Tag Archives: Disney

Coco’s sound story — music, guitars and bones

By Jennifer Walden

Pixar’s animated Coco is a celebration of music, family and death. In the film, a young Mexican boy named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of being a musician just like his great-grandfather, even though his family is dead-set against it. On the evening of Día de los Muertos (the Mexican holiday called Day of the Dead), Miguel breaks into the tomb of legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) and tries to steal his guitar. The attempted theft transforms Miguel into a spirit, and as he flees the tomb he meets his deceased ancestors in the cemetery.

Together they travel to the Land of the Dead where Miguel discovers that in order to return to life he must have the blessing of his family. The matriarch, great-grandmother Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach) gives her blessing with one stipulation, that Miguel can never be a musician. Feeling as though he cannot live without music, Miguel decides to seek out the blessing of his musician great-grandfather.

Music is intrinsically tied to the film’s story, and therefore to the film’s soundtrack. Ernesto de la Cruz’s guitar is like another character in the film. The Skywalker Sound team handled all the physical guitar effects, from subtle to destructive. Although they didn’t handle any of the music, they covered everything from fret handling and body thumps to string breaks and smashing sounds. “There was a lot of interaction between music and effects, and a fine balance between them, given that the guitar played two roles,” says supervising sound editor/sound designer/re-recording mixer Christopher Boyes, who was just nominated for a CAS award for his mixing work on Coco. His Skywalker team on the film included co-supervising sound editor J.R. Grubbs, sound effects editors Justin Doyle and Jack Whittaker, and sound design assistant Lucas Miller.

Boyes bought a beautiful guitar from a pawn shop in Petaluma near their Northern California location, and he and his assistant Miller spent a day recording string sounds and handling sounds. “Lucas said that one of the editors wanted us to cut the guitar strings,” says Boyes. “I was reluctant to cut the strings on this beautiful guitar, but we finally decided to do it to get the twang sound effects. Then Lucas said that we needed to go outside and smash the guitar. This was not an inexpensive guitar. I told him there was no way we were going to smash this guitar, and we didn’t! That was not a sound we were going to create by smashing the actual guitar! But we did give it a couple of solid hits just to get a nice rhythmic sound.”

To capture the true essence of Día de los Muertos in Mexico, Boyes and Grubbs sent effects recordists Daniel Boyes, Scott Guitteau, and John Fasal to Oaxaca to get field recordings of the real 2016 Día de los Muertos celebrations. “These recordings were essential to us and director Lee Unkrich, as well as to Pixar, for documenting and honoring the holiday. As such, the recordings formed the backbone of the ambience depicted in the track. I think this was a crucial element of our journey,” says Boyes.

Just as the celebration sound of Día de los Muertos was important, so too was the sound of Miguel’s town. The team needed to provide a realistic sense of a small Mexican town to contrast with the phantasmagorical Land of the Dead, and the recordings that were captured in Mexico were a key building block for that environment. Co-supervising sound editor Grubbs says, “Those recordings were invaluable when we began to lay the background tracks for locations like the plaza, the family compound, the workshop, and the cemetery. They allowed us to create a truly rich and authentic ambiance for Miguel’s home town.”

Bone Collecting
Another prominent set of sounds in Coco are the bones. Boyes notes that director Unkrich had specific guidelines for how the bones should sound. Characters like Héctor (Gael García Bernal), who are stuck in the Land of the Dead and are being forgotten by those still alive, needed to have more rattle-y sounding bones, as if the skeleton could come apart easily. “Héctor’s life is about to dissipate away, just as we saw with his friend Chicharrón [Edward James Olmos] on the docks, so their skeletal structure is looser. Héctor’s bones demonstrated that right from the get-go,” he explains.

In contrast, if someone is well remembered, such as de la Cruz, then the skeletal structure should sound tight. “In Miguel’s family, Papá Julio [Alfonso Arau] comically bursts apart many times, but he goes back together as a pretty solid structure,” explains Boyes. “Lee [Unkrich] wanted to dig into that dynamic first of all, to have that be part of the fabric that tells the story. Certain characters are going to be loose because nobody remembers them and they’re being forgotten.”

