Method's Magical Touch
January 9, 2017

Method's Magical Touch

Expanding the wizarding universe of Harry Potter, Warner Bros.’ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them follows magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he attempts to track down magical creatures that have escaped from his suitcase and into 1920s New York, while tensions mount between wizarding and non-wizarding communities. 

To bring the story, crafted by author J.K. Rowling, to life, the production VFX supervisors, Tim Burke and Christian Manz, enlisted an arsenal of creative talent to handle the film’s visual effects, including Deluxe’s Method Studios. (For an in-depth look at the overall visual effects in the film, see the November.December 2016 issue of CGW .)

Method contributed to the opening and closing shots, in addition to environmental and creature work. The studio also reimagined the look of the distinct “apparate” and “disapparate” effects from the Harry Potter  films through which a wizard magically teleports into or out of a scene. 

Andrew Hellen, VFX Supervisor, Method Studios, said, “Production wanted the apparate/disapparate effect to have more a of a 3D feel than in past films, so they asked some of the vendors to redesign the effect, retaining the essence of the original but with even more dynamic movement. We came up with a rhythmic particulate effect that follows a bit of a corkscrew pattern, almost like a whirlpooling Picasso painting that snaps together, and our concept was ultimately selected. It looks completely different from every angle, adds a lot of dimension to scenes and was a blast to devise.” 

Method employed the ‘apparate’ effect in a full-CG point-of-view fly-through shot, covering several blocks of a grungy Manhattan tenement neighborhood, with the character finally appearing near a recreation of the historic Woolworth Building. Artists peppered the sequence with digital crowds and various CG elements like flapping laundry, using period photographs for reference and tonal accuracy. “We referenced a lot of old maps from New York circa 1920. It’s such an iconic area, and we wanted to retain that authenticity, inject the appropriate amount of chaos while making sure any creative historical deviations didn’t distract from the story,” Hellen explained.

On the creatures side, Method handled the shot of Newt bottle-feeding a young marmite – a tentacled cross between a dust mite and squid with a transparent body. Production provided live action plates with the actor, and Method artists added the CG creature to the shot, digitally wrapping 10-foot-long tentacles around Newt and creating an underwater feel.

Newt transports his magical menagerie in an unassuming suitcase that he’s able to walk down into, entering a “zoo,” with each creature housed in a different environment. The backgrounds surrounding each pen appear to be realistically painted canvases, but with a moving, magical quality. Method’s team created a mangrove swamp within the suitcase environment, and incorporated creatures from four other VFX studios into the final composite. Method also created the snowy environment that is supposed to contain the Obscurus – a particularly evil creature that has escaped. Largely shot on greenscreen, artists added mountains, trees and a frozen lake, giving them a brush-stroked feel and layering them with animated snow.

“We spent a lot of time going back and forth with production and other VFX studios involved to figure out who was doing what, and the entire process worked surprisingly well. Everyone was very open about sharing materials and doing whatever was needed to complete a shot in which a flying Billywig gets eaten by a Doxy which in turn gets eaten by a Fwooper; it turned out beautifully,” said Hamish Schumacher, VFX Supervisor, Method Studios.

Directed by David Yates, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them stars Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Allison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo and Colin Farrell.