“Nvizible had previously worked with VFX Supervisor Tim Ledbury on Fantastic Mr. Fox , Wes Anderson’s stop-motion film, and he approached us to work with him again on Frankenweenie ,” explains Hugh Macdonald who is a VFX Supervisor and the Head of Technology for the British visual effects facility. “On Fantastic Mr. Fox, we got involved right towards the end of the post production period, helping out with some of the left-over shots that needed completing. Conversely, on Frankenweenie, we were involved from a far earlier stage; this gave us the ability to take a longer view of the work and to visit the set so to have a better understanding of how it was to be shot.” Ledbury was able to visually articulate what he was looking for to Macdonald and his team. “As someone who has a background as a matte painter, Tim was able to quickly put together rough digital paintings illustrating the look and palette of a shot. We were also working on a number of sequences and looks alongside his in-house team, which gave us ideal reference to match to. There were also a number of sequences where we came up with a number of look options ourselves, and submitted these both Tim Ledbury and Tim Burton [Alice in Wonderland] to decide on the final look.”
“The period of the film where the other children’s pets are all being brought back to life was one of the major parts of the film for us,” says Macdonald. “Each pet’s resurrection had a different challenge for us, including the Sea Monkeys coming out of the swimming pool, which I’ve previously mentioned. The turtle accidentally brought back with Miracle Gro which causes it to grow to a giant size, involved combining different scales of model especially for the shot where he crushes the shed. When Weird Girl’s cat is zapped by the lightning, creating the cat/bat hybrid, our main task was to integrate the lightning effect for the sequence, plus the aftermath of the smoking bed. We had one artist who specialized in creating the lightning effect for all of the sequences that we worked on; he was able to quickly and easily add or tweak any lightning effect, giving us the flexibility to be able to quickly ramp up or down the effect to give the required result. The last of the resurrection sequences that we were involved with was when Nassor brings his hamster back from its crypt. In the shots where we reveal the newly-resurrected hamster, we added dry ice elements rolling out of the entrance, and ensured that movement of the huge shadow that the hamster cast was accurately tied in with the far smaller hamster that appeared in the entrance.”
“My goal with these sequences was to make the environments subtle, and to ensure that nothing screamed ‘visual effect,’” states Hugh Macdonald. “These sequences were all about the characters and the emotion of the scene, so our job was to ensure that the setting was seamless. In the final scene of the film, this involved dropping in a dark background and adding atmosphere to the beams from the car headlights. Nothing we did could look anything other than as if they had been able to shoot the whole scene for real, and this was forefront in my mind when we were working on it.” Having to deal with stereo images made designing the visual effects more challenging. “When a film is post-converted to 3D, it is filmed in 2D and then made 3D in post production, any visual effects shots need to go through a process that is known as ‘bag and tag’. This is when the layers that make up the shot are split out separately for the 3D conversion team; in a way that would make them easy to re-combine to form the final shot, but also allows the conversion team to add depth to each layer separately, and then recombine them to create the second eye. This process adds a certain amount of complexity at least when compared to traditional visual effects shots; if a shot is approached with this in mind, it can be composited in a way that allows for the bag and tag elements to be extracted.” Reflecting on the $39 million production, Macdonald remarks, “It was a pleasure working with Tim Burton, Allison Abbate and Tim Ledbury. Working on a film like Frankenweenie is ultimately satisfying and rewarding because of the unique style of the director. To have been involved with this film, which has been a project in Tim Burton’s imagination for 30 years, was an honour. Thanks also to our amazing team at Nvizible, including VFX Producers Gil James and Kim Phelan, CG Supervisor Martin Chamney, and all of the artists who worked on the film with us.”
Production stills © Disney. All rights reserved. Images courtesy of Disney and Nvizible.
Visit the official websites for Frankenweenie and Nvizible. To learn more make sure to read Trevor's Tim Burton filmmaker profile, Freakishly Clever.
Many thanks to Hugh Macdonald for taking the time for this interview.
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.