Creating the bone sounds was the biggest challenge for Boyes as a sound designer. Unkrich wanted to hear the complexity of the bones, from the clatter and movement down to the detail of cartilage. “I was really nervous about the bones challenge because it’s a sound that’s not easily embedded into a track without calling attention to itself, especially if it’s not done well,” admits Boyes.

Boyes started his bone sound collection by recording a mobile he built using different elements, like real bones, wooden dowels, little stone chips and other things that would clatter and rattle. Then one day Boyes stumbled onto an interesting bone sound while making a coconut smoothie. “I cracked an egg into the smoothie and threw the eggshell into the empty coconut hull and it made a cool sound. So I played with that. Then I was hitting the coconut on concrete, and from all of those sources I created a library of bone sounds.” Foley also contributed to the bone sounds, particularly for the literal, physical movements, like walking.

According to Grubbs, the bone sounds were designed and edited by the Skywalker team and then presented to the directors over several playbacks. The final sound of the skeletons is a product of many design passes, which were carefully edited in conjunction with the Foley bone recordings and sometimes used in combination with the Foley.

L-R: J.R. Grubbs and Chris Boyes

Because the film is so musical, the bone tracks needed to have a sense of rhythm and timing. To hit moments in a musical way, Boyes loaded bone sounds and other elements into Native Instruments’ Kontakt and played them via a MIDI keyboard. “One place for the bones that was really fun was when Héctor went into the security office at the train station,” says Boyes.

Héctor comes apart and his fingers do a little tap dance. That kind of stuff really lent to the playfulness of his character and it demonstrated the looseness of his skeletal structure.”

From a sound perspective, Boyes feels that Coco is a great example of how movies should be made. During editorial, he and Grubbs took numerous trips to Pixar to sit down with the directors and the picture department. For several months before the final mix, they played sequences for Unkrich that they wanted to get direction on. “We would play long sections of just sound effects, and Lee — being such a student of filmmaking and being an animator — is quite comfortable with diving down into the nitty-gritty of just simple elements. It was really a collaborative and healthy experience. We wanted to create the track that Lee wanted and wanted to make sure that he knew what we were up to. He was giving us direction the whole way.”

The Mix
Boyes mixed alongside re-recording mixer Michael Semanick (music/dialogue) on Skywalker’s Kurosawa Stage. They mixed in native Dolby Atmos on a DFC console. While Boyes mixed, effects editor Doyle handled last-minute sound effects needs on the stage, and Grubbs ran the logistics of the show. Grubbs notes that although he and Boyes have worked together for a long time this was the first time they’ve shared a supervising credit.

“J.R. [Grubbs] and I have been working together for probably 30 years now.” Says Boyes. “He always helped to run the show in a very supervisory way, so I just felt it was time he started getting credit for that. He’s really kept us on track, and I’m super grateful to him.”

One helpful audio tool for Boyes during the mix was the Valhalla Room reverb, which he used on Miguel’s footsteps inside de la Cruz’s tomb. “Normally, I don’t use plug-ins at all when I’m mixing. I’m a traditional mixer who likes to use a console and TC Electronic’s TC 6000 and the Leixcon 480 reverb as outboard gear. But in this one case, the Valhalla Room plug-in had a preset that really gave me a feeling of the stone tomb.”

Unkrich allowed Semanick and Boyes to have a first pass at the soundtrack to get it to a place they felt was playable, and then he took part in the final mix process with them. “I just love Lee’s respect for us; he gives us time to get the soundtrack into shape. Then, he sat there with us for 9 to 10 hours a day, going back and forth, frame by frame at times and section by section. Lee could hear everything, and he was able to give us definitive direction throughout. The mix was achieved by and directed by Lee, every frame. I love that collaboration because we’re here to bring his vision and Pixar’s vision to the screen. And the best way to do that is to do it in the collaborative way that we did,” concludes Boyes.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer.

