Shadow Play with Potter's Tale of Three Brothers
In a daring move, we momentarily leave the tense world of Harry Potter in Deathly Hallows: Part 1, and enter a stylized animated one, when Hermione (Emma Watson) narrates The Tale of Three Brothers. Conveyed imaginatively in silhouettes and shadows and sepia tones, she describes how three wizard brothers try to outwit Death: a metaphor for the eventual battle with Voldermort.
Ben Hibon (Heavenly Sword), the director of the nearly three-minute sequence, tells us what it was like collaborating with Potter helmer David Yates and Framestore (led by Dale Newton) on this fascinating six-month project. Hibon recently joined Nexus for commercials and other short-form projects, and will also direct a new live-action re-imagining of Pan.
Bill Desowitz: Congratulations: It's quite a feat to pull off such an imaginative sequence without drawing us out of the movie.
Ben Hibon: Yeah, absolutely. These were always the two things, really. It was the look and feel of it because interpretation has never really been done fully animated before in the Harry Potter franchise. This was a big question mark when I first met with David Yates, the director. We tried to define the look. What does the Harry Potter world look like when it's animated? And, as you said, not breaking the flow of the movie was important. And not having seen the movie, it was important to have a back and forth with David about the expectation at that moment in the film when it happens. I think also at that point in the franchise, there is a feeling that when you try new things, there is a greater purpose behind what you're doing because there's a worry of self-indulgence. It was not like that at all. The meaning behind the animation and why it is animated -- the need to break the storytelling formula at that stage of the movie -- was very much on everybody's mind for the very start. It was not about creating artifice but throwing the audience into a narration. I was always felt that you need that break and that Harry, Ron and Hermoine need the refuge. It's a warm and comforting and familiar magical tale that Hermoine reads.
BD: How did you arrive at the shadow puppet style?
BH: That happened in stages. I had preliminary meetings with David and Stuart Craig, the production designer. I dug up a couple of images and one of the early references that we responded to was from Lotte Reiniger for her scissor cut out, silhouette style of animation. And there was something naïve and very graphical that David responded to. So I came away with that and was already fascinated with Asian shadow plays and puppetry -- very crudely articulated puppets on sticks. I thought that merging the two things would look wonderful. But there was always something that bugged me a little bit about all of these references. They were heavily 2D in their craft and I was very aware of breaking the flow of the movie, and so it was very important that we keep the language of cameras and not lose the motion of the cinematic experience as a Potter movie. I tried to devise a way to think of that visual style but in 3D. So we worked on some concepts and once the look was locked, Framestore came on board to produce the piece and we refined the look with their illustrators and made it work with the tools we needed to use because obviously the floating camera through layers of paper and transposing shadows and having 360-degree cameras became quite a challenge.