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THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES

Visual Effects Experts
With so many unusual and complicated non-human characters in "The Spiderwick Chronicles,” the film's producers knew the job of creating them might be best split between two visual effects wizards. And what better wizards than Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and Tippett Studio?

"We wanted to engage them both, but we wanted to figure out who was best suited at doing what,” explains co-producer Tom Peitzman. Tippett Studio, best known for its work on films such as "Jurassic Park” and "Robocop,” handled creation of the army of creepy goblins, led by Redcap, the slovenly hobgoblin Hogsqueal, and the menacing mole troll. ILM produced the characters of Thimbletack (both as a brownie and a boggart), Mulgarath (in his many forms), the sprites and sylphs. Between them, the two studios created some 600 visual effects shots.

Academy Award® winner Phil Tippett served as the film's creature supervisor. "My job was to wrangle all of the characters across both facilities, to make sure that all of the characters would maintain some kind of continuity within this world,” he explains.

The designs for the characters began with Tony DiTerlizzi's drawings, as featured in his original Field Guide in the Spiderwick Chronicles books. "It was a really nice canvass for (Tippett Studio founder) Phil Tippett, (ILM visual effects supervisor) Pablo Helman and our production designer, Jim Bissell, to start with,” notes Peitzman.

The team's main goal was to bring DiTerlizzi's two-dimensional characters into three-dimensional reality. "It's a matter of taking the drawings, which are the product of Arthur Spiderwick's observations in the field, and creating what he actually physically saw, to biologize the sketches and turn them into actual creatures,” says Tippett.

"The intent of the original book was a marriage of nature and art – part plant and part human,” explains Helman, giving the characters, particularly those who disguise themselves in the Unseen World, an organic base from which to come to life. "For others,” says Tippett, "studies of animals, such as rodents and birds, were made, anthropomorphisms of which gave some of the creatures their base” (such as the rodent-like Thimbletack).

Characters were developed in 3D using both traditional clay "maquettes,” small detailed models commonly used in the visual effects industry, and computer programs. ILM employed its Rapid Prototyping system to not only build low resolution computer-generated (CG) models of its characters for study, but to apply some basic movement, sometimes putting a staffer in a "motion capture” suit to begin assigning some early moves. "The director can actually see the character moving and can begin making decisions about physical proportions and movement early on,” explains ILM visual effects supervisor Tim Alexander.

During the actual animation, it was imperative for the animators to make use of reference video shot during the recording sessions by the actors, to try to include as much of their characterizations in the creatures' personalities as possible. "If you don't,” says Helman, "something doesn't quite look right, because the soul of the character is missing.”

"That kind of thing is extremely helpful,” explains Alexander. "We can add in twitches and other body language that we saw when he was making the recording, and we can put all that expression into the character. The Martin Short reference was extremely helpful for Thimbletack's lip sync, for example.”

Seeing Nick Nolte's performance of Mulgarath was crucial for the animators to be able to inject the "cursed being” facet of his character. "ILM animation supervisor Tim Harrington and I were both at his recording sessions, and what Nick did was just an amazing tour de force,” Tippett recalls. "He was up there for 2 ½ hours doing Mulgarath,<

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