ILM’s Rob Bredow named CTO of Lucasfilm

Rob Bredow has been promoted to CTO of ILM parent company Lucasfilm. Bredow joined ILM as a VFX supervisor in 2014, but at the end of that year was named VP of new media and head of Lucasfilm’s Advanced Development Group (ADG), which develops tools and techniques for realtime immersive entertainment. It was during this time that Bredow helped launch ILMxLAB, a division that combines the offerings of Lucasfilm, ILM and Skywalker Sound to create interactive storytelling and immersive cinema experiences.

“Rob is truly the perfect fit for this role. His passion for technology and innovation, and his experience in filmmaking, make him the ideal candidate to lead our technology efforts for both Lucasfilm and ILM,” said Lucasfilm GM Lynwen Brennan. “Rob’s many years of experience as a visual effects supervisor combined with his expertise in technology and new media enable us to continue our longstanding tradition of innovation.”

Prior to ILM, Bredow was the CTO and VFX supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks. He has worked on films such as Men in Black 3, The Amazing Spider-Man, Green Lantern, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, Surf’s Up, Castaway and Godzilla.

Bredow is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences (VFX Branch) and the AMPAS Scientific and Technical Council, and a Visual Effects Society Technology committee chair.

MPC goes into the storm for Disney’s ‘The Finest Hours’

Disney’s The Finest Hours is based on the true story of the greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history. As you can imagine, the film, which stars Casey Affleck and Chris Pine, is chock full of visual effects shots — 900 of which were supplied by London’s MPC. Over a 10-month period, MPC VFX supervisor Seth Maury and producer Felix Crawshaw worked closely with the film’s director Craig Gillespie and production VFX supervisor Kevin Hahn

MPC’s work primarily consisted of recreating an immersive nor’easter storm, including ocean swells, turbulent seas, blowing rain and snow, and a sequence where a 36-foot Coast Guard boat must cross a digital version of Chatham bar, with 30- to 50-foot waves rolling, swelling and crashing around them.

THE FINEST HOURS

Shooting began in the fall of 2014 in a 120-by-80-foot-by- 12-foot-deep water-tank built for the shoot at a warehouse in Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. The filmmakers built a large gimbal set of the Coast Guard CG36500 rescue boat, a full-size mock-up of the Pendleton hull and a replica of the Pendleton engine room that could be flooded with 6ft of water. A number of scenes were also filmed at various locations in Cape Cod and four period rescue boats were restored for production.

The visual effects work started early on in production with the team creating some full CG shots in order to understand what would be required to create a storm of the magnitude required to tell the story.

MPC’s team completed around 300 large-scale water simulation shots (using Flowline), 300 weather and environment shots and 300 shots of the ocean behind actors shot on bluescreen. Digital doubles of the crew members, as well as digital versions of the Pendleton T2 tanker and CG36500 Coast Guard boat were also built by MPC’s team.

For the large-scale full CG water simulation shots, MPC built a library of FX elements and CG renders that were needed to create the ocean, consisting of the base ocean, a foam pass, a mist pass, a fine spray pass, a bubble pass, a water texture pass and refraction and reflection passes for water surfaces. A constantly blowing CG mist pass that the filmmakers named Speed Mist was added to the real footage shot on location in Cape Cod and on set in Quincy to accentuate the storm. For the shots that were panoramic enough to show interaction between the practical or CG boat and the water surface, there was also a suite of elements rendered to connect the boat and water, such as splashes, sprays, bow wakes, tail wakes, an engine wash of bubbles, turbulent water, foam and spray.

Simulations were created in Maya, Flowline and Houdini (including Houdini-Engine). Houdini was used for streaming water and environmental effects such as rain, snow and blowing mist effects — it was chosen because of its strength in handling many shots procedurally. Most of the shots were cached using the Houdini Engine plug-in within Maya. MPC built custom interfaces to simplify their workflow, manage assets and enable artists to handle multiple layers and shots together. They called on VRay and PRMan (Katana) for rendering.

