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Dusting Off the 'Tooth Fairy'

Find out how CIS Vancouver and Prime Focus tackled angel wings and dust in Tooth Fairy.

Check out the trailer and clips from Tooth Fairy at AWNtv!

In addition to shrinkage, CIS Vancouver paid particular attention to the right texture and deformations in the CG bedspread. All images © 2010 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. and Walden Media, LLC.

Turning Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson into a lovable angel was quite a fun change of pace for CIS Vancouver, the lead vendor on Fox's Tooth Fairy. As Randy Goux, CIS Vancouver's visual effects effects supervisor, suggests, "Usually, in our careers, we're either blowing something up or flying through space."

CIS Vancouver worked on a total of 130 shots (mostly 2D), centered particularly around Johnson's first assignment as a minor league hockey player on angel probation for trying to convince his girlfriend's daughter that there is no tooth fairy.

"It contains lots of pretty intense and very detailed greenscreen work," explains Randy Goux, visual effects supervisor at CIS Vancouver. "His first assignment was our main sequence. He starts off shrinking on the front deck and goes to put the money under the pillow, and we spend a long time making sure that was a little something extra and not just your standard greenscreen work.

Prime Focus integrated fairy wings to match the practical wings and helped the wings fly and unfold.

"Under Jake Morrison's guidance [the production visual effects supervisor], and he's a pretty detailed guy, he really pushed us -- and we pushed ourselves -- on the illusion of him being so small. Lots of depth of field details, and really making sure that the in-comp sculpting and lighting to make sure that he was really [performing] to scale, and generating the right shadows and reflections on the ground. It was a pretty sequence to do, especially since you're turning The Rock into [such a softie]. And this was a chance to think about [vfx] differently and really focusing on making these real gentle moments look real."

Even such details as Johnson walking on the bedspread were made more believable in CG. "It wasn't enough to leave him walking along this spread fabric and blending in," Goux continues. "We rebuilt the bedspread in 3D and made sure we did all the right deformations and making sure the texture looked to scale and all that stuff. We used Maya for any 3D and used Shake for all of our compositing. We did some particle work where he's invisible and skating on the ice before he starts to take the guys out. The only other real 3D that we did was the goofy moment when he takes the bad fairy drugs and his head blows up like a light bulb and squashes down. We had his performance on a greenscreen and built a 3D version of his head and reprojected the greenscreen performance onto a 3D head and did the full deformations of the jiggled deformers and seemed to get all that comedic who-haw. "

CIS Vancouver also did a wing shot in which Julie Andrews (who else?) first floats in as the Fairy Queen. "They had shot it with some prosthetic wings on and, of course, they bounced around, and once you have Julie Andrews in an angelic moment, it looks kind of wonky -- you have to fix it," Goux adds. "It's in some sort of British law. So we took her wings off and put in CG wings and added fur to the edges and made them gracefully come in and God rays behind her, and it was a nice little shot to work on."

Amnesia Dust, like the other varieties, moved differently, had different color schemes, different movements and designs and different levels of sparkle.

Meanwhile, Prime Focus delivered 90+ shots, working out of its Vancouver studio with a couple of Winnipeg artists chipping in. Prime Focus did the bulk of the 3D, including fairy wing replacements, digital wings, all the fairy dust effects, which included a variety of fairy dust, and the dust vortices.

Prime Focus also did the digital double shot along with some digital matte painting shots. Most of the work was built around dust effects, simulated using proprietary Prime Focus particle renderer Krakatoa, and lots of simulation. This involved integrating fairy wings to match the practical wings and helping the wings fly and unfold.

"One of the interesting challenges for us on Tooth Fairy was creating the fairy dust effect," explains Chris Harvey, Prime Focus, visual effects supervisor. "The director [Michael Lembeck] was looking for something beautiful and physical yet magical, and it was in finding that balance where the challenge lied. We experimented with hundreds of simulations, varying colors, quantities of sparkle vs. powder and gravity. And, of course, there was the somewhat humorous yet very real concern that we didn't want to end up creating something that would spawn playground injuries caused from kids throwing things in each others' faces! Seriously, though, it was a great project and the whole team had a lot of fun working on it!"

According to Harvey, Prime Focus had hundreds of look-dev sims, throwing dust in people's faces and trying to emulate that and making it look magical. "The filmmakers filmed practical wings in shots where Dwayne Johnson would have practical wings on, and then it would be digital," Harvey continues. "There was a lot of cutting back and forth. Half the shots were digital wings because the wings would pop out or Dwayne would be skating around with them. And the other half of the scenes, the wings would have to fly.

The vortex involved special art-directed particle simulation using Krakatoa.

"As far as the dust elements, they all had the same look and feel, but there were few different types of dusts: Amnesia Dust, which makes people forget things, and the Fairy Queen had different dust, and then there was [Johnson's] magic fairy dust. They would move differently, different color schemes, different movements and designs, different level of sparkle vs. powder, how much weight they would have vs. their own magic movement.

"We were given 10 different plates of him in various stages of wardrobe and then we lined those plates up and warped them together and used them to generate particles to stream off of, or stream onto, to generate the costume. His clothes and costumes would dissolve on and off.

"We also did a giant fairy vortex -- that was the portal between our land and the fairy world. We had to create a huge dust vortex. It was big, on a scale of a hockey arena, we opened up the roof and the [Johnson] character disappeared into it. We did lots of concept art and lots of sims. The job was primarily a lot of art directing simulation, which is something we do very well and we have a history of this, going all the way back to creating the kryptonite in Superman Returns, using Krakatoa."

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.

Bill Desowitz's picture

Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.