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Creature Design in The Offering: Creating the Abyzou Demon

The WorldWideFX London team has shared a comprehensive breakdown explaining how the Abyzou demon from the 2023 movie The Offering was conceived, modeled, textured, animated, and rendered.

The Director's Vision

The journey typically starts with an early idea, the director's vision. These tend to be quite brief and abstract outlines of an initial concept. With this project, however, we were fortunate to receive a fairly comprehensive brief from the director, Oliver Park, which consisted of both textual and visual aids to illustrate his idea. Through extensive discussions and structuring a detailed mood board, the foundation for our creature, Abyzou, was laid.

The Concept Art Journey

Next, we embarked on our design exploration, starting with the necessary concept art. As a starting point, we used a  goat skull from our internal library of assets. Our art director, Ran Manolov, in turn, dove into exploring the goat-like characteristics even more by adding a secondary jaw, another pair of eyes, and more. This leads to a paint-over on top of the existing base which we can then present as a first pass to the client.

After this first step in the design phase, we decided to divert slightly from this gory approach. Instead, we opted for a more grounded and human-like appearance while maintaining the goat-like features. Therefore we reduced the horns, introduced some asymmetry there, and removed the secondary jaw too. The goal was to create a creature that was not overly monstrous; it needed to exude a sense of dread while maintaining a certain subtlety.

Through constructive two-way conversations, the design gradually evolved from an overly monstrous creature to a profoundly menacing demon. By introducing asymmetry, overall refining of the skin, and effectively adjusting proportions of the body and teeth, we maintained a balance between goat and humanoid elements. Elements such as seamlessly combining a human as well as a goat’s ear in the design. All the while we strived to create a convincing but also terrifying character.

The Devil's in the Details: Modeling & Texturing

After finalizing the concept, we moved on to 3D modeling. Focusing our attention first on the overall refinement of the anatomy and the cleaning up of the silhouette. Whilst refining the sculpt, we were able to move onto the topology. With characteristics like the horns the topology is a bit more forgiving as this won’t deform easily. In that case, it is most important to capture all the details.

When refining the displacement for this particular asset we paid special attention to the membranes and tears in the face and the intricate mouth, another key feature of the demon. In this stage, we introduce finer details such as pores, wrinkles, and veins on the entire body and face as well as the interior of the mouth.
Another unique challenge was our demon's eyes. Human eyes would have been too “normal and kind” for our character but plain goat’s eyes would also not ensure our goal for a hybrid design. The end result seamlessly merges human, goat, and horse elements to create something visually striking. 
As soon as we had the displacement close to the final, we started the texturing. We wanted to achieve conformity between unhealthy and healthy skin, through color variations, veins, and other fine details. The aim was to create a look that simulated an "(un-)dead" skin. Combining features of rotting flesh such as the cold tones, bruises, and prominent veins, with that of healing surfaces with warmer colors to suggest a living being.

When looking at the demon in full you might notice the hooves appear darker and warmer in comparison. The reason behind this is to make sure these particular areas did not stand out too much when in the shot. This is a good example of how important it is to have all departments work closely together and to understand the environments in which the asset will function.

Fur that Makes Your Hair Stand On End: Grooming

The groom of Abyzou is one of the more particular aspects of this project. We were not going for healthy dense fur but quite the opposite. The character supervisor once again had to oversee this stage closely, therefore an initial ZBrush pass was given to the groom artist as a reference; sparse and revealing in some places, covering other parts so as to not be too revealing. We introduced balder patches to reveal the skin and longer strands of hair to enhance the scary silhouette.

This creature's pelt was carefully groomed to maintain the balance between sinister and goat-like aesthetics, adorning its body and seamlessly flowing over into the hooves. 

A Demonic Aura: FX

A key feature of our demon is the dark-colored and smoke-like aura that accompanies her.  The concept started off with a smoke-like cloud that would surround Abyzou’s body. Our talented effects artists introduced a mesmerizing dark ink-like effect instead that enhanced the character's presence and menace and made for a more unique look.

