The Creator Effects Team Breaks Down That Terrifying Tank Attack Sequence

Gareth Edwards’ “The Creator” was a resourceful sci-fi endeavor with an $80 million production budget, but its visuals are on par with epic blockbusters that cost three times that amount. Rather than shoot on a studio backlot, the filmmaker behind “Godzilla” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” opted to shoot in eight different countries, including Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Japan.

For an all-out climatic action sequence set in Thailand, a village comes under attack by the U.S. Military as John David Washington’s protagonist defuses a bomb. Visual effects supervisor at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) Jay Cooper and supervising sound editor Erik Aadahl explain how the setpiece came together.

“There was nothing temped in, it was just production dialogue and nothing else,” Aadahl explained. “It was an amazing blank canvas to start working with. There were no visual effects, just a title that said ‘Tank on the Hill.’ We were told to imagine a giant tank.”

Furthermore, there was no temp music in the sequence. Aadahl brought it up with Edwards who told him, “That’s the intent. I want this to play real. I don’t want music in this sequence.”

In cracking what a giant futuristic tank would sound like, Aadahl noticed there was a void in the tread of the tank. Edwards explained the wheels were not connected to anything — it was almost hovering at ground level as it went on its destructive path. Said Aadahl, “We reverse-engineered what this technology would be, maybe’s this big electromagnetic thing. We plugged in a big bass sound that had a tank tread rhythm. And really, nothing was working.”

He continued, “However, in a serendipitous moment, as often happens in filmmaking, my wife and I were going to Mammoth for a weekend and my car veered off the median where there are serrated edges. It resonated through the entire car. So, I got out, pulled my recording rig and we recorded that sound, and that’s the main sound of the tanks.”

For the tank’s targeting mechanism sound, Aadahl and team approached it as a “baby version of the NOMAD” — a hovering airship in the film that wreaks destruction while emitting blue laser beams. Said Aadahl, “Gareth’s main direction was, ‘If you’re being scanned by NOMAD or the tank, and you put your hand in the beam, you don’t want to hold it there for very long. It should feel cancerous, dangerous. It will make you feel nauseous.’”

As he built out the sound design, the goal was to make sure the sound of the tank, particularly its laser beams, were “dangerous and evil enough.”

With visual effects conducted entirely in post-production, Edwards worked with Cooper and the ILM team to build out the effects for the tanks, including water interactions, dirt spraying off and mud.

While many films often choose to shoot green-screen or even use ILM’s Stagecraft studios, which has revolutionized production, “The Creator” used real locations. Once all the footage had been edited, production designer James Clyne and his team would paint over the frames and add in the sci-fi aspects afterward. It was exactly the same for Cooper and his team — receiving a “much more empty frame.”

But it was the tank that posed Cooper’s biggest challenge.

Cooper and his team built the tank in London with the directive of making it seem bigger. Said Cooper, “Each time we made it bigger, Gareth wanted it bigger than what we presented.”

As far as its design, Edwards leaned into cultural touchstones. “We were pulling from anime, Akira and Bandai models. He wanted it to feel real and have this fantastical element to it,” said Cooper. “The goal was for the VFX to feel lived in. Andrew Roberts was the onset visual effects supervisor. He was there to shoot the plates where the missiles come out of the tank and the boats ultimately explode.”

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