Revisiting Alice in Wonderland
Sony Pictures Imageworks threw a tea party last week for Alice in Wonderland, lest Oscar voters at large forget the studio's substantial work on the Tim Burton blockbuster that opened in March. Journalists were treated to individual sessions in an editing bay with treats and plenty of highlights showcasing the abundant CG characters and synthetic environments, which have always been Sony's signature trademark. Even so, the hybrid film clearly represents the studio's most ambitious achievement to date. With more than 1,700 shots and 35 characters from Sony (out of a total of 2,300), Alice offers a new synthesis of CG techniques. The interactive display, in fact, was the brainchild of Ronni Chasen, the veteran publicist that was brutally murdered late last month.
After a highlight reel, Ken Ralston, the overall visual effects supervisor, narrated a subsequent presentation that explained the significance of the work, culminating in the thrilling Jabberwocky climax. Dave Schaub, the animation supervisor, voiced a segment devoted to the making of Lewis Carroll's classic characters; Bert Van Brande, a CG supervisor, narrated a segment devoted to the Mushroom Forest environment; and Brian Steiner, another CG supervisor, voiced a Stolen Tarts compositing segment.
"Since all of Underland is virtually synthetic, it was decided early on to acquire the live-action performance in a greenscreen environment," Ralston explained. "In addition, many of the characters were a hybrid of live action and animation. Numerous motion capture tools were tested mainly as reference for what was ultimately handled as animation. The challenge was to find the balance where CG and hybrid animated characters blended together with the live actors to look like they were part of the same world. Alice falling down the rabbit hole… is a combination of a live-action Alice on wire rigs on a greenscreen shoot; the whole environment was created in computer (all the roots, all the dirt, all the furniture -- everything -- was CG)…
"The Throne Room is still one of my favorite scenes and the interaction with the Queen and the frogs and all the other characters. In especially creating this Red Queen character with the large head, we shot her with a 4K camera and really, through brute force, enlarged her head and blended it back onto her body in a way that looks perfectly natural. And once we saw the head that big, we decided creatively to take her waist and do more of an hourglass shape so it balanced that giant head better than leaving her the way she was.