Roughly 25 percent of "Watchmen's" $100 million budget went toward visual effects, and $17 million of that for Dr. Manhattan. Meeting in January 2007, director Snyder and VFX supervisor John 'DJ' DesJardin determined that CG was the best way to go, blending it with the actor's performance via motion capture and HD 'witness' cameras on the set. Billy Crudup wore a pajama-like suit and helmet covered in blue pinpoint LED lights, his face marked by tracking dots.
Doc's look began with a bodybuilding fitness model named Greg Plitt, "but we had to make him even more ripped," says Peter Travers, the FX Supervisor at Sony Imageworks in charge of Doc. "Billy is 5'8" and Doc has to be 6'2". We had scaling tools to make the proportions work."
Of course, in the instances where the giant version of the translucent character appears, "There's no way the light suit would work," Travers points out. "The Vietnam environment was virtual so we didn't have to put in any representation on set." At Karnak, "We had Billy on set off to the side and the witness cameras captured his performance, but the film camera was pointing up into space. He mimicked what he'd be doing if he was 100 feet tall and we matched it."
With Doc, lighting was a major issue. "How do you light a light bulb? How do you read his performance when he's one of the brightest light sources in the room? It was a constant battle," Travers notes.
Doc's eyes were another concern. In the graphic novel, Doc has white eyes and Snyder wanted to preserve his distant look, but lifeless eyes wouldn't read well on screen. "Doc is a light source and we made his eyes a bit more of a light source, brightest at the pupils and getting darker as you get into the white of his eyes," Travers explains.
Next to Doc, Rorschach's mask, with its ever-changing inkblots, was the biggest R&D challenge for the VFX team. "It completely covers his face, but we had to be able to read what he's doing with his eyes," says DesJardin. Holes in the latex hood allowed Jackie Earle Haley to see, and tracking markers captured his movements. VFX house Intelligent Creatures then rendered the CG replacement of Haley's head and animated the blots to reflect his emotions. "It was a pretty complex rig."