Earlier this year, the highly-anticipated film ‘Knights of the Zodiac’ was released – a live-action adaptation of the popular late 80s to early 90s Japanese manga ‘Saint Seiya’. We sat down with ReDefine VFX Supervisor Serkan Zelzele to chat about the team’s fantastic work on the beloved anime series.
1. Can you introduce yourself and give us a brief overview of your responsibilities?
Hello! I’m Serkan Zelzele, VFX Supervisor at ReDefine. I love to work on shows that require an artistic and creative approach so I often end up doing many shot designs and concepts, which came into play with this specific project.
2. What was your reaction when you first heard you’d be working on the adaptation of such a popular anime?
I was very excited! I grew up watching this anime and shuffling through those colourful comic books. Moreover, these live action movies allow us to make something different from the photoreal visual effects we usually do.
3. How was the collaboration with the director, Tomasz Bagiński?
Working with a director like Tomasz is great because it challenges your creativity. He comes from an illustration background and his take on anime comes with a great understanding of what we need to achieve. This really gives you the opportunity to think creatively – the sky’s the limit. Did you know he personally drew most of the scenes that he actually shot in the movie? It required a lot of hard work from the ReDefine team and Ron Simonson, the client-side VFX Supervisor, to ensure the results aligned with Tomasz’s vision. We had a ton of fun coming up with creative solutions!
4. What were the creative challenges you faced working on the show?
Unlike other live action films by Marvel and other studios, anime requires stylish cameras that follow actors playing heroes with super powers. You’ll face creative challenges such as spaceships hovering over cities. You could then have a shot with a camera following over the asphalt and then suddenly rising up over the city before twisting and rotating. Anime has a specific kind of energy in their cameras and because of the stylization of the genre, you have to create the right environment for it. We ended up doing a lot of full CG shots.
5. How was cross site collaboration enabled to deliver the show?
We started working on the show right at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the impact of the pandemic around the world, our cross-site collaboration grew up to a point where we started to feel we were all working in the same office, yet still managing to spend time with our loved ones. It was one positive outcome of this style of working!
ReDefine has studios across North America, Europe and India, and we were able to work together virtually and see each other on video calls every day, which normally wouldn’t have happened.
It was quite a lengthy show because of the full CG deliveries and our team became quite close despite being located around the world.
6. Can we talk through the warehouse standoff sequence? From a creative point of view, what makes it stand out?
The warehouse standoff sequence was a unique and challenging one. It’s the mad climax of the movie. This is where everything is destroyed before the sun rises.
The space we were doing the visual effects was the size of a ballroom. Athena, the goddess, is constantly releasing energy and destroying everything around her. The problem with that is you can’t destroy the same wall twice. It’s a small space and the sequence is 11 minutes long. The question becomes: how can we create something that doesn’t look repetitive while still breaking what is already broken? We had to come up with creative solutions and after pitching a few ideas to the director, we saw success with the sequence! I’ll dive further into our approach in question 7.
7. One memorable moment you’d like to share with our audience while working on this project?
My most memorable moment was working on the warehouse standoff sequence. As we were just chatting about before, we were running out of items to break and at a certain point, it looked like one of those Arnold Schwarzenegger movies from the 90s where you see the same explosion three times. Tomasz has a great eye and with his background in illustration, he identified the problem right away.
I spent the night thinking about a solution. A lot of minutes – the longest sequence in the film – were dependent on that idea. I then woke up suddenly and said to myself: what about doing particles under the water like they were coming and going with the currents? If we approached it that way, we could re-use all of the debris we broke originally. Athena would release the energy and pull it back. We pitched this idea to Tomasz the next day and did one shot. He saw the potential and understood that we were not getting rid of the debris at all. We brought them back and every time we simulated, it looked different. We accidentally pulled different stunts on top. He was extremely happy at the end.
8. What would you like to say to the ReDefine teams?
We wouldn’t have been able to deliver such a big project without the hard work of our teams and artists, without the support of the production, the Heads of Departments or the executives across all sites. It was a challenging show that required a different creative approach.
Tomasz thanked everyone. He was very happy with the work, very grateful and he called me personally to tell me how great our team delivered the show.
9. Do you have anything else you would like to say about this show?
When you work on a show coming from Japanese culture with a huge fan base, it is important to find the middle ground between a Hollywood approach vs. a very 80s Japanese approach. I think this was a challenge the movie faced overall and it reflected in the visual effects as well. We were wondering what level of realism we should give some of these effects, when the heroes have these powers and had to find a mid-ground.
10. What are you up to next?
I’m currently working on a TV series for AMC. It’s still in production so I can’t say much but what I can tell you is that it’s a lot of beautiful sceneries in space and it’s also quite a fun and challenging project. I’ll be working on it for a few more months – stay tuned for more details coming soon!
ReDefine is definitely a great place to be. I have enjoyed every single day here, the work is truly rewarding. The teams share a great bond and that’s what makes it a great place to work.
We have top-of-line professionals who are not only creative, but also fun to work with. It has created a lot of possibilities for reinventing workflows.
The people who form ReDefine have come from varied experiences and all have the potential to develop and deliver world-class projects.