Grindel­wald’s Brand New Bes­tiary

Frame­store’s Nathan Mc­connel dis­cusses the chal­lenges and re­wards of de­liv­er­ing new crea­tures for the Fan­tas­tic Beasts se­quel. By Trevor Hogg

Animation Magazine - - Vfx -

Those who crave more wiz­ardry from Harry Pot­ter au­thor J.K. Rowl­ing can turn their at­ten­tion once again to the ad­ven­tures of ma­g­i­zo­ol­o­gist Newt Sca­man­der (Ed­die Red­mayne) and his suit­case filled with myth­i­cal, mag­i­cal crea­tures. In the se­quel to Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where to Find Them, film­maker David Yates re­unites with vis­ual ef­fects su­per­vi­sors Tim Burke and Chris­tian Manz, and vfx house Frame­store, which was tasked with de­liv­er­ing 15 dif­fer­ent crea­tures for Fan­tas­tic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindel­wald.

Fa­mil­iar and fan­tas­ti­cal el­e­ments needed to be prop­erly bal­anced to achieve a sense of be­liev­abil­ity for the crea­tures. “The re­mit of this film was, ‘How can we make it bet­ter from the first?’” notes Frame­store An­i­ma­tion Su­per­vi­sor Nathan Mc­connel. “‘How fan­tas­ti­cal can we go?’ You’re al­ways try­ing to find an an­chor point so some­one will be­lieve that this thing is real.”

To as­sist with the crea­ture de­vel­op­ment, the Frame­store team be­gan its work early on. “They had five or six con­cepts for this Chi­nese dragon char­ac­ter known as the Zouwu,” re­calls Mc­connel. “They asked us, ‘ Which one do you think we should go with?’ What drives the stuff that we can pro­vide is a func­tional de- sign. You can have a con­cept that looks good as a static im­age but then maybe it doesn’t have the same in­ten­tion of de­sign once you start rig­ging and an­i­mat­ing.”

Mo­tion cap­ture was not an op­tion for the Zouwu, which orig­i­nates from Chi­nese folk­lore. “We looked at Chi­nese dragon fes­ti­val dances and de­cided to have that kind of qual­ity go­ing on in the head of our Zouwu while the tail is rib­bon-like in its move­ment,” ex­plains Mc­connel. “She’s a four-legged crea­ture that moves like a lizard. You’re not go­ing to get many peo­ple who can do that!”

A Dragon in Close-up

In the early stages, the team had to flesh out the idea rather than pro­duce a highly de- The team at Frame­store helped bring the gi­gan­tic Chi­nese cat-dragon Zouwu to life for the movie. While the crea­ture is just like a big kit­ten to Newt, it had to look both re­al­is­tic and ter­ri­fy­ing to most hu­mans around it.

‘The re­mit of this film was, ‘How can we make it bet­ter from the first?’ ‘How fan­tas­ti­cal can we go?’ You’re al­ways try­ing to find an an­chor point so some­one will be­lieve that this thing is real.’

el­e­ments. She had been held cap­tive in this mag­i­cal cir­cus and all of the crea­tures found there are poor ex­am­ples of their kind.”

As usual, the process in­volved some tricky mo­ments of mar­ry­ing the CG with the live-ac­tion plates. “We had some shots where Newt rides the Zouwu like a jockey and one when she picks Newt up and af­fec­tion­ately plays with him like a toy. Pup­peteers were on set cov­ered in green pre­tend­ing to be this larg­erthan-life crea­ture. We also had an as­sort­ment of props, such as a head that was the cor­rect size and a softer sponge ver­sion that Ed­die could touch. We were con­strained by the per­for­mance of Ed­die in the plate. When Newt was rid­ing on her back we would re­tain as much of his per­for­mance all the way through to re­plac­ing him en­tirely.”

Size and scale were also an is­sue for the Chi­nese dragon. “We re­al­ized that she didn’t fit in the ac­tual set for the [Min­istère des Af­faires Mag­iques] where a great es­cape takes place,” re­marks Mc­connel. “You can imag­ine how long Zouwu is and her long tail could eas­ily start in­ter­cept­ing with all of the back­ground. We scaled it down so she could be able to fit in that set.”

