Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3’s VFX Team Talks About Creating ‘Rocket Runt’ And The Tool From Guardians 1 They Used For Inspiration

It’s been some time since Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 wrecked audiences with its blend of emotion and action as the story of the current incarnation of the team came to a fitting close. Acting as a capstone that digs deeper into the backstory of Bradley Cooper and Sean Gunn’s character, Rocket Raccoon, the movie’s visual effects work deservedly landed James Gunn’s Marvel swan song on the roster of 2024 Oscar nominees.

The VFX team behind those visuals had a lot of help from the past to create an adorable yet heartbreaking chapter in the story of ‘secret protagonist’ Rocket Raccoon. And with every Guardians film now being an Oscar nominee for this very category, there's a good chance that Rocket's expertly depicted tragedy could lead to some golden praise.

Baby Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

The Guardians Of The Galaxy Tool That Helped Create Vol. 3’s ‘Rocket Runt’

While it’s understandable that all three of director James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies have been nominated for the Best Visual Effects Oscar, it's still an impressive fact to reflect upon. That made my recent interview with Visual Effects Supervisors Theo Bialek, Stephane Ceretti, Alexis Wajsbrot, and Guy Williams all the more exciting. 

On hand to commemorate Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’s nomination, this group was a wealth of information when it came to the ins and outs of one of the best Marvel movies in the entire history of the MCU. Beginning with the process of shaping the picture’s various incarnations of Rocket, it was Alexis Wajsbrot who kicked things off when discussing just what went into Rocket’s transformation. 

So where did it all begin? Well, much like casting a human actor, Guardians of the Galaxy’s three-quel started building the “Rocket Runt” through resources that already existed from the first Guardians installment. Wajsbrot explained, 

[W]e definitely had some concepts, some great concept sketches from the art department at Marvel, that always provide some great starting points. So we know roughly what age we need to hit, basically, but they are just sketches; they are not yet photoreal. James Gunn and Steph [Ceretti] also had this chart where you see all the different sizes they want Rocket Raccoon to be during the movie... So we casted a little raccoon. It's a real raccoon that Stef and James had on the set of [Guardians of the Galaxy], they already knew that it was going to be needed for [Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3], so they had pictures.

When making Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, its award-nominated VFX team wasn’t driven by any sort of pressure coming from the franchise’s previous Oscar pedigree. If anything, Visual Effects Supervisor Guy Williams cited the burden of how, when it comes to sticking the landing on the story told with these creatures and locations, “it’s ours to screw up.” You can feel that specific drive to honor the characters and the story in every frame of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, starting with an opening that takes a much bleaker tone than its predecessors.

The importance of Rocket can especially be felt when looking at some of the references that Alexis Wajsbrot mentioned above. One such example is provided below, as you can see in this "Abbey Road" inspired video showcasing Rocket through the ages: 

The Rocket Runt is definitely the cutest form of the gruff yet lovable adult we see running around in the Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy, and hopefully in some of the upcoming Marvel movies ahead. But the physical and emotional tragedies inflicted upon him are just as much a part of his character as his well-timed snark – which didn’t help the team keep it together when digging into that earlier, bittersweet era.

Teefs, Rocket, Floor, and Lylla looking up from the bottom of their cage in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’s Flashbacks Made The VFX Crew Emotional Before Animating A Single Frame

Further highlighting the importance of the somber opening to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Visual Effects Supervisor Stephane Ceretti also dug more into the practical side of the process. Discussing the physical performances for Rocket (Sean Gunn), Teefs (Asim Chaudhry), Floor (Mikaela Hoover), and Lylla (Linda Cardellini), it was made even more clear that those assets were also integral to the successful finished product.

And as you might imagine, even the fully human variants of these tragic characters tugged at the heart strings. Describing the process of capturing those live-action placeholders, Stephane shared,

We were very conscious of that as we're doing the opening credits, because it's a much sadder opening than the previous films. But also it just tells you what the story's gonna be like. We're plunging into it straight away. It's a darker movie, but it's also, you know, a very hopeful ending, you know, in the end. … And we shot the 15-20 minutes of flashback the first two days of principal photography. It was really important that we would do that. … I mean, you know, showing it to the guys at Framestore, they were all very emotional just looking at people in gray suits, not even animals.

If I’m completely honest, I might have gotten even more emotional about the fates of the High Evolutionary’s test subjects simply watching the cast. The performances by that entire cast go from beautiful and upbeat to raw and desperate in such a short time, with the actors delivering powerful turns in their digitally altered screentime. 

At the same time, that’s not discounting the work of this intrepid crew of visual effects artists. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without the top notch creation of Rocket and his buddies in their digital forms. Melding together practical interpretations with the visual flare needed, the movie is emotionally crushing every time you watch it. That double edged sword will always be bad news for our hearts, but it could be good news for the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 VFX team as Theo Bialek, Stephane Ceretti, Alexis Wajsbrot, and Guy Williams head into the final stages of their Oscar journey for the Marvel film.

If you want to trace Rocket Raccoon’s Guardians of the Galaxy story through every heartbreak and moment of happiness, all you need is a Disney+ subscription. Thanks to almost the entire MCU being available on that very platform, you can even revisit Vol. 3 in honor of its big Oscar nod. Don’t forget to tune into the 96th Academy Awards, which will be airing on Sunday, March 10 on ABC at 7 PM ET.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.