Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ Features the Most Complex CGI Animals in ILM’s History

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noah darren aronofsky animals Darren Aronofskys Noah Features the Most Complex CGI Animals in ILMs History

Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) is going big – as in, literally Biblical – next year with Noah, a big-budget retelling of the Noah’s ark story that will include phantasmagorical imagery and apocalyptic visual inspired by the artwork contained within the original graphic novel that Aronofsky co-wrote alongside Ari Handel (his collaborator on both the comic book and movie version of The Fountain).

However, in case you’re expecting to see Noah (portrayed by a bearded Russell Crowe) guiding a bunch of adorable critters and familiar four-legged beasts onto a majestic ark – constructed to shelter them and Noah’s family from an impending catastrophic flood – think again. In fact, Aronofsky has revealed that his movie will feature CGI animals that look unlike any living creatures in the world today, which required the most complicated digital effect shots ever produced by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) in order to achieve.

Aronofsky was interviewed for the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Quarterly (hat tip to Indiewire) about his career in general, in particular where it concerned his approach to cinematography and camera work. In the interview, the filmmaker talked about his different photography experiences over the years – from having a shoestring budget to shoot his feature debut Pi to manipulating tangible images in order to produce the space effects featured in The Fountain – before he went on to address the challenge of shooting Noah extensively on natural locations around Iceland (while keeping in mind that he would be adding on several digital elements to the footage during post-production):

“There are fantastical creatures, fantastical events [in 'Noah']. There’s a huge deluge. What you’re photographing is often not the thing that will appear on screen—that’s the underpinning. There will be a huge amount of visual architecture placed on top of that, and that sort of makes it a different job. Sometimes only the actor’s face will be in the final image.”

Only an actor’s face appearing in the final shot? That’s a challenge that someone like director Alfonso Cuarón can surely relate to, after his work on his envelope-pushing 3D outer-space survival drama Gravity. Fortunately, just as Cuarón had strong acting talent in Sandra Bullock and George Clooney to keep the human element alive and well in his CGI-heavy project, Aronofsky has people like Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson and Anthony Hopkins to help ensure that his own extravagant piece of cinema has a healthy pulse.

Gravity Visual Effects Darren Aronofskys Noah Features the Most Complex CGI Animals in ILMs History

Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone in ‘Gravity’

However, although Aronofsky and ILM didn’t have to produce a whole new digital environment for his actors and actresses to appear in (a la Gravity), Noah will feature a collection of CGI animals designed and engineered specifically for this rendition of the well-known religious story:

“We had to create an entire animal kingdom. All the animals in the movie are slightly tweaked; I didn’t want the clichéd polar bear, elephant, and lion walking onto the Ark; I didn’t want the shot of a giraffe’s head looking over the rail. I wanted to respect the storyline and think what would have been involved if it all really happened.

“In collaboration with Industrial Light & Magic (ILM)], we basically went through the animal kingdom and pinpointed the body types we wanted: some pachyderms, some rodents, reptiles, and the bird kingdom. We chose the species and they were brought to life with different furs and colors. We didn’t want anything fully recognizable but not completely absurd either.”

It seems that the computer-generated animals in Noah required the most complicated rendering out of any CGI characters that ILM has produced to date (or so Aronofsky was told by people who work for the effects house) – which is all the more impressive, when you consider what films ILM has worked on before.

Ang Lees Life of Pi Review Darren Aronofskys Noah Features the Most Complex CGI Animals in ILMs History

Richard Parker the (not real) tiger in ‘Life of Pi’

In fact, the way that Aronofsky describes them, it sounds as though the creatures in Noah could give the photo-realistic characters designed by WETA over the years – be they the Na’vi in Avatar, Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy or Caesar the chimp in Rise of the Planet of the Apes – a run for their money (when it comes to how expressive and “real” they are):

“It was a nice badge of honor,” he smiled. “I don’t think it’s the most incredible shot, but I think because of all the hair on the animals it was incredibly complicated for them. They said, ‘We can only render it two or three more times so make sure those are exactly right because they take so long and are so complex.’”

