John Bruno breaks down the VFX highlights of the penultimate Twilight, directed by Bill Condon.
After 30 years in the industry, John Bruno has never witnessed anything quite like the Twilight fan hysteria: screaming from the first shot of the movie to vampire sex to the wolf battle to the reveal of the baby and Bella's "rejuvenation."
In fact, the production VFX supervisor says Breaking Dawn -- Part 1 is not your mother or sister's Twilight: it's a hardcore drama about Bella's pregnancy from hell. And director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Chicago), who had never done a VFX-intensive movie before, wanted it as real and as visceral as possible with Bella withering away to almost nothing during the course of her pregnancy and the extraordinarily excruciating childbirth for the last 40 minutes.
"We call it 'Bella's emaciation,' and it's worse than Rosemary's Baby," Bruno suggests. "Part of what happens is she gets pregnant immediately and the baby starts drawing nutrients from her body. She has to drink blood so the baby will quit killing her. So she looks like a concentration camp survivor by the end of this, which is shocking to everybody. At one point, we had her looking far worse than she looks now, and it was the studio that questioned how far we wanted to go. But it works quite well."
To achieve Bella's look required a combination of old school and digital techniques. Legacy Effects provided the practical with appliances to Kristen Stewart's face (sunken eyes and larger ears) and neck at normal weight and Lola was called upon to make her look emaciated with CG enhancement. Having previously achieved an effective weakling to superhero transformation for Captain America, Lola set about finding the proper technique for this situation. "With Kristen's permission, they let us take it pretty far," Bruno adds."
They did a makeup test on the actress and made her progressively thinner-looking in three stages. It worked and Bruno showed it first to Condon and then to Stewart, and they both signed off on it. In the end, though, they needed to also film the traumatic scene where Bella's giving birth and she's lost 30 pounds. So they shot it with the aid of a puppet or full-size maquette (which is revealed and manipulated from her neck down).
"It was very complicated and Lola did the blend and the sizing and in the end people couldn't tell if it was the puppet or Kristen," Bruno continues. "We didn't do a digitally replaced head, but a technique similar to Social Network, where you had the digital double with the actor's face mapped onto it. We didn't quite go that far except for the end where she has to be the size of the puppet. Once she starts getting thinner and thinner, in phase three we have the actual puppet collapse and we tracked Kristen's face onto it. And it looks like Kristen because it's the right size.
"Once we got to the puppet size of about 65 pounds, that's where it got difficult. There are around 90 of those shots and she's got blood and sweat on her face; and we kept thinning her out. By the end, we add her entire torso to it or her shoulders and arms; and we take her legs and arms. This technique of blending this full-size, photorealistic 'puppet' was so effective that Stephenie Meyer loved watching it on set."
Prologue designed the very stylized inner reworking of Bella's body when she's transformed into a vampire, which was then taken to a realistic level in collaboration with Lola. There are three sequences: Jacob running as a werewolf, Bela changing from the inside and the initial design of Jacob imprinting.
Meanwhile, the baby is born dramatically and super strong and that was done with a puppet and a three-week-old baby covered in a combination of strawberry jelly and Philadelphia cream cheese that's supposed to be blood. Plus there's a CG baby at the end and you see it rapidly progress from one year all the way up to 18. "Lola progressed actress Mackenzie Foy's 8-year-old face and we kept playing with this for three months," Bruno continues. "And her family supplied us with shots of her as a baby all the way through 8. We'd do a face and then ask how old she looked here. And if she looked too old, then we had to come back.
"So there was a lot of experimentation. It was very specific in the book that this had to be a beautiful baby emerging as a beautiful woman. You're seeing 18 years into the future and this all had to happen in a minute-and-a-half. That was another complicated thing that came out quite well as a set-up for the final movie."
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and editor of VFXWorld. He has a new blog, Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), and is currently writing a book about the evolution of James Bond from Connery to Craig, scheduled for publication next year, which is the 50th anniversary of the franchise.