CGSociety :: Production Focus
4 March 2013, by Paul Hellard
Beautiful Creatures is a film adaption of a Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl story that has been in book form for years. The story starts with the Ravenswood family, a magnet for rumor by the religious right of the town of Gatlin. Promoted very much a mix of Dark Shadows and Twilight: Breaking Dawn, despite the constant theme of witchcraft, as opposed to vampires or werewolves. Beautiful Creatures was neither, but the VFX are worth it. Method Studios stepped up to do a share of the VFX sequences and Pixomondo also put in their hand. CGSociety spoke to Olivier Dumont, Method Studio's VFX Supervisor on the film. Method Studios were in charge of the transformation and ultimate demise of Sarafin, the evil devil mother in the story, out to claim the young Lena Duchannes for the ‘Dark side.’
In the Caster holiday dinner sequence, the table spins in one direction with the family on bolted chairs on a greenscreen set and the two fighting lead characters spin in the other on stands. Method created a CG swirling vortex and CG dinnerware debris orbiting around the table with the girls. They replaced the performance of the actress with a digital double. The sequence took three days to shoot and screenwriter/director Richard LaGravenese and many other crew [probably the cast as well] took motion sickness tablets to get through the scene. There were replacement crockery and cutlery as it spun off the table, and the walls were all replaced in layers to depict the trees in the wind, as if spinning the material out of the room.
A Supercell storm was the big feature in the scene set with the background of a town preparing to do an annual re-enactment of a civil war battle was a '911 job' as it is termed in the industry. This is when one company has had to jettison the effects through to another company because they could not produce the work in time. The saviour company in this case was Method Studios. The VFX Supervisor for the show at Method was Olivier Dumont, and he takes up the story.
"We had about five weeks to perfect this storm, which takes over the sequence with its furiosity," he says. "That's why I separated the two sequences. Just to make sure the storm work wasn't interfering with anything else." Five weeks to generate heavy effects, maybe twelve shots all up. "That was an interesting one. We had some directions from Richard, but we had to come up with the story of what is happening where, based on the storyboard that Joe Harkins, the VFX supervisor on the show had done. It was challenging and interesting." There was a team at Method that worked days (and nights) on this, with Olivier Dumont as CG Supervisor. This was a Supercell with tornadoes inside, approximately one mile wide and was also generating three smaller tornadoes in the center. Dumont says he didn't want to be too realistic with the effects, although for the renders, they had to be.
"When you look at a storm, it looks very smooth and it doesn't have a lot of details, so what we had to do is create something a little bit more violent, a little bit more in keeping with the magical world that was there," he adds. "We used Houdini in all the setups for that, and then once we had all the layers, sometimes up to 15 layers per shot, and going into th compositing of these, we had to make sure everything was working well with the lighting for that setup."
There were explosions going on on the grounds, arguably from lightning strikes, so the crew had to make CG people to be picked up, getting sucked in and thrown around with these explosions. All the trees in the area were being torn apart, so they had to be replaced and thrashed around at the very least. The Method Studio VFX Supervisor found having a smaller crew, actually sped the process up. "Too many on the team actually slows us down, yes," explains Dumont.
Sarafin appears as the charming step-mother of the lead in this story of Beautiful Creatures. Confidently played by Emma Thompson with a rich Southern accent, this was the character that Method Studio tackled first. While the destruction of Sarafin was one of the final shots of the film. Her character is taken on by the hero, is turned to vines and thrown up onto a wall. This had to show the Sarafin character being ‘dispossessed’ of the body that she had been occupying, and at the same time, she is being grabbed by the vines that are already up on the wall. She is also being transformed into vines, so she can melt into the wall. “We started by creating black tendrils wrapping around here, while she tried to escape,” explains Dumont. “To begin with, we started with a CG double that would be a base, which would be set upon by the vines, while at the same time she would be slowly transforming into vines. We did this in Maya, although we tried to shoot some of this in camera, but it wasn’t violent enough. The vines were of course key animated, reacting to the way Sarafin was moving. and the effects were all Houdini.”
Sarafin was also doubled in CG for many of her more electric shots. At one point when (Emma) Thompson is switching from her motherly self as Mrs Lincoln, to Sarafin, her neck and shoulders go through pulses of heavily veined fits. “All the shots were very frontal anyway, so it was easy to do it in the comp.,” explains Dumont.
When Ethan initially enters the house, the interior is White, then it is Autumnal and then it is Black. The quickest and best way to depict the same set with such starkly different ambience, was to first extract the wall where Method wanted to put the matte painting of the red forest. “For the deep background, we added more CG trees and an immense play of falling leaves as well,” says Dumont. “We didn’t replace the walls there, we color-corrected them in intricate detail. We had to contrast the walls but extract the props in the room and the actors, in masks and windows.”