The most challenging work involved a sequence where the CG36500 Coast Guard boat crosses the Chatham Bar in 30-50ft waves. The waves were in various state of swelling, crashing, dumping and spilling. MPC developed systems for creating each of these waves, and additional systems for adding layers of waves into the same scene. Many shots in this sequence were crafted as single-solution waves, such as looking down the barrel of a crashing wave, or being pushed along and backwards by a wave that had already crashed. Maya was used for wave rigs, layout, animation, geometry preparation and some of the FX work. MPC built a complex (and quite flexible) wave rig used by the animation department to prototype and design waves. Once size, speed and shape were locked in animation/layout, the FX department was bringing caches into Flowline for dynamic simulations, sprays, etc.

A chat with post production veteran Leon Silverman

This industry mainstay will be receiving the HPA Lifetime Achievement Award this month.

By Randi Altman

Leon Silverman is an industry icon. He’s GM of the Digital Studio at Walt Disney Studios and president of the Hollywood Post Alliance (HPA), the organization that is presenting him with its Lifetime Achievement Award on November 12.

I’ve known Leon for a very long time, meeting him for the first time when he was a senior executive of LaserPacific. He was then, and still remains, a genuinely good guy who has done a lot to help create a feeling of community within an industry filled with competitive businesses. He has also been a big supporter of me personally, for which I will always be grateful.

Anyway, not long before the late October SMPTE Conference in Hollywood, Leon was kind enough to talk to me about the Lifetime Achievement Award, the SMPTE and HPA growing partnership and the industry in general.

Leon will be accepting the HPA Lifetime Achievement Award on November 12.

Leon will be accepting the HPA Lifetime Achievement Award on November 12.

When I asked him how it felt to be chosen for this honor, he was humble, saying, “It’s flattering, embarrassing, and it means a lot to me. It reminds me of those who have helped, mentored me and taught me in my life and career — those who helped me along the path. What it’s really about is how the industry has made transitions, and how the recognition of me is really the recognition of a lot of people who contributed to transformative change in our industry.”

Leon’s passion for the media and entertainment business started early — he says ever since he could remember. In school he was the projectionist and worked at the high school radio station. He was also known to hop the train into downtown Chicago and stare into the window at the WLS radio station and watch them broadcast. He thought it was “the most interesting thing in the world.” So imagine how he felt after taking a tour of CBS Television with his friend’s dad. He was hooked.

Next was a degree in telecommunications and a ticket to Hollywood. “I moved from Chicago to LA with $1,000 in my pocket, thinking I was rich, to work at Compact Video, although they didn’t know it.”

Yup, he moved across country for the possibility of getting a job at Compact Video. Leon had seen the company’s brochure, with pictures of “cool” production vehicles and a helicopter and a Lear jet, all adorned with the Compact logo. “I really wanted to work there, so I wrote a letter to founder Robert Seidenglanz. That led to an interview with Newt Bellis, but there was not a job available at that time, so I ended up getting a number of temporary and weird jobs while I was waiting for Compact Video.

After four months of knocking on Compact’s door, he was allowed in… working in their shipping and receiving department, and doing whatever was asked of him. It was there he stayed until, one day, an ad for a sales trainee at Compact Video appeared in the trades.

“That was my job,” he says, explaining that he knocked on the door of the VP of marketing & sales office until he gave him a chance. Within four and a half years, Leon was head of marketing and sales at Compact. His dream was coming true. It was during that time he met mentors who played a big role in his life, such as Emory Cohen and Steve Schifrin.

Listen up kids: determination and a dream really can play a role in your dream job.

The award for Best in Show at the recent SMPTE HPA Film Festival. Leon Silverman congratulates the winners along with Bob Seidel, SMPTE.

The award for Best in Show at the recent SMPTE HPA Film Festival. Leon Silverman congratulates the winners along with Bob Seidel, president of SMPTE.

Ok, now let’s turn to the Hollywood Post Alliance (HPA), which Leon helped found and is now a part of SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture Engineers).

It seems you have always been interested in encouraging a spirit of community within the industry. Can you talk about the genesis of the HPA, and how you’ve seen it grow?
HPA wasn’t a beginning, it was a continuation of a long effort of many people in this community who were in trade associations that focused on post — this goes back to the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. The HPA has its roots in the Southern California chapter of the ITS (International Teleproduction Society), which had a very active board of directors.

