REBEL MOON VFX Supervisor Discusses Collaborating With Zack Snyder, the Film’s Unique Visual Challenges, and More

Rebel Moon production VFX supervisor Marcus Taormina talks about the film's challenges, working with Zack Snyder, and a lot more.
Rebel Moon Sofia Boutella Zack Snyder

Rebel Moon premiered on Netflix on December 22, one day after the Academy short-listed it for the Best Visual Effects category at the Oscars. (Nominations will be announced on January 23.) The Illuminerdi attended a press conference with the film’s production VFX supervisor to celebrate the announcement. In it, Marcus Taormina gave us some insights into the collaborating process with director Zack Snyder and the rest of the cast.

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Taormina, who worked with Snyder on 2021’s Army of the Dead, spoke about working within Zack Snyder’s distinct visual style and trying to amplify it:

“The thing that’s really good about Zack is that he lets you riff and he lets all departments riff a little bit and take it upon themselves to make it their own. I think, obviously, that are certain things that are very Zack Snyder (like the slow-mo) but I enjoyed taking the opportunity to say ‘Ok, this is your style, but we’re gonna amplify it by adding certain details to it.’”

Marcus Taormina, production VFX supervisor
Rebel Moon
(Featured) Ed Skrein as Atticus Noble in Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire. Cr. Netflix ©2023.

The team has been busy working on the film for years now, and there was obviously a lot of nervousness around it after having it under lock and key for so long. And it’s not just that audiences didn’t know anything about it, but the load of VFX it required meant that the cast had to put a lot of trust in him while filming inside a green-screen studio interacting with tennis balls. Taormina spoke a little bit about this:

“I think one of my favorite parts about [going to the premiere] was seeing the cast, because I’m out there when we’re filming going ‘No no, you gotta do it this way. Don’t worry, you won’t have egg on your face. When you’re touching this it’s gonna look good’.

I’ll specifically target Sofia [Boutella, who plays Kora], because I looked at her and I smiled and she ran up and gave me a huge hug, and she was like ‘Oh my God, my mind is blown! How did you do this? I don’t understand!’ And she started asking all of these technical details, which is great about Sofia, because when we’re out there she’s asking questions and she wants to know and she wants to understand it to better herself.”

Marcus Taormina, production VFX supervisor
Rebel Moon
REBEL MOON: (L-R) Sofia Boutella as Kora and Djimon Hounsou as Titus in Rebel Moon. Cr. Clay Enos/Netflix © 2023

And the same happened with the audience once the trailer came out:

“For a while we were working on a vacuum. No one had seen the movie, they were very lock-and-key with the film. And you feel the work is good, but you’re not quite sure how the audience will react to it. So there’s a little bit of nervousness to that before the movie released. But when everyone reacted so positively to the trailer, we were like ‘Yeah, this is good’. And then when we got the announcement [of the Oscars short list], I was just super proud.”

Marcus Taormina, production VFX supervisor

The Challenges of the Rebel Moon Visual Effects

Taormina said that the biggest challenge of putting together Rebel Moon, besides the set conditions in some of the locations they used, was the “sheer volume” of the work, which meant his days started at 6 am and while being driven to set, he had to turn shots over from his laptop in the car. Then, shoot for 12-14 hours and after that, do some post-production work after hours.

But most of that was driven by his work ethic and not being easily satisfied. As he explained, the devil is in the details:

“I’m obsessive about details. Zack will get in there sometimes, and I’ll be like ‘This shot, I’m not ready with it yet. It looks really good, but I’m not ready with it yet. I want to do this, this, and this.’ And he’s like ‘Great, go do it!’ Again, a great filmmaker will allow that to happen. It’s the tiny details to me that really matter, and we kind of have to push the technology every single time.”

Marcus Taormina, production VFX supervisor

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Finding the right look and feel for the film was one of its earliest challenges, as he recalled:

“When we started out in this film, we were like ‘Ok, what’s our palette? What do we want it to look like?’ We wanted it to feel gritty and dirty, so what does that mean? We absolutely loved Dune’s dust, but can we make it better? And it’s not a disrespect to them. We had to push our resources to the limit while also going ‘We have to match this, because we did practical dust with the helicopter’ and then we have to melt it together to have a cinematic, realistic look. And I think grounding the cameras with the surrounding footage and also the optics.”

Marcus Taormina, production VFX supervisor
Rebel Moon
(L-R) Staz Nair as Tarak, Sofia Boutella as Kora, Charlie Hunnam as Kai and Michiel Huisman as Gunnar in Rebel Moon. Cr. NETFLIX ©2023

Bringing Jimmy to Life

Anthony Hopkins has a role in the film as the voice of Jimmy, the ancient droid who goes on a journey of self-discovery while working on Part One. That was also one of the great challenges of the visual effects of the film, and as Taormina revealed, it took a lot of coordination between Hopkins’ recordings and Dustin Ceithamer’s performance capture work. The VFX supervisor explained it as follows:

“I talked to Zack and I was like ‘If Hopkins is gonna voice this, we should get him in an ADR booth and do some scratch tracks and give it to our performer so he can listen to it’. And to me, that was really important, because I’ve been in situations where you have a voice of one person and a performance of another, and they never meld. And your brain just knows, and it’s not right.

Dody Dorn, our editor, did a quick edit of that and we video-recorded it, of course, and we gave it to Dustin, the Jimmy performer. And he really studied. I could tell, because when he first got on set in the suit, which had a beautiful head, a beautiful chest plate, and some shoulder plates, and he did the performance but it was Anthony Hopkins. Even for me, it was kind of weird, but in a good way. I knew he’d studied it to a tee and he had the right movements to complement Anthony’s voice.”

Marcus Taormina, production VFX supervisor

About Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire

Rebel Moon - Part Two: The Scargiver

Release date: December 22, 2023 (USA)
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenplay: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, and Shay Hatten
Producers: Wesley Coller, Eric Newman, Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder
Cinematography: Zack Snyder
Edited by: Dody Dorn
Music by: Junkie XL
Production: The Stone Quarry, Grand Electric, Netflix
Distributed by: Netflix
Cast: Sofia Boutella, Djimon Hounsou, Ed Skrein, Charlie Hunnam

Logline: When the ruthless forces of the Motherworld threaten a quiet farming village on a distant moon, a mysterious outsider becomes its best hope for survival.

Rebel Moon: Part One is currently available to watch on Netflix. What did you think about it? Did anything from Taormina’s comments stick out to you? What was your favorite part of the film? Let us know your thoughts on our social media, and stay tuned for more!

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