Pixel Magic completed 150 visual effects shots in the film MARLEY & ME. 20th Century Fox released this big screen adaptation of THE NEW YORK TIMES bestseller by columnist John Grogan on Christmas Day, 2008. The film quickly reached the top of the box office charts, grossing more than $120 million by its third week of release.
The autobiographical story recounts the Grogan family's life with Marley, a large, unruly Labrador retriever. Through their experiences with Marley, the Grogans learned many key lessons on family life and happiness.
In the film, the family ends up in Pennsylvania, which is known for its colorful autumns. This colorful look was intended to play a key part in the movie; however, shooting of the film could not be scheduled around the seasonal change. The director wanted the progression of spring to summer to autumn to be a reflection of Marley's age. Thus, as Marley grew older, the trees needed to take on a more autumnal look. Since cost and scheduling did not permit shooting during autumn, digital visual effects were needed to achieve the desired look.
The decision was made to shoot in spring, when the all of the trees were foliated. The color of these leaves would then be manipulated whenever an autumn look was needed in a scene. Pixel Magic employed a combination of precise roto and keying to isolate and color the trees individually. This digital approach allowed flexibility in the creative process to determine which trees got affected, and if those trees were in early, mid, or late autumn colors.
Continuity was a concern to the director. Trees on the family's property needed to show a progression of the autumn effect when they appeared at different points in the timeline. When Marley appeared middle-aged, the trees were just beginning to show hints of autumn colors. As Marley reached his senior years, the trees showed late autumn colors.
Evergreens mixed in on the Grogans' property needed to remain their original color. Thus trees that didn't require the autumn effect at all still required precise roto and keying to separate them from autumn-color trees. Great care had to be taken during the color shifting process so as not to induce grain crawl. These visual effects gave the director a subtle, yet effective way to visually convey an important aspect of the story to the audience.