Bringing VFX Magic to The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Double Negative (under the supervision of Adrian de Wet) handled the majority of the work while Asylum FX (supervised by Phil Brennan) contributed around 500 shots (roach and dragon sequences) and Rising Sun Pictures (supervised by Tony Clark and Dennis Jones) pitched in about 70 shots (CG flame, smoke and knives, texture projected face morph and concept work on mirror wand sequence). Meanwhile, Method (supervised by Stephanie Ceretti) also contributed to the climactic mayhem (cloud formation and destruction of ancient statue).
Not surprisingly, the Fantasia sequence was very challenging and time consuming for Dneg (Baruchel resorts to a short cut to get ready for a date, and, of course, the props get out of control and the lab gets flooded and Cage returns to clean up the mess).
"When we got the original script, there were only three or four lines of description," de Wet explains. "We had to make a three or four-minute sequence to build around this idea, and, given that was all we had, we went straight into storyboarding at Double Negative. We knocked out some storyboards and pretty quickly got into animation previs. After we got the turnover brief from Jon, the CG requirements seemed enormous. But it wasn't the most difficult part of the film because we knew what it was supposed to look like. Fantasia was the most daunting originally because it had to stand up to the original.
However, the final version of the sequence ended up using a lot more GG (60 shots and several hundred elements, including water splashes and environment), led by James Lewis of the animation team. "Jon is all about gags," de Wet adds, "he's all about personality, comedy, character and those little moments. Rather than the mops defying gravity, he wanted them to develop personality and interact with each other. To get that point across was the challenge."
The other big challenge was CG water interaction. Dneg used Squirt with a whole menu of other tools, including Maya particles and DnB, the proprietary volumetric renderer.
"When Balthazar [Cage] comes in and clears all the water, you see the water vortex get swept away from the balcony, followed by a closer shot," de Wet continues. "In those two shots, everything is CG, including the water, props and floor. It was the hardest part of the sequence. It's quite difficult to direct because you can't compress fluids: they have to go somewhere, so they can't magically disappear, which is exactly what Balthazar is doing when he comes into the room. It's strange that we can't really break the rules of physics with these simulations. The software is too good in obeying the laws of physics, whereas what you're trying to do is a bit more magical than that."