One of the great accomplishments was the ITS technology retreat, which HPA inherited (the yearly HPA Tech Retreat takes place in Palm Springs, California). They also got involved in California politics, which resulted in the changing of the tax laws to eliminate the state sales tax on post equipment. This is still in effect to today, as well as the reassessing of how property tax was assessed on post equipment.

When the headquarters of ITS disbanded in the early 2000s, the Southern California chapter felt there was more to do. That was the birth of HPA. There are differences — the ITS was only for those working in the video facility business and the HPA has a broader tent. As a tool manufacturer, you could sponsor the ITS, but you couldn’t sit at the table. The HPA was about a larger community of, not just competitors in the facility business, but collaborators across the entire content creation ecosystem.

Leon Silverman and Barbara Lange.

Leon Silverman and Barbara Lange.

What about your relationship with SMPTE?
As SMPTE and HPA get together, HPA becomes the forum for the discussion of issues that impact the industry, and SMPTE becomes the forum for taking some of those ideas and making them into standards… more importantly broadening our perspective from the local Hollywood base to one that is internationally focused as well.

Barbara Lange (executive director of SMPTE) likes to talk about SMPTE as the 100-year-old startup. So as we start this really new chapter, in which SMPTE celebrates 100 years, and as HPA finds its way within SMPTE. We have a huge opportunity to create a broader view of the content creation ecosystem and how to impact both the discussions and the issues that are really challenging in this digital age — and the real task of how we begin the integration of digital technology in more standardized approaches and, in fact, within industry standards.

There is currently much talk of HDR within the industry. What does the future hold?
The industry has always gravitated towards ways to present our stories in a higher quality and in more compelling ways. Developments like immersive audio and higher brightness projectors that can display contrast greater than film — or colors that we haven’t seen before — allow for a creative pallet that filmmakers are excited about using. Those who create and distribute content are excited about bringing a superior consumer experience to people who enjoy our content.

HDR and immersive audio are new content creation tools that we will really learn the impact of as the creative community puts their own hands and creative minds around how this technology could be deployed in service of a story. Personally, I’m very excited in the things that I’ve seen in films like Tomorrowland and Inside Out. Seeing Inside Out in Dolby Cinema’s EDR was a revelation. I think the industry will work together, as it always has, to understand the impact of how we increasingly create higher-quality products and how best to ensure that this quality flows into our archives.

The HPA Awards, happening in early November in LA, turn 10 years old this year. Congratulations.
The HPA, and the generation that I represent, helped to create this transition from a world of filmed cinema to this digital world, hopefully creating a future that’s worthy of its past. That’s what we’re really celebrating. Over the last 20 or 30 years, we have moved our industry to a place where it’s not really just about the tools or new distribution entities, it’s about a community that now routinely understands how to work together to take advantage of transformative change and how to take this industry into the future.

Part of what our generation did, part of what we did at Pacific Video and LaserPacific, and the idea behind Emory Cohen’s vision of the Electronic Laboratory, was to show how to take the film model and bring that into the electronic and digital age. We’re now done using the past as a future model, because I don’t think there’s a blueprint for the industry today, and I think that’s very exciting, but over the process of the last 30 years we’ve created an industry that understands how to talk to each other, work together. It’s competitors and colleagues — from all aspects of the industry — working together to create this industry’s future.

—-
Leon Silverman will accept his HPA Lifetime Achievement Award on November 12 during the HPA Awards at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Jaunt raises additional $65 million to advance VR filmmaking

In case you were wondering if VR was the real deal, well check this news out. Jaunt has raised $65 million in a Series C round of funding led by The Walt Disney Company, Evolution Media Partners and China-based China Media Capital (CMC). The new investment brings Jaunt’s total funding to over $100 million and positions the company as the best-capitalized player in content creation and technology for cinematic VR.

