Double Negative Provides Invisible VFX in Finding Neverland

Double Negative's work on FINDING NEVERLAND, which recently won The National Board of Reviews best film prize, involved previs (Jesper Kjolsrud), on-set supervision (Hal Couzens), impossible camera moves, magic-moment enhancements and a host of invisible effects such as crowd replication and the removal of modern anachronisms and safety rigs.

The film is dotted with moments of Barrie-Vision in which the viewer is treated to insights into playwright J.M. Barrie's imagination (played by Johnny Depp) and how he saw the world.

One key moment in the film occurs during the first performance of PETER PAN, the play. Director Marc Forster wanted a magical swooping camera move from the stage to the ceiling of a theater and back down to the audience to link a pivotal on-stage moment about the full magic behind Barrie's play.

The shot also called for several passes of crowd replication (not for lack of extras but for lack of suitable Victorian costumes), hence motion control was to be used. It also needed to be filmed realtime for the live-action performances inside the heritage Richmond Theatre.

Double Negative surveyed and created a detailed proxy 3D model of the theater. Kjolsrud worked to create a suitably extravagant move starting on the stage, soaring to the ceiling, loop-de-looping and coming to rest a few inches from the child's face in an upper tier.

To get the required height and distance, an extended platform was required along with the motion control camera's nine-meter Wotan arm. Not only was the two-ton rig to end so close to a young child's face, it was going to have to do so at speed inside a fragile period theater often over the heads of the 200 extras with a very limited window to prep and shoot in.

Martin Hill programmed this move using Double Negatives proprietary motion control software beforehand using the accurately surveyed 3D theater interior. The move was tested extensively offset and modified on the day in the theater to ensure safety and alignment. To achieve the previsualized move required more than15 passes, including changing from an under-slung 3m arm to an over-slung 9m arm. The traditional moco frame-rate and speeds relationship had to be broken as the move also incorporated performances from actors. This was done by varying the shooting frame-rate when required on an Arri 435 Advance though the impact of this on the move had to be accounted for in the previs planning. All of the moves were executed to perfection by the motion control camera team led by Ben Goldschmidt finishing ahead of the shooting schedule. The final shot was put together by vfx supervisor Paul Riddle in Shake and was the first visual effects shot approved in the show, which featured more than 40 shots.

In another shot, additional motion control work was required to fill the theater with people and then create a storm complete with lightning drenching them in their seats. This could not be done as a practical on-set shot, as it would have destroyed the sumptuous Richmond Theatre. Couzens supervised shooting separate motion control and rain passes to achieve this. The final shot was composited by Jeremy Hattingh with relighting work by Neil Miller.

Other work included slipping seamlessly from close on Barrie's feet under a door to reveal Barrie's wife (Radha Mitchell) guiltily reading his journal expecting betrayal but finding only evidence of his genius. The scene was never intended to involve any effects work but it now required combining two focus pulling tracking shots into one seamless and subtle move. This required a complex hand-track of the two camera moves, the complete construction and lighting of carpet, door, hallway and room in CG with almost no reference as to lighting or textures and the creation of a new camera move. This shot was literally produced out of nowhere by 3D animator Xavier Roig and composited by Jeremy Hattingh and Riddle.

Many other moments in the film required subtle enhancements such as magical Tinkerbell effects and several flying shots. In addition, it had to be ensured that London appeared as it would have in 1904. All the foregrounds were well art-directed by production designer Gemma Jackson's team but Double Negative assisted by removing the ugliest of modern buildings, power lines and other modern anachronisms from a number of shots.

Since its formation in 1998, Double Negative (www.dneg.com) has firmly established itself as a leading player in visual effects production worldwide. Located in the heart of London's Soho, the company is a pre-eminent visual effects studio with more than 30 features to its credit, and is working on HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE and BATMAN RETURNS.

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