The VFX breakdown of work from Vancouver VFX studio Imagine Engine.
The latest film based on J K Rowling’s Harry Potter universe, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, features many incredible creatures, a number of which were created by visual effects studios MPC, Framestore and Rodeo FX.
The film follows the narrative of Magizoologist and writer Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne) on an expedition to New York City in 1926, carrying endangered creatures inside a special suitcase. The film is set 70 years before Harry Potter reads Newt's book, which involves a secret community of witches and wizards in school.
Here we take a look at how three animation studios created beasts for the film, including Niffler, Erumpent and Bowtruckle, goblin Gnarlak, Demiguise, Occamy, Billiwig and Jacob's apartment.
MPC - who also worked on all eight Harry Potter films - completed more than 220 shots, which included not only three of the film’s beasts - but environment extensions, a full 3D environment of prohibition-era Manhattan and magic effects.
Most of the production shoot took place at Leavesden studios in northwest London – the original sets for Harry Potter – and some on-location shoots in Birmingham.
MPC say the most challenging project was recreating lower Manhattan in CG – which was fully modelled and rendered for a flyby establisher shot. To accurately recreate the New York suburb, the MPC team researched the area at the time in-depth, as many buildings had changed.
MPC worked on a scene where two creatures, Demiguise and Occamy, destroy the attic of a department store where they’re hiding.
To create Demiguise’s long silver hair, MPC used it's in-house Furtility technology - which lets artists 'groom' hair using strands of simulated cloth geometry. This meant the hair could move naturally and interact with the creature’s arms, legs and environment.
Because Demiguise’s hair turns invisible, MPC had to develop a new texture projection tool for Furtility to be able to paint the background image over the fur and have it move realistically.
Demiguise was animated using keyframe animation for the body and facial performance.
The most challenging creature was Occamy – a gigantic feathered snake with wings of a bird and dragon-like facial features. Occamy gets startled by Newt and its body gets tangled on the structure of the roof; sliding and shaking it apart as it tries to free itself.
Five different variations of its body were created to fill the space in the attic. Occamy had to perch and coil around beams, and look “almost impossibly long”. Snake-rigging technology developed for previous Harry Potter films was used for Occamy – with the added challenge of covering the entire body in feathers using the Furtility tool.
MPC also created the detailed CG set extension of the attic, using proprietary Kali destruction technology to destroy the attic, and using Furtility to scale Occamy from the size of a building to the size of a mouse at will.
Billiwig is a small, super fast bug that can change its flight mode from dragonfly to propeller plane at will.
The Billiwig makes appearances in the foreground for some shots and appearing in the background for others.
Image Engine: The Graphorns
Although Image Engine (also worked on Dead Pool and Games of Thrones season six) was only involved in a total of 88 shots – they amounted to more intensive work than any of the Vancouver VFX studio’s previous digital creature creations.
Image Engine created the Graphorns – a family of horned beasts. Imagine Engine’s artists studied reference footage of rhinos, elephants, caterpillars, ostriches and hippos among other animals to get an idea of the creature’s looks.
The Graphons environment
Image Engine also create the briefly appearing environment in which the Graphorns live in – a nighttime desert scene projected onto a dropcloth-like perimeter. The team were asked to create a flat diorama that created the illusion of a vast space with a physically small one.
The studio also contributed to the creation of the Swooping Evil (as seen here), running simulations to make the creature’s wings look like think membranes.
It also handled the Fwooper, and a Dung Beetle beast.
The film’s producer David Heyman personally recruited Framestore’s Pablo Grillo as the film's overall Animation Director.
A group of 50 Framestore animators also helped with early pre production, driving the creative process and working with Framestore's art department and the filmmakers.
The team created animation tests for the previsualisation stages, and worked with The Third Floor to 'postvis' key scenes to quickly insert animations within the live action footage for feedback from the director before they were passed onto the post teams for the full VFX work.
Framestore recreated Newt's well-worn leather suitcase in CG.
The Niffler, first introduced in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is described by J K Rowling as "a long-snouted burrowing creative native to Britain with a penchant for anything shiny".
Framestore looked at a host of references, including a platypus and mole, from there, designing movement sketches and creating assests to be animated.
Gnarlak: The Gangster Goblin
The cigar-smoking and wise goblin walks around his speakeasy. His appearance is heavily influenced by actor Ron Perlman, who was shot on set in a series of motion-capture sessions.
He had to sit before 98 cameras for a facial coding shape session according to Framestore VFX supervisor Andy Kind. This meant the team could sculpt the face directly in 3D and refine the performance in keyframe animation.
Pickett the Bowtruckle
The design of Pickett the Bowtruckle went through around 200 versions during the concept artwork stage - before the final design of this insect-eating tree dweller was agreed upon.
Puppeters used a rod to operate Bowtruckle on set, providing reference material for Framestore during the keyframe animation.
This huge African beast resembling a rhinoceros proved the most challenging for the Framestore team.
The beast’s forehead liquid sack had to move and have internal lighting, making work a little more complex. Framestore animated the excited Erumpent bursting from the pond using dynamic simulations of shattering ice, explosive snow and water effects.
Rodeo FX created 126 visual effects shots for Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them, including the beasts and their environments, reconstruction of a destroyed room and the headquarter of the wizarding world.
A team of 100 artists at Rodeo FX created Murtlap, Nundu, Doxies, Butterflies, Gloworms, Grindelows, a family of Diricawls and Mooncalves.
Reconstruction of Jacob’s apartment
After the beasts escape from Newt’s suitcase, they destroy Jacob’s apartment. The room is rebuilt by magic, of which Rodeo FX simulated the reconstruction.
An environment of debris, dust and flying rubble had to be reverted. But rather than reversing the simulated destruction, the team recreated each broken asset individually, defining its trajectory and velocity as the room is reassembled.