Shazam!: Atlas mugged
Posted on May 2, 2023
The team behind Shazam! Fury of the Gods’ stunning animation explain the challenges faced in making Ladon the dragon look realistic – and terrifying
WORDS Robert Shepherd | IMAGES Warner Bros. Pictures
From the earliest days of cinema, animators have been pushing the boundaries of their art form, seeking new frontiers of visual storytelling that would capture the vastness and complexity of the natural world. Yet, while many different types of animation have been created over the years, arguably none have been more transformative or captivating than creature animation.
One of the latest films to push the boundaries even further is 2023’s Shazam! Fury of the Gods, the superhero motion picture sequel based on the DC Comics character often known by that name.
The film chronicles the daughters of a Titan’s arrival on Earth in search of magic stolen from them long ago. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of clean visuals, engaging action and ungodly behaviour.
The trio of goddesses played by Dame Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu and Rachel Zegler are obviously the box office bookings for the movie, but they certainly didn’t take centre stage when it came to animation.
One crucial character from the latest instalment of the Shazam franchise is a humungous and powerful dragon who goes by the name Ladon.
Ricardo Miguel Roldao Silva, DNEG animation supervisor, explains the genesis of its creation.
“In terms of animation, the story is established, so we get some previsualisation with the plates for the shots,” he states. “However, there were some aspects we needed to explore that were not well-defined, such as what’s in the director’s head. For example, he [David F Sandberg] had an idea of how the dragon should walk. He told us the feeling he wanted from it, but wasn’t sure how that would be portrayed.”
Silva says that’s when his team grasped the autonomy. The decision was to make Ladon the dragon both powerful and menacing. Nevertheless, that was just the first step. The next one was actually making it happen.
“How does that work in the creature design?” Silva says. “How about he moves like a lion, we make the head more like a lizard and get the tail and wings to move a certain way? We proposed this to the director and it went back and forth.”
MIGHTY MONSTER | Interaction between Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and the dragon required detail-orientated CGI and the careful use of robotics for Ladon’s movement
IN FULL FORCE | Conveying the massive presence of Ladon the dragon – both proportionally and in detail – was a huge undertaking
When it came to moulding Ladon, Silva maintains that the most important thing was to make the dragon feel big, powerful and menacing.
“The weight of the creature is something we put a lot of effort into,” he explains. “When the dragon lands on the street, we wanted to get a lot of interaction with the environment to communicate that weight and presence – it took a lot of work. We had to design the creature around where it’s going to be and what it was going to do. For example, it had to fit on the street, meaning we had to get the wingspan inch-perfect to fit the scale.”
Getting the right look and feel of the dragon was a major challenge, but it was far from the only one. Lucas Cuenca, DNEG build creature supervisor, says the team realised how the project would pan out once the initial design arrived.
“We realised the dragon needed to have a more mythical creature-like appearance, as it felt too small at that point,” he explains. “Therefore, we began adjusting the proportions from there.”
Charged with proportion design, Cuenca had many elements to consider. “How would the muscles work?” he says. “It doesn’t matter if the dragon is made of wood or not, it needs anatomy, even if you don’t see it – we needed to get the proportions right. When you go into close-ups in animation, it’s all about the movement, so it must look realistic.”