May 30, 2014 3:39pm PT by Carolyn Giardina
How the 'Maleficent' VFX Team Conjured Its Magical Spells (Photos)
Disney's Maleficent, which has already grossed $4.2 million in Thursday-night North American screenings and $20.1 million in its first two days overseas, is a stylized retelling of the studio's 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty that relies heavily on the work of the artisans to deliver the human and fairy worlds in the story.
You can see the influence of Robert Stromberg, who is making his directorial debut. He's a two-time Oscar-winning production designer (Avatar, Alice in Wonderland) and VFX vet (Oscar nominated for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World).
Here, The Hollywood Reporter looks at the film's visual effects, which were led by overall VFX supervisor Carey Villegas, with the bulk of the work completed by MPC and Digital Domain.
Discussing the work with THR was Adam Valdez, the VFX supervisor at MPC's London office, while work at MPC's Vancouver base was led by VFX supervisor Seth Maury.
"This is a movie about two worlds -- a human and a fairy world -- and the look was an issue [in the storytelling]," Valdez says. "We had to make sure it was clear what world they were in. The human world was very horizontal and flat. The fairy world was very vertical -- with mountains, atmospheric effects, bright colors. But we never wanted it to look too cartoony."
The contrast between these is evident in the opening logo, which was re-created by MPC. The team replaced the iconic Cinderella castle in the logo with the Sleeping Beauty castle, and they flew the camera over it to reveal a wide shot, pictured below.
MPC's London facility created the fairy world, which involved a large amount of CG and matte paintings for the immersive environment, which then needed to be populated with CG magical fairies and other creatures. The VFX team worked closely with Stromberg and production designer Dylan Cole, also a VFX artist turned production designer.
Describing it as a "hybrid of reality and graphic novel," Valdez says "there was a lot of greenscreen and locations. (Live action was shot in and around Pinewood Studios in London.) Practical sets were built and extended with greenscreen. Use of real foliage anchored it in reality. Also there was a classic Hollywood hard-lighting style on the actors, and we had to marry that with the natural environment."
Below is a greenscreen shoot, to create an element for a wide shot.
Another shot in the fairy world begins with shooting live action on a stage.
The magic was then added by the MPC's CG artists.
The fairy world also had to be populated with CG creatures. This below shot started with tree branches.
Then the animators added the CG fairies and other creatures.
One of the biggest VFX challenges for MPC was a massive battle scene, pictured below. This involved extending the live action with a CG environment, and large numbers of CG characters were created using MPC's proprietary crowd software, dubbed "Alice."
The VFX team also gave Maleficent her magic. Valdez notes that in the Christening scene during which Maleficent places a curse on Aurora (pictured at the top of this article), "we wanted to do an homage to Sleeping Beauty because it had some of the most beautiful effects in animation." MPC used the color green for the magic "to make it feel like it had an evil intention -- a vengeful green."
In the below image, Maleficent's magic is more of a golden color, as she is performing a more "caring" magic.