Bringing Abyzou to Life: Rigging & Animation

Rigging the creature is a very important step. We had to ensure we had a lot of control over the creature so it would move convincingly on screen and achieve the director's vision. However, we insisted on minimal deformation in certain areas to preserve the bone-like appearance.

The director provided a reference clip as a source of inspiration for the creature's movements. As a starting point, our animation team matched the reference and later built upon it. But our work didn't stop there.

In this particular case, we didn’t have to build an internal muscle/skeletal system as the overall appearance of the creature is very skinny and the time it would take to build the internal anatomy wouldn’t match the end result. Instead Shotsculpting played an essential part in the clean-up and anatomy corrections. This meticulous process refined the animation and made it ready for the next stage. 

Mastering the Sinister: Lighting

Ensuring our creature had its spot in the limelight, our lighting team skillfully integrated the creature into the environment. This was never meant to be a CG creature but only an actor in prosthetics so HDRI was not available.

Meaning that we were tasked with manually recreating the shot and matching the lighting of the footage given. Whilst making sure  Abyzou looked appropriately sinister yet compelling. We even incorporated light movement to match the action of the scene.

Taking the LUT for the entire film into account, which is fairly dark considering the genre of the movie, it was important to find a balance between adhering to the preset color look and highlighting our creature. 

Abyzou's Narrative Through Design: Breaking Down a Shot

We noticed that there are not many examples out there that take you through an entire shot from start to finish. So let’s do that!

  1. We receive a plate from the client with the shot footage. As we mentioned before, these shots were never planned to feature a CG character and in this particular instance, the idea of using an actor wearing prosthetics did not achieve the terrifying effect the director and producers were hoping for. This made our job even more difficult as a clean plate was not available, nor HDRI’s from the set.
  2. Our roto/ paint artists set out to remove the actor so we have a clean plate to work with.
  3. The Tracking department in turn created a CG camera and matched the camera motion. They also roughly placed the CG creature in the environment by using the layout of the morgue, which we recreated.
  4. The animation process can begin. By trying out different versions of the animation we ended up with a pose that shows the intimidating height and movement of the creature.
  5. In this stage, it is possible to adjust the rig where needed and to finesse our demon with the aid of Shotssculpting.
  6. Time to add FX. Now that we have a  final version of the animation, the FX department delivers the much-needed elements to enhance realism, such as saliva and the dynamics of the demon’s fur when she moves.
  7. The next department to work its magic is that of Lighting. Besides the combination of indirect light, rim light, and key lights this shot called for the animating of one light source to imitate the movement of a lantern.
  8. Our compositing department eventually realizes the desired vision by bringing all facets together.

Attention to detail in every step of the process and within each department has made the character feel like a living, breathing entity on screen. Beyond the technicalities, we used design elements to weave a narrative, ensuring that every aspect of the creature contributed to its menacing aura. Continuous feedback and open lines of communication with the director were crucial in refining the creative direction and staying aligned with the film's vision.

A Challenging Yet Rewarding Endeavor

This creature project was a challenging yet immensely rewarding endeavor. Our team's dedication, creativity, and attention to detail brought a nightmarish character to life on the big screen. While we have provided a glimpse into our process, we encourage you to check out our work and other projects for yourself.

We would love to hear from you as well so feel free to drop us a line about inquiries or possible collaborations via our website.

Worldwide FX UK CREDITS 

VFX Supervisor & Art Direction: Ran Manolov

Senior Producer Mariano Melman Carrara

VFX Production Coordinator Brechje Hoogers

2D Supervisor: Leonardo Paolini 

Character artist: Modelling Leandro Benigno, Ian Navarro Gutierrez

Texturing artist: Faye Mantzourani, Milen Piskuliyski

Lighting TD: Kleisi Begaj,Liam Collod

Rigging Supervisor: Tiago Beijoco

Rigging Artist: Ruben Fuentes

Matchmove & Tracking: Victor Farag

Paint & Roto: Kirtan Taak, Michael Casal Compositing: Mark Millena, Kirtan Taak, Michael Casal 

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