All images © Cinesite Ltd.
    The world of Beatrix Potter has come to the big screen with the help of Cinesite and Passion Pictures. Best known for her creation of Peter Rabbit, Potter illustrated thousands of characters that in her mind, as in the film, came to life to populate the real world.

    Director Chris Noonan wanted the animated drawings in “Miss Potter” to remain true to her artistic style and keep harmony with the live action while not intruding on it. Cinesite worked closely with Noonan and Executive Producer Nigel Wooll deciding on how to accomplish the appropriate look. Cinesite’s VFX Supervisor Simon Stanley-Clamp was tasked with overseeing the project and Passion Pictures was brought on board to work on the 2D animated illustrations. 

    The VFX team had the extraordinary opportunity to access the Digital Warne> archive and “Beatrix Potter: the V&A Collection” at Blythe House where thousands of drawings done by Beatrix Potter are maintained. “The drawings were certainly very inspirational, and incredibly diverse, from natural history studies to the illustrations we have come to know and love,” commented Stanley-Clamp.  “Also, her skill was evident from a very early age, with sketchbooks from when she was around age eight years old.”  Chris Knott, the VFX Supervisor at Passion Pictures agreed. “They produced superb facsimiles of selected artwork, printed out onto watercolor paper for use in the film itself, and for us to use as construction guides for the matte work required to reproduce the original image as an animation.” Potters work was highly detailed, sketched first in pencil, filled in with watercolor, and detailed with pen and ink.
    Passion Pictures got started on creating the animated illustrations. Chris Knott’s technique was an elaboration of what he developed for “Roger Rabbit”. In this pipeline, once the line animation was completed, another tier of artists would isolate areas of the drawings by producing animated, sculptural mattes. The artwork highlights and shadows could then be adjusted for the live action lighting. But in this case, rather than simply providing a structure to the drawing, these mattes were used to apply successive layers of color graded matte work. This artwork ranged from base watercolor washes to layers of animated fur and fine whisker lines. A major challenge was to maintain the look of Potter’s original illustrations. The right amount of pencil, ink and translucency had to be achieved.

    “I produced the initial animated watercolor washes in Bauhaus Mirage”, Knott explained. “A textured screen was prepared, then flipped, repositioned, resized and then processed on slow dissolves. The idea was that you would feel the movement rather than see it.” An HD or film shoot was out of the question, and Passion couldn't scan watercolor washes, so they produced them digitally, stretching and manipulating to acquire the subtly moving texture. Passion then used After Effects v6.5 Pro for compositing.

    Once Passion had a layout, the character would be animated. “We used the traditional held levels 2D cheat quite a lot, but of course in this case always with a live traced back line. This was also an important technique for controlling the budget!”

    For example, if Peter Rabbit was lying still while only moving his head, Knott was able to split the matte sequences, and just to rework the textural layers for Peter’s head and shoulders. He could then subtly blend these layers into existing inactive body levels. This was preferable to reproducing the fur levels for the whole body at the 12-24 images per second required for the head animation, which on a static body, could produce a noticeable boil. This 2D artwork was then scanned and colored in Softimage Toonz.

    All of the artwork was produced as black matte sequences to ensure a precise matching of color in the original artwork to the animated version. Color was introduced when Passion assembled the comps. “The matte approach enabled us to feed softly rolling watercolor textures and color into any other animated layer, say a sequence of brush strokes. This gave us great control, yet the final image still had all the vitality of the watercolor original.”

    The animated matte levels were finessed further in After Effects with the addition of masks to help blend the layers seamlessly, or to vary watercolor densities, sometimes resulting in elaborately layered shots. Passion provided their final color shots to Cinesite to be graded into the live action, and also provided the matte runs that made up the comp, so that Cinesite would have the raw elements if necessary.

    To manage the schedule and budget, the artwork was pre-selected to enable Passion to achieve a solid relevant animation sequence within time and budget. This meant choosing images that would tell the story without involving lots of extraneous movement. From the end of shooting until the delivery of the first temps, or almost finished sequences, was only twelve weeks.

    Cinesite’s in-house Shake plug-in, motion based "Area Track" was used to lock the composite layers back onto the live action pages. Cinesite also provided the art department with a tracking grid that corresponded to the drawings allocated to Passion Pictures.

