Search form

Cinesite Talks Invisible Magic and the Lost Boys’ Lair in ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’

VFX supervisor Damien Hurgon and his team delivered 354 shots – 80% of which were complex set extensions – on David Lowery’s reimagined J.M. Barrie classic, now streaming on Disney+.

Contrary to the typical treehouse setting so many Peter Pan adaptations have previously embraced, David Lowery’s film, Peter Pan & Wendy, now streaming on Disney+, takes a more real, almost medieval, approach to the Lost Boys’ lair.

In many stories told and retold of Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and the famous Lost Boys, Neverland is a fantastical, fairytale place, lovingly kept flourishing by Peter and the Lost Boys. Hook, as an adult, has always been an invader in this magical land and Peter has always been a harrowing warrior fighting for Neverland’s survival. Thus, typically, Peter’s secret clubhouse has usually reflected the vibrant joy and imagination of a young child’s well-decorated bedroom. 

But, in Lowery’s adaptation, much of which was filmed on the British Peninsula, Neverland appears to have been a place not too unlike our own world, with some magic, fairies, and pirates thrown in. In this Neverland, it is as though Peter and his stubborn ideals about not growing up have caused Neverland to be almost neglected, made particularly obvious through the set of the Lost Boys’ lair, which became the visual effect playground for Cinesite, the studio known for their work on Avengers: Infinity War, Spectre, Fantastic Beasts, and many others.

“This was my first project for Cinesite, and I think they chose me for this because it’s the kind of work I like to do most - set extensions,” says Damien Hurgon, who joined Cinesite as a VFX Supervisor in 2021, bringing with him over a decade of visual effects production experience, having worked for Mikros in Paris and Mr. X in Montreal. For Peter Pan & Wendy, Hurgon and his team worked on 354 VFX shots, including flying debris simulations and Peter Pan’s wildly independent shadow, which was also a first for Hurgon, who had never worked with shadow effects before. 

But the majority of the team’s work - roughly 80 percent - was set extension effects, aka Hurgon’s bread and butter, with about a dozen artists assigned to each sequence. 

“The approach of the director for the film was to have as many practical locations, and shots filmed outside, as possible,” notes Hurgon. “But this main sequence we worked on with the Lost Boys’ lair was shot inside on a stage. Even the part where Wendy and the boys first approach the lair, the crew couldn’t find a forest location they liked, so it was our job to take what they did manage to film in the forest and expand it to create the magical world you see, but with effects you don’t.”

Deep in the woods, hidden by towering trees and mossy plant life rests Peter’s secret home base, overlooked by great stone walls and a high tower. It’s an interesting collision of worlds, with so much natural, overgrown greenery encapsulating a large, expensive house ironically resembling those of London. 

“When they are at the entrance of the lair, we had to expand the forest with very tall pine trees and play with the practical lights that were playing with on set to create the same sunset glow that you see later through the lair windows,” says Hurgon. “It was a bit challenging to find the right look that felt natural and not too much like a staged shot because, technically, it wasn’t staged until they enter the lair’s entrance.”

An aged doorway, carved into the side of a sharp, shaded, rocky hill, leads down a tunnel and to an echoing chamber of archways, columns, and large, Romanesque rooms, not at all like the tight-quartered, colorful, organic tree-top shacks or connecting wooden ladders that Neverland fans have known before. 

This lair was not built by the Lost Boys and, rather than a home Peter and his found family have created and lovingly nested in themselves, this place boasts of having a lost history, a forgotten past. There’s a worn-down piano on the far side of the room, an easel next to a giant fireplace, old comic books, and dirty toys left to decompose and be used for fire kindling.

They are all-too-real footprints of a real home disguised to be an escape from reality and law, but with anything resembling joy and love discarded. It’s a home that was purposefully constructed, left to rot, then repurposed by a group of children who have no recollection as to what a home should look like, because they have forgotten their own.  

But the loneliness and isolation of the lair is felt most prominently by the winding stone staircase, covered in shadow, and that, like everything else in the mansion-made-lair, is impossibly large and appears to go on forever. The staircase goes all the way up the property’s main tower and into a dark, empty room with a window built into the side roof, which overlooks all of Neverland, an extension also made by Hurgon and his crew. 

Despite its saddening symbolism, this staircase, Hurgon says, was his biggest challenge and biggest pleasure to create.

“The crew had built the foot of the stairs and the top of the stairs, but we had to build everything in between,” explains Hurgon. “In the end, the extension we built was about 15 meters, roughly 50 feet. The stairs would also be seen from every angle in this part of the story–from above, from below, underneath, all that–and every detail had to look right.”

While the work, done properly, is undetectable, creating set extensions is one of the most tedious jobs in VFX. An extension could take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months to complete. The process begins with gathering photo and filmed reference visuals from live camera shots, then creating 3D scans of the set or stage from bottom to top. “In the case of the stairs, we had to figure out a logical architectural design that connects both the ground floor and tower in a way that makes sense. When the camera rises, we don’t want to lose the audience because the extension isn’t believable.”

From there, they build some 2D concepts with drawings and sketches to find the right number of elements and brightness and mood in each extension. Once the team settles on a look, they build the model and then start to work on the details and textures, always going back to the original film reference content to make sure the scene is consistent.

“We also do some camera tracking where we mark places we need to take over the camera view in CG and effects because of the limits with the real camera,” notes Hurgon. “We weren’t in-person on the sets this time, but we have been in the past. It's always better when we can be involved on set because we get to meet the director and production designer and get a better sense of what their goals are. That’s why, for this production, we asked for as many references as possible.”

In the case of the ground-floor lair windows and background extensions, Hurgon notes he and the artists used 2D extensions with digital matte paintings while using a 3D/CG build in the case of the stairs. 

In total, Cinesite’s work on Peter Pan & Wendy took about a year to complete. Months of modeling, texturing shading, and none of it can be seen. Most of Cinesite’s work on the film won’t be noticed by viewers, and though one may guess that would be a frustration, to Hurgon, it’s a sign he’s done his job well. 

“It’s actually one of the greatest compliments we can get, when people say they don’t notice,” says Hurgon. “It’s the challenge we’re attracted to, the challenge of making something look real and natural when it’s anything but.”

Victoria Davis's picture

Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at