‘Justice League’ VFX Supervisor Bryan Hirota On Steppenwolf & The New Aspect Ratio

It wasn't easy bringing the Snyder Cut to life.

Steppenwolf Zack Snyder Justice League

Justice League VFX supervisor Bryan Hirota recently opened up about Steppenwolf’s updated look as well as the film’s new 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

One of the biggest things which drew fans to the new Justice League cut was the new design of the villain Steppenwolf as well as all the extra footage which helped make the story more cohesive compared to the theatrical cut. When Heroic Hollywood spoke to Scanline VFX’s Bryan Hirota, he explained that one of the most difficult aspects of the movie was making every shot fit the 1.33:1 aspect ratio that Zack Snyder wanted.

“There were some big things that had to change like Steppenwolf. So figuring out how to inject the new Steppenwolf into the old also became another research project. We didn’t do anything on the original theatrical cut with the Russia scene at the end of the movie, but on the Snyder Cut version we did all the stuff outside of the nest in the city and in the air and other stuff around. On one hand, that was at least straightforward work to attack because we had nothing ‘legacy’ that existed. We kind of clean sheeted it, but that involves work. I’m required to do all of that. It’s sort of funny because you end up with a ‘six of one, half a dozen of another’ situation where on one hand you think, ‘Oh, well we did all of this work before… Zack [Snyder] just wants us to change these things. That shouldn’t be that hard.’ But it’s like tugging at a sweater. You pull a few threads and the whole thing comes apart and then you have a pile on the floor… so that’s a big mess. Then, you’re like, ‘at least I’m not left with any ‘legacy’ problems.’ Just need to have the Batmobile drive down the street and kill some Paramemons. But then it’s like, well, okay, now we have to make Russia, and we have to lay out the whole path from the crashed Flying Fox to the cooling tower. Then we have to figure out how does Barry Allen restore the world after the Mother Boxes achieve unity?

“… We had some shots that I think were fine for Zack’s movie, but [changed] when we started doing the theatrical one with Joss [Whedon]. The film was 1.85, so we cut off the tops of the bottoms and didn’t work on them, but Zack wanted to do a 1.33 release for the Snyder Cut. There were some shots that would have been fine, but we had never worked on the top or the bottom. For some of them, worst case scenario, we had to bring the whole shot back online, rerender all of the passes and recomp them just to fill in top to bottom. We ended up with all these different categories of random approaches to solving these problems. Given the number of shots, I think that we delivered in those seven months. I think it was a thousand or a little bit more than a thousand in about six months worth of like hardcore working on it. We had every type of problem running in parallel.”

Hirota also went on to discuss Steppenwolf’s radical new design, which constantly shifts and moves as the villain does, protecting him from certain projectiles like the Amazonian arrows on Themiscyra. The Justice League supervisor explained that the Scanline VFX team created their own animation for the metal armor as well as the iridescent quality of it that shimmers in different lighting. Take a look below

“Weta created the hero asset for Steppenwolf for both films. In the theatrical days, there were many different iterations of Steppenwolf. I don’t know how many of them they realized, but there was artwork for them and stuff. They rolled back to some version of Steppenwolf. I’m not sure how close the one that they rolled back to was the asset that they gave us or like how much work they had to do to prepare it so that visual effects supervisor John ‘D.J.’ Des Jardin and Zack could approve it and they could ship it to us. Then we had some geo caches and some reference quicktimes to look at. So we had references for how their armor animated and reacted and looked under light. Then we integrated it into our pipeline and deved out our own system for animating the metal scales and its different battle modes, and sort of the iridescent quality of the metal.”

What do you make of the Scanline VFX supervisor’s words comments about working on Justice League? What did you think to the new Steppenwolf design? Sound-off in the comments below!

“In ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE, determined to ensure Superman’s (Henry Cavill) ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) aligns forces with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions. The task proves more difficult than Bruce imagined, as each of the recruits must face the demons of their own pasts to transcend that which has held them back, allowing them to come together, finally forming an unprecedented league of heroes. Now united, Batman (Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) may be too late to save the planet from Steppenwolf, DeSaad and Darkseid and their dreadful intentions.”

Directed by Zack Snyder, Justice League stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons and Ciarán Hinds.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League cut is now available on HBO Max. Stay tuned for the latest news regarding Steppenwolf and the DC Extended Universe, and make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more content!

Eammon Jacobs

Eammon Jacobs

British dork who can be found online raving about how good Tron: Legacy is.