*Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang*, which opens in the UK on March 26th 2010, is the sequel to the hugely successful (over $120m internationally) 2005 family hit, Nanny McPhee.
Press Release from Framestore
*Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang*, which opens in the UK on March 26th 2010, is the sequel to the hugely successful (over $120m internationally) 2005 family hit, Nanny McPhee. As with the first film, Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay and also stars as the eponymous child minder. The film also stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rhys Ifans and Maggie Smith. Directed by Susanna White, *Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang* was produced by Tim Bevan, Lindsay Doran and Eric Fellner for Working Title Films. The production also returned to Framestore, who became the sole provider for the visual effects that bring Nanny's magic to dazzling life.
*Nanny McPhee*'s first appearance was in Victorian England. *Big Bang*, however, jumps forward to the Second World War. Mrs. Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a harried young mother who is trying to run the family farm while her husband is away at war. Mrs. Green's boisterous children have been joined by their spoiled city cousins, making for a highly combustible mixture, and matters are further complicated by the machinations of slippery Uncle Phil (Rhys Ifans). Luckily, Nanny McPhee arrives on the scene, once more teaching both children and adults five important lessons.
*Framestore*'s contribution to the film totaled some 350 shots, of which 250 were CG-based. Key work included a number of CG creature sequences, as well as the film's spectacular climax involving a whirlwind of barley forming pictures in the sky. In addition, there were environment shots, set extensions, period vehicle CG recreations, and numerous one-off VFX elements. Preliminary work began on the project early last year, with shooting taking place on location in Surrey and at Shepperton between May and September 2009.
*Framestore*'s creature work has become a byword for excellence in the industry over the last decade, and whilst the CG animals in *Big Bang* - piglets, a baby elephant and a jackdaw - are less obviously remarkable than, say, a Hippogriff or a giant armoured polar bear, they required no less meticulous care than their predecessors. Indeed, several factors made this a particularly tricky brief. "They intended to shoot with real animals whose look and behaviour we'd have to match perfectly," recalls VFX Supervisor Christian Manz. "When we first discussed approaches to the animals with Susanna White and her producers, they were adamant that the animals be photo-realistic, even after they came under the influence of Nanny McPhee's magic. These are emphatically not fantasy or cartoon animals, or even performing animals, but simply ordinary creatures who find themselves suddenly able to do extraordinary things." Given that these include such antics as a pig climbing a tree and subsequently being joined by several of his sty-mates for a spot of in-pond synchronized swimming à la Esther Williams, a little trepidation on the team's behalf is understandable. So in early 2009 *Framestore*'s Director of Animation, Michael Eames, worked closely with White on some proof-of-concept animations. "The production team was blown away by what the animators came up with," says Manz, "This work, as well as cementing the relationship, helped the storyboarding process too."
Further complicating the swimming pigs sequence was the fact that the animation had to be locked down and approved at a relatively early stage, because the essential complementary water interaction and water effects would be tailor-made to fit it, and there would be no time for further tweaking. The pond's pure CG water surface was created in Houdini, utilizing both 3d and 2d simulation, enhanced with filmed elements shot specifically by Manz at Shepperton.
The biggest single technical challenge faced by the *Framestore* creature team was the jackdaw. This bird is Nanny McPhee's constant companion - her familiar, perhaps you might call it. As with the pigs, two trained birds were used in as many shots as possible, so the CG match had to be feather-perfect. In addition, the bird is frequently seen folding or unfolding its wings, making for a far greater technical challenge than if it was simply seen in repose or in flight. Altogether, creating the 50 or so CG jackdaw shots - encompassing R&D, rigging, grooming and animation - took six months intensive work. Although the initial brief was for a photo-real bird, as the work developed, the production team realised that *Framestore*'s bird had serious sidekick potential. To this end, Animation Supervisor Kevin Spruce and his team were allowed off the leash a little bit, adding some subtle comedic grace notes to his animated performance. Thompson herself provided reference for the way she thought the bird should behave, going as far as to film a physical performance to help guide the work.
Initially, a real baby elephant from Whipsnade Zoo was trained to work with Thompson, which, in the end provided fantastic reference for the creation of a full CG one. The elephant appears in a couple of sequences inside the farmhouse and barn. He is a mischievous presence behind the adults' backs, seen only by Nanny and the children and ends up climbing the stairs to their bedroom and tucking himself up for the night. A deceptively small part, but, from *Framestore's* point of view, the mechanics involved in getting an elephant convincingly up a flight of stairs and into bed were not simple.
The film's climactic VFX sequence takes place in a field, with Nanny McPhee standing in its centre magically guiding the vital harvest of barley up into the air, where it moves in the manner of a huge flock of starlings, forming itself into the image of a series of creatures before bursting like a firework display and descending on the stunned humans below. Under the leadership of CG Supervisor Chris Lawrence, a team of six created the 'magic wind' as an animation-driven flocking simulation within Houdini.
The magic of a film like *Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang* resides more in the story and performances than in computer wizardry - it's not selling itself as a digital visual effects extravaganza. Susanna White and Working Title were delighted with the finished work, and the team at *Framestore* is proud that the production came back to them for the sequel, and that our magic that will complement that of Nanny and the filmmakers.
Universal Pictures presents in association with Studio Canal and Relativity Media. A Working Title production in association with Three Strange Angels Productions*
*DIRECTOR* Susanna White*PRODUCERS* Lindsay Doran, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner