The award-winning visual effects studio introduces the legendary Chafa to the audience, visually showcasing how she saved the Choctaw people in an extremely moving opening scene.
For the premiere season of Marvel Studios’ Echo, the talented visual effects team at Digital Domain had the incredible honor of helping artistically visualize the origin story of the Choctaw people, a Native American tribe belonging to the southeastern part of the United States. To successfully bring the story and extraordinary opening scene to the screen, Digital Domain worked closely with production and the Choctaw Nation to ensure the visuals and storytelling held true to the Choctaw culture.
The series opens, and viewers are immediately placed in a dark cave located inside the Earth where we see Chafa, the first Choctaw, covered with clay, emerge from a glowing, swirling pool of magical blue water. Chafa exits the pools and drinks the water. As she stares down at her hands, the tattoos glow and swirl onto her hand, and more clay people begin to appear. A biskinik bird then flies into her palms, and suddenly there’s a rumble. The bird flies away and an earthquake begins as the cave starts to collapse. Chafa holds up the cave as the clay people seek safety. The cave collapses and in the next scene, Chafa and her people are seen in a field with trees alongside a grass mound. The clay begins to crack and shed from their bodies, and they are revealed in human form. The scene closes as the mighty Chafa leads her people.
To bring this particular sequence to life, the team of Digital Domain VFX artists focused on several key areas including the cave, the pool, the clay people and the biskinik bird. To begin, the team started with the cave environment. The artist team digitally built the cave asset and, due to lighting and being shot with an ambient atmosphere, replaced the majority of the set, including the columns. This sequence also required a fair amount of roto work, as the clay people needed to be roto’d out to recreate the cave.
In order to create the pool, the practical pool needed to be replaced and simulated. While many iterations were created, the pool was given a celestial galaxy-like, swirly design. The water sequence with Chafa emerging from the water was shot practically and required that the Digital Domain team replace the actor’s body, excluding her face. The actor could be seen waiting for a cue to emerge, so the team painted her out. Additionally, the actress’s body was simulated exiting the pool, and the water dripped from it.
The VFX team created two digidoubles showing the clay transformation as the characters shed, revealing their human form. The Digital Domain team worked closely with the production team for this scene, as the way the clay dried, cracked, and peeled from the skin was art-directed. The close-up shots of the hands were complex due to the layers and lines within the skin. Additionally, the team created the mound, grass, and trees for the background of the environment.
The Digital Domain team also collaborated with another VFX vendor, sharing the asset for the biskinik bird. Although the bird was only in about five shots, creating the bird’s feathers was extremely intricate. For Episode 5, “Maya,” Digital Domain’s VFX team animated CG during the last moment of the powwow scene. All five episodes of Echo are now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu.
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