The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian offers more action and greater CG interaction with actors, so Alain Bielik speaks to Dean Wright and Wendy Rogers about the latest set of challenges.
In 2005, the first installment of the Chronicles of Narnia franchise met an enthusiastic response from audiences worldwide. It also garnered an Academy Award nomination for best visual effects, rewarding the remarkable work achieved by Dean Wright (overall visual effects supervisor), Bill Westenhofer (Rhythm & Hues), Jim Berney (Sony Pictures Imageworks) and Scott Farrar (ILM).
Two-and-a-half years later, the Pevensie children are back in Narnia in Prince Caspian (which opened May 16 from Disney), and most of the first film's creative team returns, too, including Wright as overall vfx supervisor. This time though, he shared his supervisory position with Narnia newcomer Wendy Rogers, a former colleague of director Andrew Adamson at PDI. "The scope of this movie is so much grander," Wright observes. "It really is an epic leap, effects wise. We had a lot more CG characters and much more physical interaction with human characters. We also had a large amount of environment work, which was minimal in the first movie. It was so much work that I was glad Wendy joined us to co-supervise the effects."
With a vfx shot count of 1,600, Prince Caspian has only 100 shots more than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Yet, the work turned out to be far more complex. "On the first movie, those 1,500 shots included 300 fix-its and miscellaneous effects," Wright notes. "So, we really had about 1,200 complex shots. On Prince Caspian, we had 1,600 very complicated shots! Ninety percent of them featured digital characters, sometimes hundreds of them…"
A New Narnia Made in London
Although Wright and his production colleagues were very satisfied with the work accomplished by the U.S.-based vendors on the original movie, they decided to turn to London-based companies for the sequel. "The first movie was shot in New Zealand and post-produced in L.A.," Wright recalls, "which made American vfx vendors a logical choice. This time, though, we shot in Prague, Czech Republic, and post-production took place in London. It made sense that all the key visual effects were created there too. It was also a question of resources: who had the capacity to produce so many shots in the time that we had? In the last show, the lead vendor did about 400 shots. This time, it was more than twice as much!"
Nine vendors worked on Prince Caspian, some of them working on shared shots, which explains why the total shot count of 1,600 isn't a sum of the individual shots.
MPC -- 842 shotsCG Reepicheep, full CG Narnians, CG Narnian/actor hybrids (Centaurs, Fauns, Satyrs and all other CG creatures except those noted below) for all sequences (castle raid, final battle sequence, including CG trees attack, Council sequences, etc.), Telmarine army extensions
Framestore -- 514 shotsCG Trufflehunter, CG Aslan, CG squirrel Pattertwig, Dryad Dream, Tube Station transition, Magic Door (CG tree), set extensions (Buruna bridge sequences, including CG soldiers, trebuchets, etc.); Cair Paravel, etc.
Weta Digital -- 296 shotsCG Bear, CG Werewolf, CG Ice and CG White Witch enhancements (hair and dress extensions); plus all Miraz Castle environment work, including miniature comps, CG set extensions, fully CG environments, 2D & 3D matte paintings
ScanlineVFX -- 22 shotsCG River God
Studio C --34 shotsCG breath and CG Hag eye enhancement
Rising Sun, Cinesite, Rainmaker, production unit --141 shotsAdditional vfx work
The Mother of all Miniatures
A critical decision was taken early on to create the film's major environment -- Miraz Castle -- as a miniature. A key location in the storyline, it was featured in more than 300 shots. "In the first movie, we had created the castle for the end sequence digitally, but it was a handful of shots," Wright remarks. "Miraz Castle played a central part in Prince Caspian. We already had a huge workload in terms of digital characters. By creating the castle as a miniature, we saved our digital resources for elements that couldn't be created any other way."
The castle was built at Richard Taylor's Weta Workshop, New Zealand, where most of the Lord of the Rings and King Kong worlds had been created. At 1/24-scale, it ended up being the largest single piece ever constructed by the studio. It was so large that the team had to tilt it at 30° for the camera to be able to capture aerial shots on stage. Another version was built at 1/100-scale and included the whole environment with a nearby village and background landscape. Weta Workshop also constructed separated miniatures of the village and the castle courtyard. The plates were later enhanced by sister company Weta Digital, under the watchful eye of VFX Supervisor Guy Williams, and combined with live-action shots of the actors on partial castle sets. "I feel that you always get better results when you have real elements in a shot," Wright adds. "They grab the viewer's attention and help sell the CG portions of the image. It was one of the advantages of having a real miniature that we could shoot, light and check in the viewfinder. We were able to get really tight on the walls and the surfaces would hold perfectly. We used the same approach for our crowd scenes: we always had a group of real extras in the foreground, and our CG army in the background. We tried to keep it all as real as possible."
Trying New Approaches
Having learned from the experience of shooting the first movie, Wright took new approaches to capture the visual effects plates featuring CG creatures. The first thing was to discard on set motion capture. On The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the technique proved very useful for Faun Tumnus, but not for the crowd scenes. The vendors ended up not using a lot of that data. "We decided to go for a more 'guerilla' approach on Prince Caspian," Wright notes. "We used three HD 24 fps 'witness' cameras to help capture the actors' performance. We would move them around the performers in order to triangulate their position in 3D space. Basically, it's the same technique that ILM used on Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and