Raising the Emperor Mummy
For the Emperor Mummy and his legion of Terracotta Warriors, the effects team developed a series of “liquid solid” warriors made of clay, who were able to flex and bend at will. Whenever they move, they crack and reform.
In order to begin work on the character of the Emperor Mummy, a cyberscan was performed on Jet Li using multiple three-dimensional cameras; a submillimeter three-dimensional model of his entire body was created. Digital Domain motion captioned his entire body, then “staccatoed it” to infuse the characteristics of a terracotta statue.
Cohen expands upon the process: “Instead of using makeup, we created a three-dimensional image of Jet Li’s face by taking very complex measurements of his face while he acted the part. Then, we made a CG image of him that can talk, which is the essence of the real actor. We wrote in new algorithms to describe geometries which fracture and reform. So, every time he speaks, it fractures; it is constantly breaking and reforming.”
As the Emperor has control over all of the elements (earth, fire, air, water and wood), he is quite a dangerous foe. To add insult to injury, he possesses off-the-chart healing powers. Explains Joel Hynek, co-VFX supervisor at Digital Domain: “He is filled with magma, so when he cracks, pieces fall off; the magma comes to the surface and rapidly solidifies—and he becomes the replenished terracotta-statue emperor.”
The trick for the VFX team was to give the Emperor movement without making him look as if he was a human wearing a rubber mask. Digital Domain had some science experiments of its own as they performed stress studies on terracotta. They wanted to know what it looked like when it was expanded, cracked and crushed, and incorporated the results into the look of the mummy and his legion of doom. Hynek elaborates, “The Terracotta Warriors don’t heal unless they can get across the wall; they will continually deteriorate. However, if they can cross the wall, they become immortal.”