This latest round of funding will enable Jaunt to significantly scale up cinematic VR production and advance its professional-grade camera hardware and software production tools, with the aim of making VR the next mainstream content medium.

In addition, Jaunt plans to use the funding to expand its teams in both its Palo Alto headquarters and its new Los Angeles studio.

Additional new investors in the Series C round include leading European media companies ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE and Axel Springer SE, and The Madison Square Garden Company. They join existing participating investors that include Google Ventures, Highland Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Sky Investment Group and SV Angel.

Quick Chat: Ron Pomerantz brings his experience at Disney to Pongo

Not long ago 25-year-old creative agency Pongo hired Disney veteran Ron Pomerantz. In his new role, Pomerantz is heading up Pongo’s new creative content division, where he is responsible for developing strategic content for entertainment and retail brands. The new unit will develop and produce interstitial content, PSAs, commercials and B-to-B integration.

We reached out to LA-based Pomerantz to pick his brain about the move from Disney to Pongo (@GoPongoGo) and what he sees as the future for this veteran agency, whose credits include work for CBS’ CSI: Cyber, ABC’s Shark Tank and Disney Channel’s Teen Beach 2.

How long had you been at Disney, and why was now the time to make a change?
I started at Disney as a freelancer in 2000 and was hired in 2001 to help with the logo redesign and re-launch of SoapNet. In 2006, I was asked to creative direct Playhouse Disney (now Disney Junior) and Disney Channel.

I really had a great 13-year run at Disney in five different positions. I had the privilege to rebrand several of the networks multiple times, launch Disney Junior and manage and promote some really spectacularly relevant IP. But, of late, I have been eager to stretch my wings beyond the kid space. It was time for a change and time for me to return to my creative roots — making entertaining content and great brand marketing.

Pomerantz will be working directly with (L-R) Cary Sachs and Tom McGough.

Pomerantz will be working directly with (L-R) chief marketing officer Cary Sachs and  CEO/president Tom McGough.

Why Pongo? What excites you about this company and this segment of the industry?
I have worked with Pongo for almost 20 years. I have a great relationship with them and they are perfectly in line with what I want to do and explore next. Both Pongo and I want to make more pro-social, storytelling pieces in addition to great promotion and marketing… the time was right for both parties.

What changes have you seen in this industry over your career?
Well, the industry has changed quite a bit as we all have seen. Viewing habits have changed drastically as social media has risen. I think we are all aware of what is happening, but one of the strongest effects I have seen is the lack of channel branding in breaks.

Networks are increasingly promoting other entities rather than their own IP in their breaks. There is an increased franticness in the pace of promotion, and the need for ratings is driving many decisions, so brand building has taken a back seat. All this is not necessarily bad as content has become multi-platform and the content needs to be branded as much, if not more so, than the brand that made it.

How will you use your skills, honed and perfected, at Disney to help Pongo?
Disney gave me global experience with beloved brands that had to be interpreted locally. Finding emotional connections to brands and their content is at the core of what I did at Disney and that is exactly what Pongo does as well.

What do you see for Pongo’s new creative content division?
Pongo has hired me to oversee the development of strategic branded content for entertainment and retails brands. Together we are going to develop and produce interstitial content, PSAs, commercials and philanthropic presentations, but we will also delve into branding and global brand identity strategy as well. Our goal is to help clients uncover their brand essence and translate that into multi-platform content and different brand expression.

How much will you be involved in the other parts of Pongo’s business?
As much as they will let me!

The sound of fire, tires and more for Disney’s ‘Planes: Fire and Rescue’

By Jennifer Walden

Disney’s follow-up to Planes, Planes: Fire and Rescue, like many Disney offerings, has a message — this one involves overcoming a handicap and finding another path in life. But if you think it’s a film for very young children, you’d be mistaken. It’s a family action-adventure film, complete with intense visuals, situations and sound to match.

