VFXWorld has learned that Walden Media has selected Rhythm & Hues to recreate the beloved characters for the upcoming movie based on C.S. Lewis classic childrens tale, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, a co-production with Walt Disney Pictures. According to Richard Hollander, president of R & H's film division, the studio is in the process of building its team from within R & H. They will also be hiring additional talent from outside as the schedule heats up, because a lot of people will be needed for this particular production.
Key personnel formally in place include visual effects supervisors Bill Westenhofer (ELF) and Doug Smith (THE CAT IN THE HAT), digital producer Erika Burton (THE CAT IN THE HAT) and senior animation director Bill Kroyer (SCOOBY-DOO). Both digital supervisors are not aligned yet, but should be in place soon. There are quite a few people and a lot of duplication in roles, just to get a production of this size through. The types of positions that have been setup right now concentrate on the research and development of the character-building phase of the show. Several people are involved on this project already. The entire facility is used to build the characters and come October, the specific roles and leadership will be more clearly defined as shots start to be processed.
R & H has been testing shots since last summer in their quest to be awarded the show. The number fluctuates, but the shot count is expected to be in the range of several hundred. Production is watching the shot count and trying to focus on the story. A 20-month schedule for the picture allows R & H to spread out the work. But the clock is already ticking.
At this stage, character issues are being discussed with director Andrew Adamson (SHREK II). Hollander questions, Do they act like Bugs Bunny or do they walk around like real animals? R & H is animating all characters that align with the original story. These characters are intended to be photo-realistic; that is to say, they not only look real, but they behave as real as Adamson wants them to. Hollander considers any shot with a dramatic character in it a character that has to provide a performance that is compelling as complex. It is an understatement to say that there are quite a few shots meeting that criteria in this show. Admits Hollander, Its a challenge. A lovely challenge.
R & H provides character studies for some of the specific dialogue to show to the director. In that way they make sure they are the working in the right direction with the character and are not mis-aligned. This is especially important with characters that have major dialog or major dramatic roles. All these characters are dramatic, theyre not Scooby Doo, so we have to really nail them, according to Hollander. But its certainly doable and its certainly fun.
R & H uses its own proprietary software and is developing tools specifically for this show. Hollander explains, This show is no different from any other. We take something that we know we have to use a lot of and improve it or make it more efficient. The two main areas that were certainly looking at is some more character building tools that continue to make it easier to build characters and make them look more real. Were always working in that area. In this case were adding a few more functions to this process. And were still working with hair. Weve done a lot of work with hair in our lives. You would think wed be done with hair, but well never be done with hair. Anyone doing hair is never done with hair. We did specify hair for the show based on specific characters. We wanted to modify what we had to make it look better and act better under the conditions of wind and certain types of lighting that is planned.
R & H definitely plans to use motion capture on set. The studio is investing a lot of time in that area.They are planning for a large amount, but dont know how much they might be able to use or want to use. Tests have been done in preparation and a couple of pipelines have already been developed that are working quite well.
Some sections of the movie have not yet been awarded. Some work may go off to another house, but that would be a separate part of the film. R & H does not foresee any collaboration with another house, however, on any of the shots currently assigned to them. The film is currently in pre-production, set to start principal photography sometime in June. R & H will continue doing tests long before that.
Los Angeles-based Rhythm & Hues (www.rhythm.com) recently did vfx work on SCOOBY-DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASED, CAT IN THE HAT and the upcoming AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS.
Reported by Mary Ann Skweres