Method Studios Talks VFX and Magical Creatures in ‘Crimes of Grindelwald’

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Jan 03, 2019

Posted by: Dawn Johnson | Comments

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Bringing the magic of the wizarding world to life on screen in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald was no small feat, and the stunning visual effects which combined to create period backdrops and magical creatures took more than one studio to accomplish under the direction of VFX supervisors Christian Manz and Tim Burke.

As recently reported by Leaky, a team from Rodeo RX, led by Arnaud Brisebois, focused primarily on the challenge of depicting the streets and rooftops of Paris, the previously-unseen French Ministry of Magic and the Hidden Place, home to the Circus Arcanus. Now Nordin Rahhali, VFX supervisor for Method Studios, is discussing his team’s contribution to the film with Art of VFX.

Rahhali confirmed that Method Studios was responsible for the creation of 12 new magical creatures, including the Kelpie, Augurey, Leucrocotta and baby Nifflers, as well as the Kelpie’s incredible underwater sanctuary. In fact, the Kelpie sequence turned out to be the most complicated since it was backed almost exclusively by green screen.

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For starters, the team needed reference of Eddie Redmayne moving in an actual body of water in order to carry out the animation properly. Rahhali explained:

“On set, Animation Supervisor Stephen Clee managed a team of up to five puppeteers moving in sync as one stand-in to give Eddie a physical reference. Some of the action was filmed dry-for-wet, and other portions were shot with him submerged with a respirator in a 20-foot deep tank. The underwater footage provided our artists with a real-world starting point for Newt’s wet hair and clothes, air bubbles, and buoyant physical movements; it was such a huge help to actually have him in the water.”

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They also knew Redmayne would be interacting closely with the Kelpie, and this affected how they approached the design process. Rahhali elaborated:

“The Kelpie in the film isn’t super different from the rough concept given to us from production. We redesigned the face though because as we started to make the Kelpie into a 3D model, some of the facial movements didn’t quite look right. We have a really amazing character artist and sculptor in house who started pulling out new ideas and we came up with a few iterations to show the client. We definitely took into account the fact that Eddie would be interacting with the Kelpie when we were designing him. Method’s Animation Supervisor, Stephen Clee, who also worked on OKJA, is an expert at achieving natural tactile interactions between human actors and photoreal CG characters so his insight was invaluable.”

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Fans who have seen the film know that interaction was not limited to swimming alongside the water horse. Redmayne actually latches on to the Kelpie and rides him through the water in a scene that culminates in a climactic jump from the magical lake. The team achieved this through a complicated combination of onset prop work for reference followed by the overlay of CGI. Rahhali commented:

“For shots of Eddie riding the Kelpie, he was filmed riding this big buck puppet with reins, so we were somewhat tied to his animation and the puppet’s animation – where he was putting his hands and how he was interacting with the puppet. We needed our CG model to be flexible so it could be true to what Eddie was doing with the puppet. Sometimes we’d thin out or increase the amount of kelp to help blend the live action and CG elements. The two reins were basically rotomated to where Eddie’s hands were to make sure they were connecting properly. The CG Kelpie wasn’t an exactly replacement for the physical buck but rather a balancing act between animation and roto to make sure performance feels authentic…

“The puppeteering is never going to be the full guide for the animation because a lot of time animation evolves as you get into the shot. What we really focused on was trying to get weight and connection, and something that feels real, knowing that animation would have to loosely follow what was captured. We focused on really nailing where head was and kept that area as locked on as possible, then once we moved up and to the back of the head, we had more freedom because the loose kelp is more forgiving.”

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As for that beautiful shot of Newt Scamander breaching the surface of the water atop the Kelpie, Rahhali noted that the sequence was one of the most complex, saying:

“We broke it down into parts. There was the Kelpie breaching the surface, for which we referenced whales and Orcas. There was the crash back underwater where again we referenced underwater footage of divers; you see how many small bubbles get produced from a crash into the water, so we replicated that. Then once Newt resurfaces and is in control of the Kelpie, the great challenge was to make a full green screen set look photographic, with Eddie Redmayne riding a puppeteered green screen Kelpie. We needed to make a convincing water simulation around him, with appropriate splashes and interactions. We did this through extreme high resolution flip simulations in Houdini. These were the most challenging shots we had on the film from a technical perspective.”

At the end of 14 months of work on Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Method Studios’ team of 143 design artists contributed 111 VFX shots to the film–that’s a massive amount of work, but well worth the effort given the magical results!

Read more about Method Studios’ work on the film, including more on the baby Nifflers and other beasts and the creation of the underwater environment, in the full Art of VFX interview here.

 





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