Following Deathly Hallows Part 2′s Visual Effects win at the Baftas and ahead of the Oscars (where Harry Potter is in nominated in the same category), VFX supervisor Tim Burke has been doing a few interviews, including one very lengthy one with Studio Daily.
Tim talks about the differences between the effects on DH2 compared with the previous films, discusses working with several small VFX companies in London for different aspects of the film, gives some insight into the creation of a digital Hogwarts as opposed to using miniatures, talks a bit about 3D, the Gringotts ‘roller coaster’ and the CG giants and spiders and the dragon, mentions last-minute changes to the death of Voldemort and also describes his favourite shots from the last film.
Read several excerpts of that interview below or check out the whole thing here.
In what way did this film have the best effects of the series?
It was more of a spectacle. It was the final chapter of the saga, the death of Voldemort, the battles. We’d never been able to create sequences on that scale before. Before, the films had been fairly contained. This gave us an epic sense of the world around Hogwarts rather than inside Hogwarts.
Do you think people have discounted the “magic” effects through the years?
I think so, sometimes. Also, some people think we were doing the same thing over and over again. Talking paintings. Wand effects. So, I think perhaps there was a sense with some people that we were doing the same thing every time. Hopefully, the last film showed a bigger world no one had seen before, and brought so many CG characters and creatures into the storytelling. The visual effects were more obvious without being live action with magical effects on top.
Did it help to work with the same studios you had worked with before?
Having the luxury of working on several films together in the same series does help. You build up relationships, learn the strengths and weaknesses of different studios. These were mostly Soho-based shows. We were able to use the best visual effects supervisors and artists at the key vendors and build a team to deliver the caliber of work everyone expected.
Why was Hogwarts always a digital set this time?
It was a big change, a big decision that we made before starting the film. We were still working on the sixth film [Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince] and in discussions with the director and producers. All we had was the book. No script. We realized how much a part of the film and the story the school had become. David [Yates] wanted the freedom to fly the camera outside the school, inside the windows, explore the school as part of the developing battle.
Having worked with miniatures in the past, one big 24th-scale and bespoke models at different scales for key areas, we knew it would be a daunting task to build all those miniatures and nest them into wider shots. Double Negative had technology that we had used successfully on Half-Blood Prince to rebuild the whole of London. It was time to throw away the model.
We could previs, design the resolution we need to build, then plot and plan the school build at different resolutions to do everything David [Yates] wanted. He could move the camera from the mountain into the window to a camera move on a stage set. We had all that architecture.
Did you know you’d be designing shots at the last minute?
There were certain areas of the film unresolved and because of the virtual environments, [David Yates] realized we could recreate shots quickly. The key thing that changed was the death of Voldemort. That happened after we had locked cuts. We had done some screenings and realized we needed a more epic ending. So we redesigned the sequence and thankfully with the digital assets we could recreate the environment. We projected some elements of Ralph Fiennes onto geometry of him and added those to the shots, and for a couple shots had to use a full CG Voldemort. It happened way past the 11th hour. The shoot had finished 12 months earlier, so it was long past the point of pick-up shots. We had to take materials from other shots and recreate him.
Did you design the “roller coaster” sequence through the Gringotts bank with stereo 3D in mind?
When we shot the film, we didn’t yet have the decision about stereo. We were shooting sequences and didn’t know it would be post-converted. But we designed that sequence in previs to be as much of a roller coaster ride as we could. When we knew the film would be in stereo, we knew certain shots could be delivered by visual effects, and that was one. We had shot the actors on a motion-based gimbal. We extracted those elements and re-projected them onto geometry. The environment was all 3D so we could re-design the shots to push the stereo roller-coaster ride experience and make the audience become a participant in the ride. That was great fun. We did several other sequences where we took over, about 200 shots, and rather than having a post conversion, delivered full 3D shots.
Which shots in the film are your favorites?
Funnily enough, I think the sequence of the shield forming and the destruction of the shield. Even though they weren’t perhaps the most complicated, they were some of the most beautiful. As Voldemort arrived with his army on the hillside, the teachers went into the areas of the courtyard and created a magical shield that enveloped and protected the school. We art-directed the shots at Double Negative and they are elegant.
It took a long time to create the magical shield. Then Voldemort bombarded the school and destroyed the shield. We wanted to give that an epic scale. We referenced the Hindenburg airship disaster, when it went up in flames, to get the scale of the flames and burning materials. That was the reference for pieces of cloth-like fire that dropped down onto the school. It was magical – not in a Harry Potter sense. It was beautiful and shocking at the same time. Those shots were completely CG and had a big design aspect, which is rewarding.
Of course, all the fighting action sequences were great fun. Getting the giants to work by using live-action actors and changing their faces with CG helped us not to have to create full CG characters. We used scaling and oversized people. MPC changed their faces so they didn’t look human.
And I’m not forgetting the dragon that D-Neg created. We had to emphasize and feel sorry for this 60-foot dragon through pure performance. We found reference from badly treated real animals and translated that body language into our character. He was trapped. Unable to fly. Partially blind. And he had been down there his whole life. It was important to emphasize that so you wanted him to escape and when he did, he flew with majesty and pride. That was a lovely story to roll into the character of the dragon.
Did you have other CG characters in the film?
We had the dementors again – Rising Sun did those. Framestore did the giant spiders. That has a sweet backstory. Andy Kind, the supervisor who did the spiders, was the one at Mill Film who had worked with me on the spiders on the second film nine years back. Mill Film closed down, so those spiders no longer existed. He rebuilt them by referencing footage from that film.
How does it feel to be away from the world of Harry Potter now?
It’s really difficult trying to give you sensible information. It feels like a long time ago. It was quite an interesting challenge to come back into the real world. So it’s nice having these awards ceremonies. It brings it back. It was such a great experience, and we were so sad when it was finished. This is a nice timely reminder of what we were involved in.
Thanks to Magical-Menagerie.com for the tip on this.