The Mummy: Building New Creatures
In addition to his incarnation of the Terracotta Emperor, Jet Li’s character also has the ability to morph into other forms, specifically a three-headed gorgon that is derived from a mixture of Western and Chinese mythology. Image Matrix projected Li’s performance onto the CG creature that spits fire, snatches a victim and flies away.
“The Emperor chose his first incarnation to be a 30-foot, three-headed gorgon,” explains Rhythm & Hues’ digital supervisor BOB MERCIER, “so we had to decide how much the face should look like Jet Li and how much it should look like the head of a reptile. It needed to have the spirit of Jet, yet the Mummy character should somehow come through as snakelike, but with a soul underneath. It was our goal to give an Asian influence to the gorgon’s face. You can see a ghost of Jet Li there, but it still works as a creature.”
Another incarnation of the Emperor is the Nian, a half-lion/half-dog creature based on the Foo Dog, a temple guardian of ancient China. Shares Cohen, “We’ve taken it into a much more extreme bestial concept; it is a very large creature about nine-feet high who can grab a plane right out of the skies. Jet’s character is a shape-shifter, and this is one of the different creatures he can become.”
For each creature, Rhythm & Hues produced a 3-D computer-generated model, which shows muscle tone and skin texture. This was sent to the filmmakers for their input. “Once the model was agreed on by everyone, we moved forward and began the animation,” explains animation director Talmy. “We send it down the pipeline to the rigging department—the people who populate the models with all the mechanics to allow them to not just move, but move in the way we want them to.”
As no one has seen a Yeti up close and lived to tell the story, the characters were computer generated and the VFX team was given free reign in the designing the brutes. “The Yeti have always been a favorite part of the movie for the filmmakers,” states producer Daniel. We’ve always thought it was just really cool to have the Yeti and Shangri-la be a part of this movie. The Yeti are other creatures, like the Mummy, that people from all cultures can relate to.”
Cohen wanted his abominable snowmen to have unique personalities. With no dialogue for the Yeti (save roars and grunts), the animation team needed to convey everything through body language. Laughs Talmy, “We had to find a way to pump character performances into a scene where all that’s required of our character is that he run down a hill and smash a guy in the face.”
The Yeti were originally designed to be a cross between a man, polar bear and snow leopard. Over time, the animators moved the design closer to that of a man. They liked the fact that the creature—when obeying the enigmatic Lin—could pick up an enemy, give him a razor-sharp look of disdain, then toss him into the frozen wilderness.