Hansel and Gretel Make Kick-Ass Witch Hunters
It makes perfect sense that Jon Farhat was hired to oversee the VFX production of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. After all, Farhat worked with Timur Bekmambetov on Wanted, and that's pretty much the vibe that that Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola (the Nazi zombie horror/comedy, Dead Snow) wanted for his first English-language movie. Lots of kick-ass action with plenty of dark humor.
Fifteen years after siblings Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) outwit the witch in the gingerbread house deep in the forest, they become bounty hunters who exterminate witches. But they find themselves in the middle of a Blood Moon ritual sacrifice of children in a town where they must confront a band of witches led by Famke Janssen and a troll named Edward.
Filming took place in 2011 in Germany at the famed Babelsberg Studio, in a forest near Berlin and in Braunschweig. Half of the movie was shot natively in 3-D (by lead stereographer Florian Maier and his team from Stereotec) and the rest was post-converted by Stereo D. However, 3-D was not part of the original plan but Paramount insisted on it, so Wirkola embraced it wholeheartedly with an in your face approach. Speaking of in your face, there were even two versions tested when the release date got pushed back a year, and the more graphic R-rated version tested higher, to the director's delight.
As for the VFX, it comprised around 800 shots (the plates were shot with the Red Epic), mostly for Troll close-ups, CG enhancements of witches flying on broomsticks, and witch transformations involving Janssen's character, Muriel. These were all done by Hammerhead, the lead VFX company.
"Most of the visual effects were pretty straightforward," Farhat admits. "I think Hammerhead did some really nice character work on Edward; really a lot of the effects were milking the 3-D concept: a lot of comps and environments and CG towns. But, probably, the biggest challenge was trying to do all of that on a very limited schedule and do it in 3-D. And, honestly, schedule more than money dictated the decision not to shoot it all natively. We had Arri Alexas on the splitter rig and it's very large and they had that on a techno-crane. And there were a lot of fight scenes, so it would've been a challenge for the stunt coordinator and second unit director to not do all the camera tricks you normally do. So you've got to get in and out of those sets very quickly and there was a lot of running between trees in the forest, so the native photography was done on sets that you could control."