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Shrinking the Talent
VFX and SFX of the Dwarves

Sanders considers himself to be a practical director who isn't interested in visual effects for the sake of them. He'd rather use VFX to enhance what has already been captured manually on camera. During the shoot, an astonishing 90 percent of footage was taken on physical sets or on location with limited green screen. However, one of the biggest challenges for Sanders and director of photography Greig Fraser was shooting the dwarves on camera, but having them appear smaller alongside the other cast members.

Several different techniques were used to produce the specific looks for these characters on screen. One potential solution came from one of the production's VFX supervisors (and additional 2nd unit director), CEDRIC NICOLAS-TROYAN, a longtime collaborator of Sanders'. "An effects supervisor tries to find the technical solution to a creative problem," explains Nicolas-Troyan. "I had to come up with ideas of how to show well-known actors as characters half of their normal size."

Nicolas-Troyan wowed the director, the producers and the studio with a test reel of a concept he had designed to "shorten" the legs of the cast. Though this would make the actors appear smaller on screen, using it for all the shots needed would blow the budget and time frameā€¦and make it improbable to hit the film's release date. "We couldn't use visual effects every time we see a dwarf, or we'd be dead in the water and never make our days," says Nicolas-Troyan.

The VFX supervisor had long ago learned that there's more than one way to get the job done. He reflects: "We used some very old-school techniques, like rostrums [platforms], which help fill the gaps in the viewer's mind. In some scenes, we would shoot the actor and shrink his legs, and in others, we used a face replacement."

Visual effects producer LYNDA THOMPSON adds: "It's also about the framing of the shot: If you don't see the actors' feet, they appear to be walking on ground level. Principal actors for dwarves are walking about two feet below them, so the framing of the shot makes them appear shorter. This really helped to solve being able to crack on with the shoot in camera."

On wider shots, shorter doubles for the actors were dressed and made up to look like the principal characters, which is another great way of saving time and allowing the director and cinematographer to shoot physically. Thompson says: "However, there are some scenes where we have the doubles or stunt doubles close up and you can tell it's not a principal actor, so those were our true print face replacements."

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