Mc­connel says he re­calls be­ing on set when they were shoot­ing a se­quence where Newt be­friends the dragon. “He gets a toy to dis­tract the Zouwu from what she’s do­ing to get her out of harm’s way. David Yates was say­ing, ‘ You need to fill the frame.’ Luck­ily with the tail that long we’re able to use it as a de­vice to give us depth.”

That scene turned out to be a per­sonal fa­vorite. “She’s this big fear­some crea­ture that is scared her­self. Every­body is run­ning away from her, cars are crash­ing, she is un­in­ten­tion­ally caus­ing havoc, but then there’s this per­son who stands in front of her and pulls out this fluffy toy that ab­so­lutely mes­mer­izes her. The Zouwu is like a lit­tle kit­ten in the way that she fol­lows the toy into Newt’s suit­case. It’s quite com­i­cal and em­bod­ies the qual­i­ties of Newt.”

Fe­line Parisian Guards

Ethe­real cat-like crea­tures known as Matagots serve as se­cu­rity guards for the French Min­istry of Magic. “They’re quite mys­te­ri­ous, gaunt, an­gu­lar and ag­gres­sive look­ing,” states Mc­connel. “The Matagots have these gnarly fin­ger poses and un­usual eyes. They’re based on a Sphinx ref­er­ence. We looked at cat runs and walks. The qual­ity that we were look­ing for was a stalk­ing preda­tor-like qual­ity. If you try to hit them with a spell they’ll mul­ti­ply. We use their ears to make them feel slightly dif­fer­ent but they’re al­most like clones. They’ve got a pack men­tal­ity like wolves, and the way they hunt is to dis­tract from the front while at­tack­ing from the back at the same time.”

Sev­eral other new char­ac­ters are also in­tro­duced as part of the cir­cus. “The Oni is like a huge Ja­panese sumo wrestler glad­i­a­tor go­rilla with del­i­cate claws,” re­marks Mc­connel. “In the same tent is an am­phibi­ous crea­ture called a Kappa that lives in a bath that has a cup-shaped head full of wa­ter, and in a cage are the Fire­drakes which are these lit­tle spark­ing dragons. David Yates was keen to have a so­cial struc­ture feel­ing. We came up with a fun beat where the Fire­drakes are mis­chie­vously try­ing to an­tag­o­nise the Kappa, the Kappa is tak­ing it like this is hap­pen­ing to him all of the time, and the Oni rat­tles the cage or grabs one of the Fire­drakes. It has a nice fam­ily qual­ity.”

An­other big vfx task in­volved re­plac­ing the prac­ti­cal set for the Min­istère des Af­faires Mag­iques with many dig­i­tal shots. “Some­times it was eas­ier be­cause we were fill­ing the set with shelves,” states Mc­connel. “We had a se­ries of domes that are con­nected. De­pend­ing on the an­gle you can see into mul­ti­ple domes. We had some key con­cepts that came from the client that they wanted us to achieve. Things are slowly shift­ing in the back­ground to make sure that en­vi­ron­ment has a mag­i­cal qual­ity.”

Paris and Lon­don in the 1920s are the prin­ci­pal set­tings. “The big thing with Lon­don was the smog and mist,” says Mc­connel. “There was a lot of com­posit­ing work. We added quite a lot of pi­geons in there from an an­i­ma­tion per­spec­tive. They’re hard to see when you’re view­ing them in a lower res­o­lu­tion. We did do one ren­der where we saw this pigeon mak­ing a break for it!”

Look­ing back, Mc­don­nel be­lieves the Zouwu to be the big­gest chal­lenge. “It’s one of the few crea­tures that has a nar­ra­tive arc across the film. Our re­la­tion­ship to her as well as with Newt keeps chang­ing through­out the film. Mak­ing sure that we got the Zouwu right was a chal­lenge for ev­ery de­part­ment.”

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