Snow White Gets Grimm
Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland reinvigorated the fairy tale genre in live action, and producer Joe Roth has struck back with Snow White and the Huntsman, this time with newcomer Rupert Sanders as director. Sanders wanted a gritty yet fantastical take on Snow White. Culling from a number of influences besides the Brothers Grimm (including Lord of the Rings, Excalibur, Princess Mononoke), he's fashioned a sword and sorcery tone poem with Kristen Stewart's Snow White as Joan of Arc, Chris Hemsworth's Huntsman as a melancholy widower and Charlize Theron's evil Queen as a vain supermodel.
In fact, the film's visual motif is impermanence. Creatures and states of being are in a constant state of flux with lots of shattering and metamorphosis. The search for immortality is futile. Nearly a dozen VFX studios worked on the film, including Rhythm & Hues (dwarves, the enchanted forest creatures, CG fairies, bridge troll, magpies and ravens); Double Negative (dark forest creatures); Pixomondo (the shadow army); The Mill (The Mirror Man); and Lola (the aging effects of the Queen).
In the opening battle performed by Pixomondo, the Queen's soldiers disintegrate on contact. It's a ploy to deceive the king but it's effective visually and thematically. "We went through a lot of iterations to get the obsidian look," explains co- visual effects supervisor Phil Brennan. "It needed to crumble in a solid way; it needed to be a believable kind of physics. Pixomondo used Houdini with some custom pieces."
Then there's the Mirror Man worked on by The Mill. "We didn't want the liquid metal look," Brennan continues. "We shot a whole bunch of high-speed stuff with liquids. From that we went into the simulation world and played with cloth and particle simulations and all sorts of things in between. Where we ended up was somewhere between liquid and cloth. It's an iconic character so we had to find a way to instill a certain amount of personality with little movement. We didn't want to take away from the elegance of it."
Sanders' inspiration for the Mirror Man was a sculpture called Face-Off by London-based Irish artist Kevin Francis Gray. It took six months of R&D to design the effect. As a launch pad for inspiration, the crew started with a live-action physical element shoot, upending buckets of paint on dummies at 1,000 fps to see what happens in the real world. As the effect evolved it became clear that cloth simulation was the look that was going to work the best. The Mill (under the VFX supervision of Nicolas Hernandez) used Maya, ncloth, Houdini, RealFlow and Nuke.
The dark forest was created by Double Negative (supervised by John Moffatt). According to co-visual effects supervisor Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, who's worked with the director for eight years, the idea was to conjure a charred look and nature gone awry but with a photographic reality shot in the Black Park Woods outside of Pinewood Studios in London. Aside from models of the twisted and distorted trees, an additional procedural system was developed in Maya to enable the rapid creation of multiple variations of photo-real branches which were then keyframe animated by animation supervisor Robyn Luckham's team for shots of the forest coming to life and grabbing for Snow White as she tries to escape. A patch of mushrooms eject clouds of hallucinogenic pollen (using DNeg's fluid solver dnSquirt) into her face.