Finley and China Girl and Puppet Cams, Oh, My!
The most critical scene using the Puppet Cam is when they're leaving the Emerald City and walking along the Yellow Brick Road. With Oz having to walk 200 feet, there was no easy path for having Braff interact with him. They tried in one case putting him on a rolling dolly on a bumpy Yellow Brick Road. "But we got great performance video of his face in a booth and clean audio, so editorial was able to cut in that footage and give earlier turnovers to the visual effects team for lines of dialogue," the VFX supervisor adds.
Meanwhile, the 18-inch China Girl was designed by Michael Kutsche (Alice in Wonderland). But how do you make the porcelain surfacing convincing? They took a lot of reference photography and consulted with ceramics experts and decided to utilize the subtle level of crazing, the cracking on the surface of ceramics, as the underlying texture.
"We dialed that in on different levels of the face and the body to give it complexity," Stokdyk explains. "Then we had a debate about the clothing. The first inclination was toward a hard surface like overturned saucers that would bounce around and give a simpler movement but that proved too restrictive. Instead, we went for soft-like doll clothing that allowed her to move more freely while lending more empathy because of its soft connotation. Once we had the look as an animation challenge, we always had to be careful that the surface didn't appear too rubbery. No stretching in the face. So Troy and his team were careful not to be over expressive and to take visual cues from what the marionette did, which had a hard surface face with only the freedom of opening and closing the eyes. The trick was to hide the movements in the face on a cut or a head turn. But the goal was to read the expressiveness through face shapes. It gave us a nice design restriction that we imposed on ourselves to elevate the character into [something] more realistic and interesting."
At the same time, the creation of the small-scale China Town, full of broken porcelain pieces, offered a unique opportunity in terms of its look and scale.
"The great thing was that we were able to build real pieces of that and get the juxtaposition of Oz vs. the small scale in camera for a lot of it," concludes Stokdyk. "And Robert Stromberg brought in New Deal Studios to effectively build miniatures. Porcelain tea cups and saucers and pitchers that were done to the China Girl's scale provided ideas on how to extend that and turn it into a whole town. After working in real world scale on the Spider-Man movies, it was real refreshing to come into this fantastical set design that had nothing to do with our reality, and the other great thing is that as we were working on it in 3-D. We had this opportunity to design in depth and build on what was shot in camera. And then in post we were able to make additional design choices. We could choose to set dress foreground objects to frame the action and dial in their depth and then between those and our blue screen photography, we could add layers of atmosphere and porcelain dust and rays of light, and then behind the blue screen photography, we could design all the depth of the rest of the city and smoky plumes of atmospheric effects layers all the way to an interesting matte painting."
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and VFXWorld, the owner of Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), a columnist for Thompson on Hollywood at Indiewire and author of James Bond Unmasked (www.jamesbondunmasked.com), which chronicles the 50-year evolution of 007 on screen, featuring interviews with all six actors.