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The Effects
With the characters in the hands of legendary and rising comic stars and the museum's elaborate sets being erected by dedicated craftsmen, there still remained that last bit of magic that would actually allow the Natural History Museum to take on life – in this case, not an ancient Egyptian spell but digital wizardry in the form of cutting-edge visual effects.

At first, Shawn Levy was nervous about the film's intensive use of CG – especially because he'd never headed a production as digitally driven as this one. But he was heartened by the tremendous and highly experienced support he had behind him. "I got a lot of advice early on from Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, my fellow producers, who, of course, had worked on the Harry Potter franchise,” explains Levy. "They said not to worry about all the high-tech lingo. Rather, they said, the important part was to really know exactly how you want stuff to look in your head … and then let your team help with the how-to. So I took that to heart and spent a lot of time storyboarding because I felt that if I could clearly show my team what I wanted on the screen, they could figure out how to get it there!”

Levy also brought a fresh perspective to the effects, infusing them with comical improvisation. "Usually, people preParé for effects shots well in advance, but we did it in a completely unconventional way,” he explains. "Let's say Ben was supposed to get hit by Tyrannosaurus Rex's tail and go sliding across the floor in a scene – but on the day he did the scene, he decided instead ‘wouldn't it be funny if instead I did a double back flip and landed on the staircase' – well, you want the best idea to win. So as a result, we were constantly changing things and the visual effects team had to roll with that. They said it was by far the most improvisational effects movie they'd ever experienced. And I think that's because Ben Stiller and I don't really do effects movies. Everything we do is in the quest of the best joke or the best moment. To their credit, the whole team rallied behind that edict.”

To bring movement and life to the museum's creatures and statues, Levy relied on the VFX Supervisor Jim Rygiel, (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and one of Hollywood's leading visual effects houses, Rhythm & Hues – which is renowned for its exceptional work in creating photo-realistic animals as seen recently in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

Right off the bat, the challenges were literally big and muscular as Rhythm & Hues set about creating the lion that leaps out of the African Mammals hall and chases Larry Daley. "The jeopardy for Larry in these scenes hinges on the fact that the CG lion has to be a completely photo real animal,” says Dan Deleeuw, VFX Supervisor for Rhythm & Hues. "But working with realistic animals in CG is difficult because you don't have the kind of fantasy environment that will let you get away with certain tricks. We used very original and careful staging in this sequence so that it really looks like the lion's claws miss Larry by mere inches.”

Another big challenge for the VFX team came in working with the truly tiny – making diorama armies of just a few inches high look like photo-real Mayans, Romans and American Cowboys battling one another. "For the diorama armies, we created 89 base models which then became the basis for several hundred variations that were created in the computer,” Rygiel explains. "We used real actors, shot them in various action sequences, and then duplicated them in their exact actuality so that now, when you see the cowboys fighting the Romans across a whole diorama floor, there will be several hundred variants with individual characteristics.”

The dioramas sequences also presented potential problems of scale. "If you're photographing something in the d

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