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Method Studios Brings Winnie the Pooh to Life in ‘Christopher Robin’

VFX supervisor Glenn Melenhorst guides studio’s Melbourne team in crafting gentle bear’s performance in Disney’s live-action fantasy adventure.

Now available on DVD and Blu-ray, Disney’s live-action tale, Christopher Robin brings A.A. Milne’s beloved characters to life for a new adventure into the Hundred Acre Wood. Creating the film’s CG star, Winnie the Pooh, was a collective effort, with Method Studios using its extensive character animation experience to craft the soft-spoken bear’s performance in the feature’s first two acts. Method VFX supervisor Glenn Melenhorst, whose animation experience includes creating the title characters for Ted, Ted 2 and The Spongebob Movie, guided the work of the studio’s Melbourne team.

“When director Marc Forster began assembling the VFX team for Christopher Robin, he was especially keen to connect with studios that had digital toy experience,” Melenhorst noted. “So, we walked him through our work on Ted -- though, unlike that film, Pooh is much more subdued, family-friendly and perhaps the most iconic stuffed bear.”

The team worked closely with production VFX supervisor Chris Lawrence to shape the digital bear’s performance. Lawrence commented, “Method's work with Winnie the Pooh was exceptional. The animation is nuanced and beautifully integrated into the shots, bringing the beloved bear to life and carrying some of the key emotional moments of the movie. Not only were Glenn and his team fantastic creative partners, they also went the extra mile to explore new approaches and ensure the performance would resonate. It was an absolute pleasure collaborating with them.”

Method animation lead Nick Tripodi oversaw refinement of the character’s subtle movements and hand gestures to make him feel alive, but still an inanimate object, an incredibly fine line to tread. For R&D, artists manipulated stuffed toys and studied the friction and physiology of the motion, then used that as a guide to incorporate an appropriate jerkiness that was neither too mechanical nor too smooth. Physical props also inspired Method FX artists in developing the look for how various substances interacted with the bear’s fur, like water and, of course, honey, and experimented with simulations until nailing the right look. In many cases, the team replaced almost all plate elements with digital versions for incredibly controlled macro shots.

On set, lead actor Ewan McGregor interacted with a featureless Winnie the Pooh-sized grey ball. After rotoscoping, Method’s compositing team, led by Dom Hellier, worked to seamlessly integrate the CG bear into shots, layering in atmosphere, steam and foliage where needed. “The scene with Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin in front of the massive oak tree was quite an undertaking,” Melenhorst shared. “Plates were shot outside so we had to account for practical sunlight while also digitally extending the oak tree asset, building out the background and foreground foliage, and adjusting the fog levels. The aim was a flat and graphic misty moor feel, and the team captured that essence perfectly.”

In addition to handling character animation in key sequences for the bear, Method also digitally transformed an old harborside dock into a bustling train station. After extensive research, artists built various train, carriages and platform assets and then married the CG and plate footage.

Source: Method Studios