By Randi Altman
Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald, directed by David Yates and written by J.K. Rowling, is a sequel to 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) as they attempt to take down the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp).
As you can imagine, the film features a load of visual effects, and once again the team at Rodeo FX was called on to help. Their work included establishing the period in which the film is set and helping with the history of the Obscurus, Credence Barebone, and more.
Rodeo FX visual effects supervisor Arnaud Brisebois and team worked with the film’s VFX supervisors — Tim Burke and Christian Manz — to create digital environments, including detailed recreations of Paris in the 1920s and iconic wizarding locations like the Ministry of Magic.
Beyond these settings, the Montreal-based Brisebois was also in charge of creating the set pieces of the Obscurus’ destructive powers and a scene depicting its backstory. In all, they produced approximately 200 shots over a dozen sequences. While Brisebois visited the film’s set in Leavesden to get a better feel of the practical environments, he was not involved in principal photography.
Let’s find out more…
How early did you get involved, and how much input did you have?
Rodeo got involved in May 2017, at the time mainly working on pre-production creatures, design and concept art. I had a few calls with the film’s VFX supervisors, Tim Burke and Christian Manz, to discuss creatures and main directive lines for us to play with. From there we tried various ideas.
At that moment in pre-production, the essence of what the creatures were was clear, but their visual representation could really swing between extremes. That was the time to invent, study and propose directions for design.
Can you talk about creating the Ministry of Magic, which was partially practical, yes?
Correct, the London Ministry of Magic was indeed partially practically built. The partial set in this case meant a simple incurved corridor with a ceramic tiled wall. We still had to build the whole environment in CG in order to directly extend that practical set, but, most importantly, we extended the environment itself, with its immense circular atrium filled with thousands of busy offices.
For this build, we were provided with original Harry Potter set plans from production designer Stuart Craig, as well as plan revisions meant specifically for Crimes of Grindelwald. We also had access to LIDAR scans and cross-polarized photography from areas of the Harry Potter tour in Leavesden, which was extremely useful.
Every single architectural element was precisely built as individual units, and each unit composed of individual pieces. The single office variants were procedurally laid out on a flat grid over the set plan elevations and then wrapped as a cylinder using an expression.
The use of a procedural approach for this asset allowed for faster turnarounds and for changes to be made, even in the 11th hour. A crowd library was built to populate the offices and various areas of the Ministry, helping give it life and support the sense of scale.
So you were able to use assets from previous films?
What really links these movies together is production designer Stuart Craig. This is definitely his world, at least in visual terms. Also, as with all the Potter films, there are a large number of references and guidelines available for inspiration. This world has its own mythology, history and visual language. One does not need to look for long before finding a hint, something to link or ground a new effect in the wizarding world.
What about the scenes involving the Obscurus? Was any of the destruction it caused practical?
Apart from a few fans blowing a bit of wind on the actors, all destruction was full-frontal CG. A complex model of Irma’s house was built with precise architectural details required for its destruction. We also built a wide library of high-resolution hero debris, which was scattered on points and simulated for the very close-up shots. In the end, only the actors were preserved from live photography.
What was the most challenging sequence you worked on?
It was definitely Irma’s death. This sequence involved such a wide variety of effects — ranging from cloth and RBD levitation, tearing cloth, huge RBD simulations and, of course, the Obscurus itself, which is a very abstract and complex cloth setup driving flip simulations. The challenge also came from shot values, which meant everything we built or simulated had to hold up for tight close-ups, as well as wide shots.
Can you talk about the tools you used for VFX, management and review and approval?
All our tracking and review is done in Autodesk Shotgun. Artists worked up versions that they would then submit for dailies. All these submissions got in front of me at one point or another, and I then reviewed them and entered notes and directives to guide artists in the right direction.
For a project the size of Crimes of Grindelwald, over the course of 10 months, I reviewed and commented on approximately 6,000 versions for about 500 assets and 200 shots.
We are working on a Maya-based pipeline mainly, using it for modeling, rigging and shading. Zbrush is of course our main tool for organic modeling. We mostly use Mari and Substance Designer for textures. FX and CFX is handled in Houdini and our lighting pipeline is Katana based using Arnold as renderer. Our compositing pipeline is Nuke with a little use of Flame/Flare for very specific cases. We obviously have proprietary tools which help us boost these great softwares potential and offer custom solutions.
How did the workflow differ on this film from previous films?
It didn’t really differ. Working with the same team and the same crew, it really just felt like a continuation of our collaboration. These films are great to work on, not only because of their subject matter, but also thanks to the terrific people involved.