Behind the Fang: Inside the visual FX of 'Tiktik'
MANILA, Philippines - David Yu is soft-spoken and laid back like a Zen master.
He’s wearing a “Tiktik” movie pin on his breast pocket that jumps and moves as he gestures, telling me how his childhood monsters, having grown up in Canada, were the vampires and werewolves of the West.
Yu was born in Hong Kong but has been living in Manila since the early 1990s, having come here as an R&B and hip-hop musician, when synths and drum machines were first beginning to cut through the swath of expensive analog recording and live performance.
Yu was an early adopter at the vanguard of that tech movement that put soul into music made by machines.
Now he’s putting the soul and the fangs into the dark, dark corners of Erik Matti’s (“Dos Ekis”, “Prosti,” “Gagamboy”) new opus as the head of its visual effects (FX) team.
“I became a hobby model maker after I saw Episode Three of `Star Wars,’” he explains. “I said, that’s what I want to do: I want to make models, blow them up, put them in movies and have audiences enjoy the explosion!”
When “Tiktik, The Aswang Chronicles” is unveiled, it will claw a new high watermark for Philippine-made CGI and visual FX for cinema.
Most of it will be thanks to the work of Yu and his team of 60 or so artists, animators and illustrators at Mothership Studios, along with post-production and editing done at PostManila (another young company that bagged 2nd place in the Adobo Magazine Post Production House rankings and snagged two Gold Araw Awards in the Advertising Congress).
A company especially dedicated for feature film and broadcast entertainment, Mothership was formed in 2011 in reaction to the demand of “Tiktik” as their flagship client and other major commercial projects.
Yu brings 17 years of experience as a multi-awarded visual FX supervisor and artist to his company’s efforts for Matti’s movie.
“This is the hardest project I’ve ever done,” adds Yu. Our interview follows.
How did you approach the scope and the demand of Tiktik’s CGI and FX?
David Yu (DY): Erik Matti and I discussed that we wanted to make a film, not a special FX-driven thing. Traditionally, folks from the FX side would want you to lock off your cameras. You cannot move your cameras because there’s just too much going on and it’ll be very hard for the visual effects (VFX) people to fill in afterwards.
But I said to Erik: "Do whatever you want and the post-production will be part of your storytelling." The attitude from the get go was, we’re making a film. We never tell the director to second guess what he’s doing just for our sake.
Special FX in service to a story is a great thing.
DY: There are, of course, budget and production limitations but no limits for creative decision-making.
You want to move the camera? No problem. You want to do the wire harness for the action scenes and we’ll paint them out in post? No problem. You want to do the wires AND the moving camera? No problem!
That must have been such a relief for them.
DY: “Tiktik” is not really a monster movie. It’s not a “Resident Evil” kind of effects-driven thing.
It’s actually a love story. They run into this local gang, these mobsters, who just happen to be aswangs. There’s a pregnant Lovi Poe and they want to eat her or her baby or probably both and Dingdong has to defend her.
I think the audience will be surprised. It’s a very Pinoy movie. Dingdong is playing a role that he usually doesn’t do.
Well, the movie and the creatures look great.
DY: The Filipino crew knows the mythology very well. Our artists made — I swear — hundreds and hundreds of illustration studies to design the creatures. Originally, it was too Western, too much like vampires, too Hollywood.
And then Erik Matti comes from his Ilocano province and he has a history of that so he art directed us. He took a look at the designs and said "This is too alien, too Hollywood. Scrap it!"
What approach did you take to designing the aswangs?
DY: We were looking at birds, boars, chickens, dogs, carabaos. We took all local animals. So the creatures here are not really fantastical. They move and look like monstrous versions of common animals.
The boar aswang is like a big humanoid warthog. The hakag is based on a chicken. It has chicken feathers, chicken legs, his face looks like a beak.
The creature movements look very organic and natural, like they’re real, living, things.
DY: I told our animators: "Guys, you are animators, so go out and act like an aswang!"
I’m acting the aswang out, am down on the floor and crawling and they’re just looking at me like “What the hell is Dave doing?” They don’t understand it because it was not taught to them that you have to feel the weight and the way they move. You’re feeling it down here. When you crawl on the floor your balance is different and your shoulders take much more weight.
You need to bring a certain physicality to the process to render your designs into reality?
DY: Exactly. I had a big artist crawling on the floor and trying to be a boar and then they get it later on. The physicality of it needs to be there.
We approached the killing of the creatures in a 3D manner, too. Unlike a lot of movies where they just go up in a puff of dust and get vaporized — Poof! Into smoke! — they get sliced and you see their insides, their guts spill out, their major organs spill out. You can feel them hit the ground.
Erik was adamant about that "no magic pixie dust" thing.
Do you feel that you and your team had enough time to get things right?
DY: We spent months designing creatures and environments. The producers also invested over 18 months to do something proper.
That’s almost a year of just post-production. Other movies would have just a month or a few weeks to do post-prod.
Any major obstacles during those 18 months?
DY: The attention to detail and the scope of it. Our chroma key doesn’t look like it was just done overnight. We shot smoke over green screen, hair, clothing, so it looks like the background matches the foreground.
It’s hard enough in photography to get a single frame right but we’re dealing with multiple frames. Around 1000 and 6 visual FX shots. That’s insane, right?
That sounds like a crazy amount of work.
DY: Also, the green screen was a bit patchy inside the studio. It wasn’t really green. It was green-ish. It’s more fun in the Philippines, right?
A lot of our former artists just went AWOL on us because they thought this project was impossible. They dropped out and never showed up again.
Let’s talk about shooting inside the studio with a skeleton set and designing an environment around it.
DY: We spent about 4 months getting the environments right from scratch. We had to go through so many [studies] for the environment. The first couple ones looked like Nevada. [laughs] Looked too Western!
We tried to stitch a lot of clouds on the sky but it didn’t work because it looks like a photograph so we generated an entire sky at different times of the day, a 24 hours time cycle in 360, in 3D.
We needed to approach the virtual set like a real set. Where is the sun? Where is the house? Where are the trees?
A real 3D environment with time cycles!
DY: Took like 20 hours to render per frame! We had the topography and the map and the cameras in place. We pointed the virtual camera where the real camera would be and then it worked.
Watch the trailer of "Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles" here:
Even the trees and flora are very detailed.
DY: Oh, we went through literally hundreds of trees. Yes, the trees are real but they look stylized, right? We tried something that looks too real and it doesn’t look good.
I went to the Bicol province and Camarines Sur, drove around and put what we found into the tree studies. But Erik goes, "No, no, no, that’s too real! That’s a real place! I could have shot there."
So we dialled it back and did a sparse field with the trees, this mountain and a dark sky.
Mission accomplished, the place looks quite creepy.
DY: Some guys feel that it doesn’t look right, it doesn’t feel right.
Well, then you better start jumping on mats. You need to feel it to get it.
You need to eat, sleep, breathe this project 24/7. - Rappler.com
“Tiktik, The Aswang Chronicles” (Reality Entertainment Inc/GMA Films) opens on October 17. It stars Dingdong Dantes, Lovi Poe, Joey Marquez, Roi Vinzon and LJ Reyes.