SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN: John Moffatt – VFX Supervisor – Double Negative

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John Moffat joined Double Negative in 1998 and participated on most projects of the studio such as PITCH BLACK, ENEMY AT THE GATES, THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK or ATONEMENT. He also participated on several HARRY POTTER which he oversaw the effects of the last 3 episodes.

What is your background?
I started work as a projectionist in a cinema. I went to University and studied photography.
I started working at DNeg in 1998 as a junior compositor and roto artist. I worked my way up through the 2d department and started supervising vfx in 2005.

How did Double Negative got involved on this show?
We were approached by Universal to work on the show in February 2011. We did some concept work for the show and were awarded some of the work.

How was the collaboration with director Rupert Sanders?
We had a meeting with Rupert early on before the production started shooting in which we discussed Rupert’s overview and style of film making. And what he wanted to achieve. Most of the discussions that we had were with Cedric until the final weeks of the show when we spoke with Rupert in twice weekly cinesync sessions.

How was his approach about VFX?
Rupert is very used to working with VFX from his commercials background. Again, most of the discussions I had regarding the work for the show were with Cedric.

Can you tell us more about your collaboration with Production VFX Supervisor Cedric Nicolas-Troyan?
Cedric and myself discussed various aspects of the visual effects before DNeg were awarded the work on the show, Cedric was keen for us to work on the Dark Fairies and the Dark forest based on work that he had seen DNeg had completed on other productions. We had a great working relationship and he trusted us to develop the tools and techniques required to bring his visions to the screen. We would frequently send work in progress to Cedric, he would then give us notes.

What Double Negative have done on the show?
Two sequences, the Dark Forest and the Dark Fairies.

Can you tell us more about the filming of the Dark Forest sequence?
The production built a set in Black Park forest next to Pinewood Studios in England. The set backed onto a real forest so that there was no need for green-screen set extension. They shot all of the action on the set and we added our work to that material.

How did you design the Dark Forest?
We let the dark forest evolve really. At the outset Tania Richards, our concept artist and VFX art director, worked up literally hundreds of paintings that illustrated ideas for populating the forest. We showed this work to Rupert and Cedric. It was a process of evolution, but nothing was really concrete until we started working on the cut sequence. We continued adding and adjusting right up till the final deadline.

Can you explain to us how did you extend the set?
We didn’t really extend the set, there was one shot at the climax of sequence that we created a large top down wide shot that was populated with hundreds of cg trees. The set was built in a real forest so apart from shot mentioned above there was no real need to extend the set. We did however add branches to the onset trees so that we were able to animated them reaching out to grab Snow White as she ran through the Dark Forest. It was a job that involved adding material to the existing set, rather than extending the set.

The Dark Forest contains many various creatures. Can you tell us more about them?
We created a number of different creatures for the forest, there were : Snakes, that we hand animated, Beetles that were in the main procedural with a few hero animated beetles. Smoky Figures that were all driven by work from FX department. We had oozing muscles, Mushrooms that expelled hallucinogenic spores. All of the different creatures were built individually and only ever seen in a handful of shots.

How did you manage so many creatures?
We approached each asset as a separate build, Each creature had its own look-development person to ensure that even though the creatures were only ever in a few shots they all a high level of finish.

Can you tell us more about the Bat Fairy?
The Bat Fairy was a creature that was designed and built for a trailer shot. Rupert liked the creature and asked if we could use it in a few shots on the actual film. It was essentially a fully cg animated creature that was taken from concept to final shot for the trailer in 3 weeks. It was pleasing that it ended up being seen a few more times in the finished film.

At the end Ravenna summons the Dark Fairies. How did you design it?
We started off with a discussion about the sequence with Cedric, We then got four concept images from production. Our initial work involved sculpting a 3d maquette of the creature. We showed this as a 3d turntable to Rupert to get sign off on the design and form of the creature. Once we had reached an agreed 3d concept we then had an object that we able to have rigged so we could start animation tests. It also enabled us to have a model that we could ‘goal’ our fx work towards. The nature of the creature is that the fx flock together to form the creature, then shatter and reform when the creature has been struck or is required to move quickly.
There was a period of around 3 months in which the team led by Fx Supervisor Alexander Seaman and CG Supervisor Dan Neal worked with Pablo Giminez and Pete Kyme to develop a system and set of tools that robust and flexible enough to hit the ground running when it came to actual shot production.
Before we shot the live action for the sequence we created a sequence of 3 shots that we fully rendered lit and composited that clearly illustrated what the creature would look like and the way it would move.

The Dark Fairies are composed of thousands of glass pieces. Can you tell us in details how you create those elements and manage the simulations?
We modeled a group of different shards that were signed off by the client. The shards were all given a goal of the model of the fairy that we created. The simulations were driven by the movement created by the animation, and the fx flocked the shards towards or away from the creatures depending on the action required.

Have you collaborates with Pixomondo team about the shattering effect?
We didn’t.

What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
The Fairies.

Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
No.

What do you keep from this experience?
It was a real pleasure to work with such a wonderful creative team of artists and producers. We were in a position where we were aware that there was a short period of actual shot production. In order to get the work to the standard that is in the final film we did a lot of R&D work in advance of shot production, that work enabled us to cross the finish line with work that I hope everyone involved in creating it can be very proud. I am most proud of the way that the individuals in the crew came together as a team to create such a wonderful creative team atmosphere.

How long have you worked on this film?
I started in February last year and finished in April this year. But most of the crew worked from September through till April this year.

How many shots have you done?
100.

What was the size of your team?
150.

What is your next project?
Can’t really say at the moment….

What are the four movies that gives you the passion for cinema?
THELMA AND LOUISE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE AVENGERS ASSEMBLE and INDIANA JONES.

A big thanks for your time.

// WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Double Negative: Official website of Double Negative.





© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2012

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