Finally, much like the decision was made by director Ang Lee to not use real tigers (save for a few shots) to portray Richard Parker in Life of Pi (which features visual effects by Rhythm & Hues) – partly because of the challenges that come with having real animals on set (a lesson that Lee found out about the hard way, after he decided to include real sheep in his 1995 Sense & Sensibility movie adaptation) – Aronofsky refrained from mixing actual beasts in with his cast. Moreover, he told the DGA Quarterly that his decision to not feature living and breathing non-human mammals in Noah was an easy one:

“I think we’ve learned from people who have done it before that that’s a really bad move. Politically it’s not a great thing to work with live animals and that’s becoming more apparent to people as time goes by, but also, technically, it would have been extremely difficult. And we’ve learned from lots of other films how hard it is to bring different kinds of animals together.” (As in clashing species or animals that might decide to eat their co-stars.)

Are you excited to see the fantastical creatures that board the ark in Noah? Would you have preferred it that the film instead feature more familiar animals (be they CGI or real)?


Noah opens in theaters on March 28th, 2014.

Source: DGA Quarterly [via Indiewire]

Follow Sandy Schaefer on Twitter @feynmanguy
TAGS: Noah
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  1. If the animals in this movie look just as real as the ones in Life of Pi, then this movie could be freaking epic!

    • I completely agree with you! I do hope they the movie some justice.

  2. There is “Noah” way I would miss this one..definitely looks worth a look! Iwonder, though, if you got people and all those different kinds of animals together at close quarters, would it be like a slobber-knocking WWE free-for-all match in the ring?! (Kinda like Democrats and Republicans, come to think of it!).

    • You may not have heard of Karl Pilkington but I loved his take on the animals not eating each other on the ark when Ricky Gervais was trying to tell him that none of it really happened and Karl said “But you stick together in a crisis”.

  3. You might want to recheck who did the tiger in Life of Pi, If I’m not mistaken, that was Rhythm and Hues. I don’t think IML worked on those shots.

    • True, but I didn’t say that ILM did the effects in Life of Pi. :-)

      All the same, I’ll clarify that in the article to avoid causing any further confusion.

  4. This is what I love about the technology for filmmaking. The boundaries keep getting pushed further and further. Hopefully we will be impressed with what they bring.

    • One day they will replace actors and writers

      • I really hope not

      • Uhhh, no. You kinda need writers to give the visual effects artists a story to create and last I knew that are way better at that than a effects artist is. And you should definitely hear what Andy Serkis (pretty much the king of motion capture acting) has to say about animation removing acting. Having a real live and breathing actor who is dose a good job makes the visual effects that much easier on the artists and that much more believable. So yea actors will never go out of business.

  5. Cesar in RotPotA looked fake as heck. nothing realistic about him, honestly.

    • Funny cause I’ve seen the movie several times and he definitely does look like a real chimp.

      • Well then you don’t know what a real chimp looks like.
        Amazing. CGI anaimals = fail and lazy.

    • He wasn’t 100% ape. Nothing like Cesar exists in reality, he couldn’t look real no matter what they did. The other apes, however, were also 100% CGI and in most of the slow shots were pretty indistinguishable from the real thing. Of course there’s millions of extra elements in reality pertaining to things like the reflection and refraction of light in fine cracks in every material, and the physical reactions that result in the deformation of the surface of the skin when restricted by the fat and muscle under it that no one has the power to recreate yet, but with each major movie release we get closer and closer. Especially Weta, who has a pretty g****** amazing fat solver that analyses an animated sequence and simulates the volumes of different densities of flesh on bone as accurately as possible. To be honest, It’s about damn time ILM starts adapting some of Weta’s practices for fleshy characters. Their work for the Hulk in the Avengers was miles above anything they’d done involving creature effects in their previous projects. I can’t wait to see what they do with a huge task like this.

      • Spoken like a true gamer, waiting for the next console with better graphics.

        The skill, amount of time spend, level of detail and other things mentioned
        have nothing to to with the fact that in order to WORK, a special effect
        SHOULD NOT STICK OUT. I’m so sick of video gamers who only expect “better
        graphics” for the next CGI crap fest they watch. Congrats. You ruined film
        for all people who enjoy movies, not computer cartoons.

        The POTA remake pissed me off so bad because it was SOOOO LAZY to make all
        the animals CGI. Nothing looked real, anyone saying it did has no eyes and/or
        simply plays video games so much that anything looking better than their PS3
        or XBOX they think looks real. The whole idea that you need CGI to do certain
        things is wrong. Most things done with CGI do not work. Directors need to look
        at if something actually works rather than just be lazy and say “I can make
        anything, regardless of if it looks real or not” and then come up with lazy
        excuses so that you don’t have to actually WRITE A STORY that tells what is
        going on via dialog and character reactions.

