LES MISERABLES: Sara Bennett – VFX Supervisor – The Mill

How did The Mill got involved on this show?
We were contacted by the visual effects producer Tim Field to do some previs work at the start of filming, our work on the previs led onto us doing VFX work for the film.

How was the collaboration with director Tom Hooper and Production VFX? Supervisor Richard Bain?
The Mill has worked with Tom Hopper before on other shows (RED DUST – 2004, ELIZABETH I – 2005, LONGFORD – 2006 , THE DAMNED UNITED – 2009) so we already have a good working relationship with Tom, he has such clear vision. Richard Bain was great to work with. Through Richard we shared a lot of Double Negative (Dneg) assets and Richard was incredibly helpful and involved if we ever had any questions or problems.


What have you done on this show?
Our main work was on the skies and environments for the big barricade scenes as well as matte paintings, along with coming up with the look for the Fantine ghost scene.


Can you tell us more about the previs creation?
We were asked to create some previs to help the Director, Tom Hooper, to visualise the barricade scenes before the start of shoot. The brief for the opening shot was to create a camera move staring underwater floating up and out of the water to reveal ships struggling to dock in a harbour in the middle of a dramatic and heavy storm. The camera travels past a turned over ship towards the harbour and reveals a group of men pulling the boat with ropes into the dock. This all had to be animated to a sound track from film with waves hitting the boat in time with the beat of the music.

How did you approach the barricade sequence?
When Tom and Danny shot the barricade scene they used a library of skies to setup the lighting, and this gave us a really strong starting point. We then chose hero sky shots from each scene and created a mood board of the skies ranging from dramatic to simple, we presented this to Tom so he could choose which he preferred and what most fitted with his vision.


What indications did you received from Tom Hooper?
For the barricade scene he initially wanted very dramatic skies that had a sense of the heavens about them but during the process he realised that having a strong sky for all the scene was detracting from the action as it felt overpowering. So we ended up with more simple skies for most of the scenes, with some exceptions using the odd dramatic standalone shot.

Can you tell us more about the set extensions creation?
The barricade scene was shot on a set at Pinewood Studios and the buildings were only about two streets deep so some of the angles needed to be built out to add some depth and scale. Dneg had already created building assets for their own shots so we shared these for many of our shots.

What was the real size of the barricade set?
Not as big as the finished version but I’m unsure of the exact size.

Have you share some assets with Double Negative?
Yes we shared assets from Dneg to help us with the set extensions.

Can you explain to us more about the creation of various matte-paintings?
We picked up two matte paintings from Dneg as textured assets which we had to go in and texture in more detail, especially for all the roof tops and the streets, we also added in some signage based on period reference. We also did a few more to open up some of the side streets to create more depth to the set.

Can you tell in details your work for the ghost sequence with Fantine??
We had an initial brief from Tom about this sequence, he was adamant that he didn’t want to go down the usual road of using transparencies to sell the idea of Fantine being a ghost. He wanted us to use what was already in the plate and to enhance it. In some of the shots you see candelabras in the background, we took these and used them to frame Fantine in any shots she appeared in and then used subtle camera flares, and this made the scene feel very ethereal and natural. We also enhanced the stain glass windows by pushing the colours and adding in extra textures.


What was the biggest challenge on this project and how did you achieve it?
The biggest challenge was the barricade scene mainly because nothing was shot against green screen, so we had a lot of roto to do, we also had to deal with a lot of the set lights adding flares over some shots which meant a lot of beauty and clean-up work.


Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
Yes! Getting the barricade sequence finished over one very long weekend!

What do you keep from this experience?
Patience!! To be honest every film we work on has its own experience.

How long have you worked on this film??
We started the previs work in May but we didn’t start the VFX until around July.

How many shots have you done?
We worked on around 135 shots.

What was the size of your team?
Around 20 people.

What is your next project?
I am currently working on 47 RONIN.

What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema??
ALIENS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, THE THING and LEGEND.

A big thanks for your time.

// WANT TO KNOW MORE?

The Mill: Official website of The Mill.





© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2013

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Vincent Frei

Founder & Editor-in-Chief // VES Member // Former comp artist

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