The Oscar-winning creative studio brings their renowned creativity to Misselthwaite Manor and its spellbinding grounds for new reimagining of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famous novel, premiering now on Sky.
Academy Award-winning creative studio Framestore brought their unique blend of creativity to the spellbinding grounds of Misselthwaite Manor for StudioCanal's reimagining of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famous novel, The Secret Garden. Framestore provided VFX in support of the production in its entirety, from its initial stages through to post-production, working closely with director Marc Munden (Utopia, Electric Dreams) throughout.
For the film’s producer, Rosie Alison, when looking for a VFX team, “we wanted to find collaborators who could help us with something elusive: suggesting the spirit of the garden, and a garden which has a symbiotic relationship with the children.” To achieve that, she continued, “we knew we needed to find collaborators with the right sensibility, and kindred spirits who would understand our vision. As always, working with the Framestore team was a fantastically rewarding experience."
The initial project brief included using subtle VFX to breathe life into the garden, crafting a fully-CG robin and building complex real-world environments. Framestore once again teamed up with frequent collaborators producers David Heyman and Rosie Alison on the project. “We have a strong relationship with Heyday Films and StudioCanal and they approached us to come onboard early on in the process,” said Andy Kind, VFX supervisor. “From the outset we knew that it wasn’t a heavy VFX film, but at the same time the visuals are integral.”
Take a look at Framestore’s The Secret Garden VFX breakdown reel.
A delicate touch was needed to create the film’s aesthetic by bringing director Munden’s secret garden to life. Nature and real gardens were always the primary inspiration, and subtle VFX were required to suggest the children’s symbiotic relationship with nature - moments where the landscape echoes their moods. Using the studio’s extensive library of plants, cultivated across projects including Legend of Tarzan and Mowgli, Framestore artists were, for certain mood-reflecting moments, literally required to landscape the garden; for example, they planted an array of trees, shrubs and flowers to fill the space when the children first experience the joy of spring blossoming. The garden was hand-animated to grow or wilt depending on the shot required. “We definitely didn’t want it to look too magical,” added Kind. “The VFX needed to be invisible and aid the story, as opposed to being the main event.” It was a challenge to create a garden that physically bursts with life without appearing too fantastical. “It was a really interesting brief,” Chris Zeh, compositing supervisor, continued. “The garden literally blooms before your eyes, but it worked because we are somewhat used to seeing time-lapse photography of flowers opening.”
A robin that lives on the manor grounds plays a key part in the story and needed to be crafted in CG to achieve the required performance. According to Kind, “Marc wanted it to feel believable but also to have a character of its own. We worked hard to keep it within the boundaries of what is believable.” Small birds are notoriously difficult to sell on-screen due to their speed. "Small birds move at a very fast rate, much faster than the onset cameras can move,” animation supervisor Liam Russell noted. “The team had to find ways of having the Robin lingering in the shot for the purpose of storytelling and then having him fly off. We used animation tests to try to bring a sense of cheekiness and curiosity to the Robin as well as the realism of his natural motion."
It may surprise the audience to learn that the exterior of Misselthwaite Manor is also a fully-CG build. A stately English home was used as a stand-in for the shoot but needed replacing with the ideal Manor in post-production. Along with the grounds and manor house, the team also helped to bring Mumbai to life for the film’s opening, some tricky transitions between scenes, and a stand-out wallpaper animation sequence. With such a variety of invisible VFX work needed across the show, Munden and his team were heavily involved in the post stage, regularly visiting the studio to see the latest work, “I really enjoyed having the client here in London,” Zeh said. “It was great to meet up every week and brainstorm - it really felt collaborative.”
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.