In the final installment of VFXWorlds exclusive production diaries, Jim Berney of Sony Pictures Imageworks chronicles the creation of more mythical CG characters, the Bombing of London and other environmental effects for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Includes a QuickTime clip!
This is the fourth of four installments in VFXWorlds The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe production diaries.
We were awarded the show on a Friday, and on Monday, when I arrived in New Zealand, at the start of the second week of principal photography, I first met with Dean Wright to discuss how we were going to create the goat legs for Mr. Tumnus. We were actually working with Giant Studios, a New Zealand effects company, to collaborate with them on a combination of motion capture and animation. We did a test with James McEvoy, the actor playing Tumnus, who wore green pants with target dots on them during filming, and we found that if he could walk on tiptoes during filming, and still say his lines, that it made his body appear more believable as a faun. The first scene we shot with him was the first day of snow work at the main Narnia forest set at Kelly Park, where Lucy comes through the wardrobe for the first time. Giant had their motion capture cameras set up on that set, and basically the way it worked was wed get the plate from editorial, wed do the matchmove of the camera movement, and then wed give the digital camera plate to Giant and theyd do the motion capture integration of the legs to the body. For the leg animation, it was about 90% of the way there, and then wed do foot interaction, and all the hair, muscle and fur details, to really complete the shot. We were able to use a lot of James footprints from the shot to help line up the animated hooves in the final composited shot.
David A. Smith, digital supervisor, said, I actually thought Tumnus worked better than I expected. Its hard to put goat legs on a man; theyve got to fit the photography that was shot. When Andrew first saw a few shots put together, he said it was amazing how quickly you dismiss the fact that its a human, you just see his legs and its all part of his character right here. Having seen the development, I didnt have that same jump to the final product, but if I step back for a minute, you go, wow, that is good.
Maugrim, Vardin and the Wolves
We had live-action wolves to match in our effects shots for certain kinds of action and when the wolves have dialogue. They had cast Maugrim and Vardin with dogs that were half-wolf, and there were some random wolves that would run around with them, that had to move and be militaristic. We filmed as many shots as possible with the real dogs, but pretty much every plate we shot with a real dog had to be covered as a visual effects shot after the fact. Wed work with the second unit director for five hours to try to get a shot of the wolves searching the beaver hut for the kids. But in reality, you get half a beaver hut set, hide meat everywhere, let the dogs go and all you see are a bunch of dog butts pointing at the camera. The dogs are happy, their tails wagging, tongues hanging out. Theyre not thinking about the drama, theyre not wondering where are those kids? So, we had to replace their wagging tails in a bunch of shots to make them look more menacing. What helped was that we had to make our CG wolves look exactly like these two wolves, which is hard and scary, but at least you have a clear direction and know where to go. The two main wolves were different breeds. Maugrim had a big head with weird spiky fur. Vardins kind of a Malamute, black-and-white. For the other wolves, wed kind of blend the two six different ways so wed have variations on their look and color. Once we really got into editing, and Andrew saw the live action and CG wolves cut back to back, like, literally, heres their wolf and heres our CG shot of the same wolf, it was nice to see that it looked just like the real wolf. I have so much faith in these guys at Imageworks, I was confident that we could get it done in time.
The Fox went pretty quickly. He had a very realistic look, and we did a couple of turntables for the director, going redder or bluer, until he looked just like the fox in our reference photos. Put Rupert Everetts voice in there, and he looks cool.
We also did a shot where the White Witch turns the Fox to stone. She points her wand at him, he reels back and the fur actually turns to stone. It was an engineering feat right there, just to do fur turning to stone in a one-off shot. The way that shot worked was we did one pass with the standard fox with regular hair, and we added wind movement when he froze. Then there was a second phase, in which his fur looked more clumped together, and then the final version when hes fully made of stone. Those were two passes and we did a wipe between them. Also, when the wand touches him and actually goes inside the fox, we created a matte to dissolve between the two passes and we created an electrical effect of the wand touching him. We also built in the transition from fur to stone, which started at the skin and quickly spread from the root of his fur to the tip, working its way along the body. Those were different layers that were basically rendered together. Smith adds, That shot took two weeks, which is pretty fast. We put together a whole team of people: an effects guy, a lighting guy, a compositing guy and a fur guy, all working simultaneously.
The Bombing of London Sequence
This sequence, which opens the film in the skies over London, had full CG clouds, spotlights, flash explosions, planes, bombs, buildings and fire. The scene had shots, which pulled out of the greenscreen cockpit footage, and we did the sky with all the bombing effects. They originally shot scenes with the mother and kids in the backyard bomb shelter, and we created pretty much everything else in the sequence.
The White Witchs Castle
The Witchs Castle actually consisted of several parts: the castle exterior, the courtyard area with the stone statues and then when Edmund first goes inside, theres a foyer and then the Throne Room. There were clay models of the exterior that we saw but they werent really what Andrew wanted. He wanted it the outside of the castle to be opaque glacial ice, that has the fresnel effect of subsurface scatter, whereas the Throne Room inside was more reflective and refractive. That was hard to achieve. For the exterior, we started with their design and went through different modeling iterations. Andrew wanted a lot of stalactite/stalagmite looking structures, so we explored that in four distinct shots until we found something he liked. The thing that had the least design was the throne room. On the set it was just the throne, some columns and the floor and was surrounded by greenscreen, and Andrew really wanted us to design the look of the whole room. We had to match the existing set but he wanted most of it to look like reflective, refractive organic ice.
Most of the environmental effects had to do with snow. On the set, the filmmakers shot with a minimal amount of snow falling just on the main characters and then our visual effects enhanced the falling snow, in front of and behind the kids and the beavers or other characters. One thing wed have to add was the history of footprints next to the kids since the beavers or other digital characters werent leaving footprints. For shots of snow falling on fur, we borrowed what wed done for our first animated feature Open Season, where wed figured out how to have snow move with fur within a shot. It was basically being rendered as a separate pass as snow that would interact with fur. You dont want to do collision detection on thousands of particles because its too complicated, so wed just focus on a few snowflakes that would be in the comp. The two main elements were the main snow and then snow that landed on the characters would be added in the final comp. Also, in the Witchs Castle Throne Room, there was practical fog that we had to match and fog that would interact with the wolves as they walked through it.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was incredibly tough. At the same time, this type of project is actually why Im in this business. It was too challenging at times, but it kept everyone interested because there was always something hard and different to do. As hard as it was to pull off the effects that we did, what made it all worthwhile was watching the face of a boy sitting next to me at the London premiere last week. My wife and I were watching him during a scene with the beavers, and he was awestruck, his mouth was actually hanging open, he loved those characters so much. I havent seen the film with my own kids yet, but I cant wait to show them.
Since joining Sony Pictures Imageworks in 1996, Jim Berney has served as visual effects and CG supervisor on a number of notable projects, including The Polar Express: An IMAX 3-D Experience, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone, Hollow Man and Stuart Little.