How the VFX for 'Cinderella' Were Brought to Life

Cinderella VFX Environmental Split - H 2015
Courtesy of Disney

Cinderella VFX Environmental Split - H 2015

Lead visual effects house MPC used its particular type of magic for the majority of the 800 effects shots in Kenneth Branagh’s retelling of Cinderella for Disney, which topped $253 million worldwide since it opened on March 13.

That included work on the iconic scene during which the Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) uses her magic to bring Cinderella (Lily James) to the ball, starting with turning a pumpkin into a carriage.

This required an explosion of glass, pumpkin and magical matter as the transformation starts inside a greenhouse that just too small for the golden carriage. “We were keen to keep the tone of the film warm, naturalist and steer away from anything that looked like CG,” said production visual effects supervisor Charley Henley of MPC, which is headquartered in London though most of the Cinderella work as handled at its Montreal facility.

"The Fairy Godmother is a little quirky and offbeat, so she takes a pumpkin from inside a green house," he continued. "We built exact copies [in the computer] and used a mix of CG and effects simulation for the transformation, which included shattering the greenhouse as the pumpkin grows."

Read more 'Cinderella': Film Review

MPC also brought to life a cast of CG creatures including mice, which had to transform into horses; and lizards, which transform into footmen. A key part of that task was figuring out what the half-transformed characters would look like, so that it was “fun” rather than “strange and creepy.”

Said Henley: “I think everyone felt pressure to live up to the quality of the original. The tone was derived from the mood of the classic; a lot of the comedy is though VFX, [such as] the mice and fun you have with Gus Gus."

For Cinderella’s transformation, Henley noted that costume designer Sandy Powell created “an incredible dress. Since it has many layers of materials we came up idea that we would build the layers through magic butterflies that would help build her dress.”

Additional but extensive work involved the locations. Most of the movie was shot at Pinewood Studios, with the rest filmed on location around London.

The palace exterior was CG, based on production designer Dante Ferretti's design. When the palace needed to be set in a live-action world, the plates were photographed from a helicopter.

Most of the ballroom was a set built on Pinewood’s 007 stage. This and other sets such as the long corridors and some of the exteriors were extended with visual effects.

The iconic clock — a one-third-scale model based on Ferretti’s design — was built by Magic Camera Company U.K.

Twitter: @CGinLA