Weta as Dreamweaver on Lovely Bones
As Peter Jackson told us earlier, his vision for Susie Salmon's afterlife in The Lovely Bones (which Paramount Pictures opened wide last weekend) was a surreal, in-between journey to heaven predicated dreams and metaphoric symbols. A house in the dead cornfield represents her murderer, Mr. Harvey; the blooming flower suggests Susie's life force and her ability to communicate with her father; the Gazebo in the barley field signifies unfulfilled love, with the field turning to mush as she runs toward it.
Interestingly, the vfx challenges for Weta Digital were more artistic than technical, even though the CG imagery of the In-Between world necessitated abandoning the laws of physics.
"It was an interesting process because you're starting out with a blank canvas for almost every shot," explains Joe Letteri, senior visual effects supervisor. "Peter did have some idea about things he wanted to see and we refined those and worked them into the sequences of shots. But it was very much kind of an unknown what this was supposed to look like and how it presented itself, because we wanted you to get the sense that this was being constructed around Susie for her benefit. But it's not something that she's making up or can will to existence. It's like a dream, so we kept trying to find all the right touchstones, if you will; little things from her life that would turn into this bigger landscape. So the snow globe becomes this big snowcapped mountain that she's sled riding on. It was very creative. Michael did hundreds of pieces of artwork to get through it all -- and it was almost like a great big jigsaw puzzle: putting the elements around in different orders and trying the shots in different ways, and Peter would work on the cut and it would change a little bit and we'd have to rework the shots and it was really a very iterative process the whole way through.
"The most interesting thing was how to build a narrative out of these sequences -- what the flow was like because this was so dream-like. The idea of what her soul is doing -- this comet-like effect. But then she's not ready to go where she's supposed to. How does she stop herself? The reaching out and grabbing onto a bit of a flower, a bit of a landscape: Was it always there or did it come into being because she needed it to be there? And then it quickly turns into seeing the whole grassy hill revealing itself and the whole world around her. So it was really coming up with those progressions of ideas that told the story but also gave you the feeling of being in the place."