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Terabithia Comes Alive
There was only ever one top choice for who could handle BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA's visual effects with just the right mix of magic: Weta Digital, the visionary Academy Award®- winning wizards who transformed the whole of Middle Earth into something palpably and unforgettably real for awed film audiences in "The Lord of the Rings.” Based in Wellington, New Zealand, Weta Digital is an artist-led facility that specializes in creating creatures— taking projects from conceptual design all the way through to state-of-the-art 3-D animation.

"Why go anywhere else?” asks producer Lauren Levine. "Weta is the best digital house in the entire world, and if you have a chance to work with the very best, you take it! Watching Weta turn the pictures of our Terabithian creatures into three-dimensional living and breathing beings was an unbelievable treat. They're miracle workers, alchemists and geniuses.”

For Csupo, who is used to working in the entirely unreal realm of animation, seeing what Weta could create was awe-inspiring. "You look at these creatures, and you know they don't exist, and yet it's like, wow, are you sure they aren't really alive? It's really kind of spooky what they do,” he admits.

Richard Taylor, a director of Weta, saw BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA as a perfect match for Weta Digital's specialized art form—and a distinct challenge. "It was a very exciting project for us,” he says, "because it was a chance to make real a world that is very intangible. It's not like ‘Lord of the Rings,' where you can lock it all down to certain descriptions and cultural influences. These creatures in Terabithia are completely from inside the minds of children.

They're make-believe in the best sense, which actually makes it harder to find visual solutions.” Taylor continues: "I devoured the script and I loved the subtle interplay between the real world and the fantasy world. It's an incredibly heartfelt and touching story that reminds me of all the books and films I love the most. This kind of story that celebrates that spirit of creativity comes along so rarely.”

Once Weta came on board, another creative duo began to add their efforts to the mix: Weta's visual-effects supervisor, Matt Aitken (who has worked on such films as "X-Men” and "Lord of the Rings”), and the film's New Zealand-based production designer, Robert Gillies. The two worked very closely with one another to assure that every aspect of the film's design— both the real and the fantastical—would be woven together as a piece.

"The collaboration between us added to the quality of the design,” notes Aitken. Adds Gillies: "Our creative process was a bit like a ball game—one of us would take the ball and run with it and then kick it off to the other person.”

Aitken's work began by taking Dima Malenitchev's drawings and turning them into moving, leaping, stunning 3-D images. "The illustrations are incredibly evocative, but they're still in two dimensions. It's not the same as, say, taking a photograph of a Squogre or a Hairy Vulture, which is what we really needed to do,” Aitken explains. "So the first thing we did is explore what these creatures would really be like in three dimensions through a lot of experimentation. Then we start making computer models, adding in the skin, the hair, the fur, the feathers and other fine details.”

He continues: "We go through a lot of iterations for each character, figuring out each and every nuance of the facial expressions and how their hair and skin moves. And we do this for a long time before we even start putting the characters into the film's shots.”

Adding more complexity to the creatures is the fact that many are hybrids—mergers that mix imaginary beasts and monsters with qualities of real-life humans back in the real world. To create this effect, the Weta team referenced photographs of


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