Weta as Dreamweaver on Lovely Bones
For Michael Pangrazio, visual effects art director, it was certainly a far cry from the photoreal and quite a fulfilling, if solitary, experience. "It was the most difficult thing that I've ever done to fuel the imagination of Peter and Fran. And the one thing they said was they wanted natural phenomena and not a lot of architecture. I always thought was a great idea to project her mentality on this environment and make these scenes reminiscent of what a 14-year-old girl would think like, and that's what I tried to dig down and try to find, which is hard because I'm not a 14-year-old girl.
"Knowing that the basis of this was surrealistic to begin with, the way I approached it was to read the script and to think illogically. Peter told us to think illogically. At one phase, he said don't even care if it doesn't make sense -- just create images and ideas. And then he filters them out and picks and chooses."
However, it helped listening to The Lovely Bones book on tape during script development. "I would look for images that struck me as beautiful or appropriate and with up to 15 of them like a chef combine the ingredients and synthesize them into something. As they started sending through script pages I would create artwork and send it through. This would evoke more ideas so as script ideas evolved so did the look of the film. Key sequences were mapped out in this way and built upon. From the very beginning on certain points we were creatively in sync."
Not surprisingly, Salvador Dali was the biggest influence: helping Pangrazio attempt to understand what makes something surreal, unearthly or unnatural. He says it's a combination of elements that are impossible together: scale, gravity and color. "The whole process was a real creative search," he echoes. "What do you do with this philosophical world that most people, at least here in the West, have a preconceived idea in their opinion of what it is. There are repeated themes, which are important for the audience to ponder and figure out that there's a thread that adds up to a logical payoff. It's a mystery for Susie too to figure out. It's part of the angst of the whole story."
According to Charlie Tait, compositing supervisor, instead of making things look natural and photoreal, the surreal nature of the imagery in The Lovely Bones required a different challenge: "For example, when you see day and night in the same image at the same time, we'd have to find how the elements could all be brought together convincingly and elegantly."
Letteri says the destruction of the ships in the bottle posed an additional challenge: "Early on, Susie and her father [Mark Wahlberg] work on ships and bottles. It's a passion they share. Her father on earth is remorseful; and falling apart. His actions of destroying what they built together in her In-Between [world] are also represented as the floating bottles start breaking. What is happing in the real world is reflected in the in between and vice versa. The two worlds run parallel."
Indeed, this effects-heavy moment represents a turning point in Susie's In-Between experience. While the scene starts out calm and serene, on a beautiful beach, it ends in violence and destruction.
"This scene initially took shape through a process of previsualization during the film's pre-production phase: taking ideas described by Peter and working them into low-res digital animation," explains Matt Aitken, digital visual effects supervisor. This gave us a blueprint for the scene.