Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is recent movie from Warner Bros. Pictures. Double Negative, Framestore, Image Engine Design & Rodeo FX worked on Visual Effects.
Framestore delivered 490 shots of VFX and animation across their sites in London and Montréal. The studio was creatively involved from the outset, with Framestore Creative Director, Christian Manz, joining Tim Burke as the film’s Joint Overall VFX Supervisors. Framestore worked on huge London and Paris environment builds, the French ‘Ministere des Affaires Magiques’ as well as 15 separate beasts; including the standout ‘Zouwu’ as well as old friends the Niffler and Pickett.
Animation Supervisor Nathan McConnel joined from pre-production, overseeing a small team of animators on-site at Leavesden Studios to develop the film’s creatures through pre-vis and post-vis animation vignettes; playing a key role in shaping the creatures’ personalities and performances. As with the first film, the team worked from concepts developed by Framestore’s Art Department amongst others, animating over 100 beasts to showcase personality and behaviour variations. This gave Director David Yates the ability to visualise the beasts and work out how they would fit into the scenes.
Among those to find their way into Newt’s menagerie is standout beast the ‘Zouwu’ – feline-like, elephant-sized, with a scraggly lion’s mane, long sharp claws, and a disproportionately long, ruffled tail. ‘Our remit for this film was to create even more spectacular and nuanced, visually-striking creatures’, says McConnel, ‘this was embodied by the Zouwu.’ The team referenced lizards for her body movement, in direct contrast to the cat-like facial performance. They also took reference for her head and tail movements from Chinese Dragon parade performances.
The Crimes of Grindelwald also challenged the team with several show-stopping environment builds. The team recreated the Great Hall faithfully using references of the set used in the Harry Potter films, preserved for the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Leavesden. We meet a young Professor Dumbledore (Jude Law) who conducts a conversation with Newt in a series of apparations around different iconic London locations, including the roof of St Paul’s cathedral, Trafalgar Square and Lambeth Bridge. The team painstakingly rebuilt these period locations in CG, adding dirt and soot to the buildings to age them. In the scene, Dumbledore has conjured a fog, quite the compositing and lighting challenge. ‘When dealing with fog it’s hard to get that feeling of space and density, ‘ says Kind, ‘as well as the cinematic quality to the light filtering through.’
The story moves to Paris, France. Plates were captured in the city, overseen by Framestore VFX Supervisor Rob Duncan, who was 2nd Unit Supervisor on the film. The team still had to extend the city within a complex CG build. Says VFX Supervisor Nicolas Chevallier: ‘It was a huge challenge, especially since we had shots in both daylight and in the night. We used Stuart Craig’s production design, original drawings of the city, references of the period architecture and LIDAR scans of Paris itself to make sure that we captured a close match.’
Framestore was delighted to bring to life the French equivalent to the Ministry of Magic, the ‘Ministere des Affaires Magiques’; a huge build which took around a year to complete. The design was based on the Art Nouveau architecture of the time, and features an ornate sequence of domes intersected with columns and animated shelves. ‘It has a cathedral scale,’ says Kind. ‘We ended up creating a lot of full-CG shots to work with the animation and camera.’ The environment hosts one of the biggest action pieces of the film. Newt attempts to escape when set upon by the guardians of the Ministere des Affaires Magiques; the Matagot. Painfully-thin spectral sphynx-like cats, the Matagots are distinctive; the team built underlining muscular anatomy to allow the audience to sense their inner skeleton using proprietary tool Flesh and Flex. The whole sequence took around a year to complete, ‘It was a huge environment build encompassing a lot of action with the Matagots and the Zouwu appearing too,’ adds Kind, ‘We also had to add intricate engravings on the glass walls of the domes, and there were lots of magical elements inside the building to create.’
A spellbinding sequence in Paris takes place at the Circus Arcanus’ freak bestiary. A complex, action-packed scene, the team was required to stitch several plates together seamlessly and add multiple tents and carts to the circus environment. Fifteen magical CG beasts were built and animated for the scene; including mischievous Fire Drakes, an Oni and a Kappa. ‘This was definitely my favourite sequence’ says Chevallier. ‘It was hugely complex with so many creatures in the shot flying around in complete chaos, but it was really fun to make happen.
The Niffler also makes a return from the first film, as Newt’s scene-stealing sidekick. ‘We get to see the connection Newt has with the Niffler in this film’, says Chevallier, ‘and our artists were able to work on showing this relationship develop.’ Newt conjures golden dust to help the Niffler trace footprints, helping Newt to understand what happened at the Circus; ‘The Niffler acts as a kind of Watson to Newt’s Holmes, a bit like a cute sniffer dog,’ adds McConnel.
Framestore’s expanse of work also included the challenge of the complex Nagini transformation; where artists used reference of a contortionist to see how she wrapped her limbs to fold into herself. The sequence was a tough challenge not only because of the long length of the single shot, meaning that there was nowhere to hide, but also for the compositing and creature FX teams, who worked with seven separate snakes rigged to create the illusion of the character turning into one large snake. ‘We didn’t want it to look disturbing, as though the character’s limbs were being broken’, says Kind. ‘We created a look where the limbs would break at the elbow to look softer and more like a coil instead of a hard joint; but it was done very subtly.’
A heady mix of creatures, FX and environments proved to be an exciting challenge for the team used to working within the Wizarding World. ‘These films are fun to work on because there’s always a great creature that can be designed and conjured up’ says Kind. ‘It was also really nice to see the flurry of excitement when the Nagini snake reveal ended up in the trailer.’
Method Studios created 12 new fully CG fantastic beasts including the Kelpie, Augurey, Leucrocotta, and baby Nifflers; and also handled a complex underwater sequence inside Newt’s magical creature hospital where he tames the unpredictable Kelpie for the movie.
“Method creature work on this film was particularly special because these sequences show Newt in his element, doing what he loves most, which is caring for these magical creatures. It was fun to have that in mind as an anchor for our work, and really for the film as a whole,” said Nordin Rahhali, who led Method’s team as VFX Supervisor.
Behind the Scenes
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them VFX
Related Post: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them VFX