    Stanley-Clamp worked closely with the editorial team during shooting and throughout post, using Shake on a laptop while on location.  In order to help with visualization, Stanley-Clamp created temps using DV footage and stills from the locations, animatics were worked up from initial storyboards, and line tests were composited into DV footage from the locations. A counter was used to indicate the length of the animations, so the actors could adapt their performances accordingly.

    The animations, already in progress, had to interact and react to the actors and environments, so Stanley-Clamp was on set during filming to assure the imagery would mesh when it came time to composite. This was of particular importance in one scene, where the young Beatrix watches her parents climb into an imagined rabbit drawn carriage to head out for the evening. Another was communicating the idea that the subjects of Potter’s drawings gradually come to reject her as her emotional state grows more fragile. This was demonstrated in one sequence involving 14 animations, where Jeremy Fisher is threatened. Potter offers him her paintbrush as a means of escaping a dangerous fish, submerged in the water below his lily pad. However, he is equally scared of her and dives back into the water. This is followed by Jeremy’s attempted escape from Potter through various drawings, the sequence ending with a wide shot of discarded drawings, sketches and artwork strewn around Potter’s bedroom floor.  Throughout this sequence Stanley-Clamp cut back and forth to Potter and see her growing confusion and frustration.  It is important that the animation and live action are seamless and that the psychological significance of the drawings rejection of Potter is obvious.

    Cinesite did their work with a team of roughly 20 people, starting talks and filming around November 2005, and “work proper” in the spring of 2006. Software used were Shake, Scratch, Inferno, Maya, in-house tracking software, 3D Equalizer, and Final Cut Pro. Cinesite delivered production in August of 2006, delivering almost all the work digitally to Technicolor who created the DI grade. Internally Cinesite did the digital dailies, viewed the digital output, and film versions were only used for final client approval of effects shots. The film was shot anamorphic, which meant that Cinesite has to incorporate “unsqueezing” the images into the effects process.  The flattened plates would enable them to work more accurately in the digital realm specifically with digital painting and tracking, and provide easily accessible images to Passion Pictures.  Visual effects shots were scanned at Cinesite at 4K resolution, and a custom written tool was created to flatten and downsize the material to 3,656 x 1,556 for the digital artists to work on. Once work was complete, the shots were reanamorphosised and supplied as data for the Digital Intermediate. This enabled Cinesite to quickly turnover early temps for three high definition preview screenings prior to the final delivery of the work. It was dealt with as part of the I/O process, and therefore kept apart from the artists.

    Hopping Mad, the production company behind Miss Potter took up residence at Cinesite in London for the duration of post-production, which allowed Cinesite daily access to Chris Noonan, the film’s Director, and to editorial. “In my experience it's rare to get this close level of contact with the driving force of a major movie,” said Stanley-Clamp. “Robin Sales, the Editor, was a great pleasure to work with. His input was always constructive and our close working relationship allowed for very rapid turn around to amended shots.”

    It was a pleasure to work on a classic, historical movie about an inspirational woman who is an English treasure, while spending time in some of the most beautiful locations around England during the filming.”

    Beatrix Potter Credits

    Production Company:
    Executive Producer: 
    Visual Effects: 
    Visual Effects Supervision: 
    2D Animation Sequences: 
    Animation Director: 
    Production Manager:
    Key Animation:
    Animation Assistants:
    FX Animation:
    FX Assistants:
    Digital Ink + Paint: 
    FX Supervisor: 

    The Weinstein Company
    Chris Noonan
    Nigel Wooll|
    Simon Stanley-Clamp
    Passion Pictures
    Alyson Hamilton
    Jennifer Coatsworth
    Holly Stone
    Nelson Yokota de Paul Lima
    Sharon Smith, Jerry Forder
    Monica Brufton, Brent O’Dell, Alan Henry
    Simon Swayles, Barney Russell, Barry Geoff
    Sky Bone, Dino Demosthenos
    David Lea, Niamh Lines, Lee Gingold
    Phil Holder, Tim King, Megs White Dore
    Chris Knott
    Tony Clark

    Passion Pictures
    Miss Potter
    The real Beatrix Potter trust

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