There was no holding back on the native Dolby Atmos mix. With full-range surround speakers in a 62.2 configuration, the mix team of David E. Fluhr (dialogue and music) and Dean Zupancic (sound effects) had all the sonic real estate they needed to immerse the audience in the action. According to Formosa Group supervising sound editor/sound designer Todd Toon, “Director Roberts Gannaway not only gave us permission, but demanded that we deliver a big Continue reading

VFX Chat: Digital Domain discusses its work on ‘Maleficent’

By Randi Altman

The Disney hit movie train keeps rolling along, with audiences getting on board at every stop; this time it’s Maleficent’s turn. The studio has taken a classic animated villain, Maleficent, and put her into a live-action film, starring Angelina Jolie as the title character.

Directed by Robert Stromberg, the story is a “re-imagining” of the classic Sleeping Beauty, but from Maleficient’s perspective. There are battles and fairies and magical wings. All of which imply visual effects.

One of the houses called on to help was Digital Domain, which provided 540 shots for the film, which was more than originally thought. As the show went through some adjustments, that number grew.

Continue reading

MPC creates a variety of fairies, environments for Disney’s ‘Maleficent’

MPC, led by VFX supervisors Adam Valdez (based in London) and Seth Maury (based in Vancouver), completed 875 shots for Disney’s Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie in a take on the story of Sleeping Beauty. Working closely with director Rob Stromberg and production VFX supervisor Carey Villegas, the team created a host of animated creatures and fairy world environments.

At the start of the movie, the young Maleficent flies into MPC’s full CG fairy world environment with colorful trees, lakes and waterfalls, interacting with MPC’s hero fairies as she travels. MPC’s environment team built a library of photographic elements taken from a second-unit shoot for their human and fairy environments. These included trees, rocks and bushes. This CG environment was built in Maya, using IDV Speedtree as a basis for tree geometry. The team created 15 different types of creatures, all with their own unique characteristics and features. These ranged from the larger, humanistic mushroom fairies and Wallerbogs, to the more animalistic Cheeps, smaller delicate dew fairies and water pixies.

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MPC were tasked with creating Maleficent’s castle, which was created as a 3D model. A great deal of attention was paid to the texturing of the walls. The texture team layered different brick, mortar and masonry effects to the model to enhance detail and give a realistic look. The lighting team took inspiration from moonlit walks around Vancouver, taking photographs of different buildings hit by moonlight and its effect. They used a combination of subtle light sources on the model, including strong internal lights and firelights to make the castle feel as grand as possible, and the compositing team added flags and soldiers to the battlements.

One of the most iconic scenes of the movie includes an establishing shot of MPC’s CG castle with a CG crowd arriving for Aurora’s christening. MPC’s FX team created the green magic Maleficent uses to curse the baby.

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In the moorland battle scene, MPC used its propriety crowd software tool, ALICE to multiply 100 soldier actors into a 1,500-member army. The team also turned the on-set standing stones into giant obelisks and added CG grass, distant trees and mountains. The team developed the Dark Rider chief, four additional Dark Riders, boar, troll and serpent fairies.

MPC also created the raven Diaval, which Maleficent transforms into a man. MPC’s animation team researched the traits of the bird’s behavior, from their flight to feather and wing movements, spending time with a bird-handler to gather photo and video reference to create a CG model. To transform the bird into a human the VFX team used fluid simulation ink effects and deep compositing.

MPC built a CG thorn wall, which surrounds the fairy world, and used its destruction tool Kali for the disruption of the soil. Soldiers attempt to destroy the wall and the team added CG fire balls, trebuchets, soldiers, fire and flame FX and destruction elements.

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MPC created a full CG dragon and Great Hall interior for the climactic battle sequence. MPC worked with designs created by production concept artists and continued to develop the fire breathing creature using Pixologic Z-Brush. The team then had to transform the creature into the raven. Digital burning embers, dragon fire and smoke FX fill the room and MPC also transformed the character of Diaval from raven to dragon. Full CG soldiers were created to battle the charging dragon.

MPC’s artists also created a Disney logo using the CG Sleeping Beauty castle replacing the traditional Cinderella castle. This also involved MPC FX work to match the Disney logo fireworks and sparkle VFX. A full CG environment was built to illustrate the opening voiceover and introduce the audience to the world Maleficent inhabits.