Before joining the team at Cinesite, I was a VFX Supervisor on Legendary Pictures’ GODZILLA. I was also a CG Supervisor on, AVATAR, which was later awarded 3 Academy Awards, including Best Visual Effects. Additionally I supervised sequences for blockbusters including TRANSFORMERS, HELLBOY II and BATMAN BEGINS.
I studied at Bournemouth University between 1993-1996, culminating in a BA (Honours) Computer Animation and Visualisation degree. This led to work as a CG Supervisor at Moving Picture Company for over 4 years, before I moved to Singapore to work for Lucasfilm as a Digital Artist Supervisor, presiding over work including HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX. I was also VFX Supervisor at Aardman Animations for over 2 years.
How did you got involved on this show?
Cinesite had already been bidding for the production on a range of sequences, and one of our producers had previously worked with the clients Chris Manz and VFX producer Ollie. I knew Chris from Framestore so we had a good connection. Cinesite has also worked on every Harry Potter film, FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND them marked its ninth collaboration with the wizarding world!
What was your feeling to be back in the Harry Potter universe?
At some point, every film vfx artist in London tended to work on one (or many) Potter films, and having the chance to work within this wizarding world again was rather cool. The first Potter I worked on was HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, back in 2002! Nearly a decade and a half later, to still be working within this magical fantastical world that J.K. Rowling has created, is all rather amazing. The film not only looks stunning but the excitement from the global audience and the great reviews has made the whole experience very enjoyable – it was a delight and honour to be able to help to bring the script to life.
How was this collaboration with director David Yates and VFX Supervisors Tim Burke and Christian Manz and what was their approach to the visual effects?
There was good creative interaction between us, which resulted in a relaxed but productive approach. Throughout the reviewing process at Cinesite we showed working process shots and Chris was fully embraced into the creative mix. There was a great working dynamic and it was a pleasure working with Chris and Ollie.
What are the sequences made by Cinesite?
The most notable contributions to the latest instalment in the magical reboot include the preparation of dinner in the Goldstein apartment, the suitcase that Newt uses to transition into different worlds and various New York CG environments.
The movie takes place in New York. Can you explain in details about its creation?
A key sequence connected with the apartment included Goldstein girls’ view over the city from their window. Set extensions with digital matte painting were created using a mix of 3D rendered buildings, 3D projected building detail and projected digital matte paintings. The background was created using reference from 1920’s and 1930’s New York, building photographs with Central Park as the central focus of the environment. A further CG environment was created later on in the film when Newt and Tina converse on the edge of a New York building rooftop. With the performance shot on green screen stage it took Cinesite’s artists many hours to create the digital night time city sprawled out behind them.
The Goldstein dinner sequence is full of magic. Can you explain in details about your work on this sequence?
In this sequence the injured Jacob has been brought back to the Goldstein’s apartment. He is awestruck by the magical world around him, as he takes in his surroundings.
Upon entering the apartment one of the first things Jacob sees are the clothes on a drying rack in front of the fireplace magically moving as they dry. Originally, a live action clothes airer was shot, suspended on wires. However, production later decided it didn’t have the fluidity of movement they wanted so they decided to switch to CG clothes and airer, changing the design of the clothes horse so that there were no vertical poles. This enabled us to animate the clothing items in eight shots, using a mix of animation and cloth simulation, all in Maya and nCloth, so that they were more convincingly alive.
As Jacob moves further into the apartment his focus is drawn to Queenie as she clothes herself, with a tap of her wand, her dress effortlessly wraps itself around her. The dress was CG and matched seamlessly to surrounding shots with the actress in a real dress. This was a complex effect to convincingly achieve because cloth software is usually used to replicate the behavior of real cloth in the physical world. However, this is a magical world, and Queenie’s dress moves in an unconventional magical manner. Alison Sudol performed in her underwear and the cloth was animated around her using a complex Maya rig that would allow an animator to work the motion up, whilst allowing a cloth simulation to add realistic deformation. Finally various geometry sculpting allowed any problematic shapes to be fixed. The final look of the cloth was enhanced in Nuke to give a more interesting finish – the real material (that we had as a physical reference) was not particularly responsive to lighting in the real world.
Once dressed Queenie prepares dinner for them all. Soaring napkins, flying plates and a floating apple strudel all come together in a key scene in the Goldstein apartment, which sees Queenie use magic so dinner prepares itself, mid-air before settling down on the table.
Having multiple CG bowls, plates, apples, napkins, cutlery and glass flying through the air meant careful choreography was required. All of the objects on the laid dinner table are CG, from cutlery to food, drinking glasses etc. One shot has a jug with cloudy lemonade, animated with a surface deforming effect rather than a fluid simulation. Even the candles are CG, complete with a manipulated flame element. We also altered some of the lighting effects, particularly on Jacob, to reduce the harshness of the onset lighting on his face; this gave a more interactive lighting effect.
The dinner culminates with the ingredients of an apple strudel descending in front of Jacob; the fruit is wrapped in layers of pastry, before the whole strudel cooks to a brown crisp and descends hot and ready to eat onto the centre of the table. The shot was built with custom FX, the crew used Side Effects Houdini for heavier effects deformations, Autodesk Maya for animation and Solid Angle Arnold for shading. The Foundry’s Nuke 9.0v5 was used for compositing. Every shot required its own custom model and shaders. Complex animated texturing and displacement work was required to give the appearance of cooking whilst the strudel floats through the air. Extra blend shapes were also added to allow the whole pastry to appear as though it shrinks down a little as it cooks. Additional heat distortion effects were created in Nuke. There are many objects; several with transparent surfaces, requiring refraction and the lighting environment around the CG table were very complex, with multiple light sources to replicate.
Can you tell us more about your work on Newt’s suitcase?
Another key sequence that takes place within with the apartment is the suitcase which Newt uses to transition into different worlds. In one particular scene, Jacob is a little apprehensive about following Newt into the case. Unfortunately, his passage is not quite as straightforward as the slender Newt, and he sticks on the way in, with the case jumping up and down in an effort to pull him down inside. The original live action was shot with a practical suitcase and Dan Fogler’s legs showing beneath, descending into the floor.
The onset suitcase was a slightly different size to the one that Newt jumps through, so it was necessary to replace it with an entirely CG version. Much of the team’s work involved painting and clean-up to remove Dan’s legs and rebuild the floor when the case jumps up into the air. Additional clean-up was required to bend and manipulate Jacob’s arms to convincingly lock them onto the edge of the suitcase (which the team had made smaller), adding interactive shadows to the case. There was a great deal of collaboration and back and forth between paint, compositing and animation. The animation was ultimately led by what was created on set with the actor’s movements, as compositors placed the suitcase into the shots. His movement was manipulated to give it a more dynamic feel, giving the case more character and purpose in its movement. The relatively small number of suitcase shots allowed us to achieve the final results using warping and deforming effects in the composite, along with 2D manipulation. Compositing also added subtle dust effects to each bounce on the floor, giving a convincing sense of weight and impact.
Was there a shot or a sequence that prevented you from sleep?
No not at all, there was a great working dynamic and it was a pleasure working with Chris and Ollie.
What do you keep from this experience?
I had an amazing time working with a talented crew in a very creative partnership with Chris and Ollie – I’m looking forward to the next one!
How long have you worked on this show?
We started work in early 2016 and worked through till late September.
How many shots have you done?
We worked on a total of 98 shots.
What is your next project?
I’ll tell you next year.
A big thanks for your time.
// WANT TO KNOW MORE?
– Cinesite: Dedicated page about FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM on Cinesite website.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2016