CGI with Heart: Creating Rocket and Groot for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

Director James Gunn insisted on treating the animated characters as real and tangible.
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Two of the most indelible characters in summer blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy are also its two fully CGI ones: surly raccoon Rocket and loveable tree Groot. In an interview on Art of VFX, production VFX supervisor Stephane Ceretti explains the meticulous production that led to the memorable characters.

“For [director James Gunn], animating Rocket and Groot was like directing actors,” Ceretti explains. “James and the Marvel group were adamant that they should be as real as possible, in their look, animation and design, and behavior. James kept saying that Rocket is the heart of the movie and Groot is the soul, and that they should not be considered as Bugs Bunny in the middle of a bunch of humans, but as real, physical and tangible characters.”

Two main VFX vendors, Framestore and MPC, worked extensively on the production of both Rocket and Groot. “It was essential that the fur would match between the two vendors and was quite a challenge as they were both using different fur systems and render engines. Framestore created the Rocket model. They are using Arnold as a render and the fur is fully raytraced with shadows and transparencies. It was a huge amount of fur and as we needed super close ups on Rocket’s face the level of detail was insane,” Ceretti says.

“For Groot, we obviously looked at different types of trees and moss, but Groot is not made of a single tree,” Ceretti explains. “The guys from MPC went to Kew Gardens in London to photograph multiple tree types and get detailed textures for various parts of his body. For his growth animation, we referenced time-lapse animation of growing trees and plants. For his animation, Groot is very childish in a way, like a young teenager, always looking around and trying to understand the environment but at the same time easily distracted by anything. So looking at how kids behave and sometimes loose track of situations was a good reference for us.”

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