Tag Archives: Maleficent

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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.