original Werewolf. Like the other Werewolf suits, the neck was moulded in spandex and covered in fur, allowing more freedom of movement. A gaping hole in the neck, concealed by the fur, allowed the performer to better breathe and see his surroundings. William’s fully animatronic, radio-controlled head — featuring moving ears, eyes, lips, and mouth — required up to three puppeteers to animate on set.
In the opening sequence of Underworld: Evolution (where the capture of William is shown), the hero suit for the character had not been completely finished for shooting yet — as its hair was had not yet been properly treated. Due to that reason, it was filmed with quick cuts to hide its imperfections — something eased by the background covered in snow.
As with the other Lycans, William was also portrayed by a digital version devised by Luma Pictures. To portray the character’s gruesome demise at the hands of Michael Corvin, Tatopoulos Studios devised an insert dummy ‘gore’ head with a pre-scored wound and stump. When Speedman ripped the creature’s upper jaw and cranium, blood pumps provided the spilling blood. “We feel bad when we have to cover them in blood,” Himber said, “and chop them and stuff, because they’re really beautiful. But those things happen!”
For more images of the Lycans and William, visit the Monster Gallery.