        Films like this are just cartoons for children, nothing more.

  6. Since I now know the animals are fake, the whole magic behind them are gone. I hate when people tell me how something is made.

    • How can you NOT KNOW by simply looking at it?

      SERIOUSLY PEOPLE? Has CGI overwhelmed all forms of art so bad that people

      AMAZING. Things like 3D rendered animals have RUINED film, taken all the awe
      and spectacle away and made it so only children go to theaters anymore and
      only movies for children (superhero cgi s*** fests) are created anymore.

      Anyone who is awe struck when they cut from a bad actor standing in front of
      a green screen to a cartoon animation that does not move at all or look at
      all like real life is … Oh well… I rest my case. People are just stupid.

  7. Animals we have not seen before, “fantastical creatures”, is evidence
    of how far Aronofsky’s Noah might be a Noah we have not seen before.

    • So true. Unfortunately, there are so many people in the world that hold this story close to their hearts, I can imagine it being difficult for some people to accept the artistic liberties added to the story. I understand that this isn’t based off of the “real” story of Noah, but the comic was so “underground” that I’m betting that a lot of people will be upset with the direction of the movie. I am an avid comic book reader, and I had never heard of this Noah comic book story.

    • If all they offer is so-called “new” crap some kid point and clicked together in a 3D
      modeling program then it is NOT fantastic… It’s pathetic and lazy and typical.

      A new 3D object that some looser made IS NOT FANTASTIC IDIOTS!

      I’m not bashing CGI… I’m bashing 3D rendered organic animals/people.
      CGI can work for matting and opticals when combining 2 REAL SCENES.
      CGI is a general term.
      When most people say they hate CGI they really mean 3D rendered characters.

      People always point out Lord of the Rings… Gollem looked TERRIBLE!

      They point out Life of PI… The tiger didn’t look real and if it did, as soon
      as it started moving in the exaggerated, overly animated way that ALL CGI
      creatures move it certainly couldn’t be considered real by anyone who has
      stepped outside of their parent’s basement, out from behind their game console
      view of how reality moves and looks.

  8. This is one of the more truly interesting upcoming films that I have read about. Aronofsky typically delivers something very otherworldly and intense, which when combined with the base subject matter, is quite a proposition.

  9. I’m very excited for this.

  10. It’s such a bizarre sounding project that I cant wait to see it. I’m sure it’s going to be very different than the majority of mainstream releases.

  11. wow what great news! Ibet some religious persons have a hard-on for the very first time right now…

    • That’s a really dumb and ignorant statement. If a “religious” person were even aware of this film at this stage of production than they are probably more concerned with the liberties Aronofsky might take with the source material as I am.

      • Indeed.

      • you really think so? I was darn sure people interested in the matter just hoped for decent Fauna effects…

  12. coool. This is going to be the frontrunner for the 2015 Oscars, hopefully it’ll be here in Toronto at the TIFF, ’cause I plan on going for the first time ever!

  13. you know what i dont get about the story of noah (other than all the marsupials going to australia and polar bears and penguins going to each their pole after the flood).? Is wasnt it god who made all the animals to begin with? couldnt he just snap his fingers once to kill all humans except noah? why the flood? and what about all the animals who didnt make it on the ark? Why did they deserve to die in such a horrible manner?
    I understand that this is meant to be taken figuratively (unless your bat s*** crazy) but what’s the moral here? if a few people act like jerks KILL EVERYTHING
    religion SMH

    • Robert Crumb made a comic book version of the book of Genesis a few years ago (check it out if you haven’t already, I’m sure it’s in most public libraries). It uses the language of the King James Bible word for word. In an interview he said he considered making the drawings a little comical and exaggerated, but soon settled for a straightforward approach. He said he decided it was already bizarre enough on it’s own.

    • The story of Noah can be true without necessarily being factual.
      Many details of the story of Noah’s Ark are self-evidently impossible.

      Archaeologists have found evidence of great floods that took place
      during biblical times and that much of the story can certainly be true.
      A named Noah could have saved his family and many living creatures
      from a flood that devastated the known world at that time and the known
      world at that time was a small fraction of what we consider the world today.

      It is hardly conceivable that a man called Noah could build a huge ark and
      then gather two of every known living creature which on its face is impossible.
      The Bible is filled with figurative language that is not meant to be taken literally.

      It is indeed possible for something to be truthful but not necessarily factual.
      The overall allegorical message of the story of Noah is that should a man sin, it is
      as if he were drowning, God can will and will spare him if he lives justly as Noah did.

    • I like to think that I was symbolic. Throughout the entire Bible, there is constant reference to being cleansed by immersion in water. For all evil to be washed away. I’m one of those bat**** crazy folks you were referring to. In the story, the ark door was left open to anybody who wanted to be saved, and he had been building the ark for around 100 years, so I’m pretty sure that most people knew about the crazy man building a giant boat for a God that nobody cared about anymore. Noah wasn’t a perfect man, but of all the people in the world, he was the only one, along with his family, that still cared. God gave everybody a chance to be saved, but only the people that believed were saved. It’s one of the darkest and most twisted stories in the bible which is interesting since it’s usually told as a children’s story. I hope this movie, despite the artistic liberties, does the story and the characters justice.

    • First off, at the time, all continents were in one big landmass at the time of the flood; they split afterward. The idea behind the flood was to a.) create rain, which had never happened before (water came up out of the ground to water plants) and b.) create rainbows, which were also new, given that there had never been rain before. The flood was also to completely cleanse the world and start over again. Everyone except Noah and Co. were making God mad, even when He told them they were wrong. And yes, those other people died because they wouldn’t listen to Noah when he told them a flood was coming. God did give Noah around 3 years of advance notice to give him time to build the ark. And there is overwhelming evidence for a global flood. The Cambrian explosion. A flood story that shows up in dozens of cultures. The moral? Take God seriously. Hope that helps. :)

  14. Can someone explain the premise of this film for me? Why are the animals gonna look different from todays animals? What animals are gonna go onto the ark?

    And also, how do you fit a pair of every animal species on the planet onto a wooden ship? Is it gonna be like Evan Almighty.

  15. It’s funny that they talk about selecting body types. Actually, every single mammal, (and marsupial I believe, the two branched off at some point), on earth is descended from a tiny shrew-like animal that lived among dinosaurs. Dinosaurs covered every possible niche, so there was no place for mammals move into other than being small and scurrying around at night. But after the dinosaurs went extinct around 65 million years ago, birds and mammals then had the opportunity to evolve into the now empty niches and take advantage of resources. And it didn’t take all of 65 million years for evolution to produce wide diversity. There were a lot of different varieties of predators and vegetarians of all different kinds in the earliest identified epoch.
    Evolution would take a lot of time (tens of millions of years as opposed to moments), but it has repeatedly produced diversity.

  16. Didn’t ILM do the transformers movies? If they are more complex than that, then dayum

  17. Cool

  18. Noah didn’t bring the animals to the ark…God did. And it was two of every “kind”. There are plenty of websites that explain the biblical account of Noah that explain the how and the why. Answers in Genesis is a good place to start.

    Yeah, I’m one of those that will do the wait and see thing on this one. It could be epic, or just another piece of Hollywood anti-God baloney. I’m hopeful for the epic, but expect the baloney.

    • Yes, “kind” is different from Linnaean taxonomy, much simpler. There are only a few “kinds.” It’s like “walking-on-four-legs kind,” “flying kind,” and “slither-on-belly kinds.” That’s about it really. Not a lot of Latin.

    • Well instead of the hundreds of variations of species of dogs, it was just the original form of canine. Same with all the other animals. That leaves enough room for even dinosaurs to fit on the boat with room to spare.

      Anyways, I think that this story is going to be somewhat of a mix of the story of Noah, and Titan A.E. I am really hopeful for this movie.

  19. I’ve heard things about the movie that didn’t sit right with me, but this is one aspect I’m excited about. People, especially detractors of the original Bible story, often act as if every modern-day species would have had to be squeezed into the ship individually, but that would have been genetically redundant if it were even possible. Why, for instance, would there have to be a horse, a donkey, and a zebra when their recent ancestors probably resembled fertile hybrids of all three at the very least? When we imagine that each hybrid-capable group of species descended from 2-14 specimens, and factor in how many extinct descendants would also share the bloodline, we can extrapolate parent specimens with VERY rich and exotic genomes. I look forward to seeing this director’s vision of a long-lost biosphere. :)

  20. rfrz”