The Senate Contributes To 'Dark Shadows'
May 21, 2012

The Senate Contributes To 'Dark Shadows'

Using a wide range of CG, The Senate VFX completed 186 shots in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ “Dark Shadows,” a Tim Burton film. Anton Yri, The Senate’s visual effects supervisor on the project, working with The Senate’s visual effects producer, Sam Spacey, oversaw six major sequences in the film. Yri was on set for the duration of the first unit and model photography production phases.
“We were entrusted with a broad range of work, which required a great variety of visual effects techniques — from extensive greenscreen work to full CG environments, ghost FX and creature animation,” states Yri. “We had a significant number of shots requiring CG, which, coupled with meeting the demands of a visionary director, made ‘Dark Shadows’ a challenging yet hugely rewarding project.”

Sequences included shots involving the Collinwood Manor, the Angel Bay/Fish Canning Factory, the McDonalds/Construction Attack and the Josette Supernatural/Ghost scenes.

Yri explains, “For Collinwood Manor, although both the exterior and interior sets were built at Borehamwood and Pinewood Studios, respectively, extensive work was required to replace vast greenscreens and build additional portions of the Manor. The life-size exterior was only built to the bottom of the first floor, and the rest required visual effects utilizing a mixture of high-res stills, matte paintings, CG builds and elements from a 1/3-scale model shoot.

The Senate’s single most complex shot was a sweeping camera move over Collinwood Manor under-construction. “Starting with a basic art department model of the Manor, the 3D team deconstructed it, removing roofs and walls and replacing them with wooden beams and the interior structure of the house,” Yri says.  CG period scaffolding was then added to the exterior, along with a CG crane in the foreground, to provide more dynamism to the shot. The Manor surroundings were created using a mixture of sea plates, matte paintings and model element shoots.  To add life to the scene, 18th century construction worker elements were then dotted around the various walkways.

“For the widest shots of the Manor, which were generally lock-offs, we created more matte paintings,” Yri comments. “Tim Burton preferred the slightly surreal look of the gardens created from scratch, rather than using model elements of the house.” To add life to these shots, movement was added to the clouds, which in turn created animating light patterns on the house and gardens. Flocks of distant birds were also added in some scenes as well as model cars and additional people, which were used to populate the forecourt of the house to give a greater sense that a party was in full swing. The car elements were enhanced with light beams and exhaust smoke.

For the Collinwood Manor Burns sequence, The Senate set the model house alight and filmed it at high speed, to help give the flames a greater sense of scale. These model elements were then blended with the life-size foreground of the Manor and supplemented with additional flame elements where necessary. Foreground smoke elements and an overall fogging were added to create the illusion of a raging inferno. An animated collapse of the tower was also added, to give a great sense of distraction.

Another intricate CG build involved the extension of the Angel Bay Fish Canning Factory.  The Senate was tasked with extending the factory to create a vast bustling production house.  Using the set as reference, the main walls of the building were extended and filled with more conveyor belts, and dotted with another 60 or so worker elements — all placed on 3D cards to maintain realistic perspective and parallax.

For the McDonald's sequence where a construction crew unwittingly unearths Barnabas Collins' coffin and releases him after nearly 200 years, The Senate used reference images of 1970s McDonald's.  A CG restaurant and sign were created, and the numerous wires that were used to hurl the workers had to be removed from every shot.  The action was supplemented with additional blood elements, smashing glass, CG canes and a flying coffin lid.

Haunting Effects

Two supernatural sequences required The Senate to develop a watery ghost effect for the spectre of Josette.  As the director wanted to avoid anything too magical or ethereal, The Senate applied layers of simple 2D distortions, glows and subtle transparencies onto green screen elements of Josette, to create a more old-fashioned, yet beautiful ghostly effect.  These ghostly elements were then placed into 3D space, and composited into the various corridors of Collinwood Manor.  Shots were enhanced with lighting passes, flickers to chandeliers and glows to walls.

The Senate also created CG crabs that would crawl over Josette’s body when she is first revealed, and even out of her mouth as she first speaks.  As the ghost disappears from sight, she dives off the main foyer chandelier and into the floor with a gentle splash.  To create this subtle effect, the ribbon-like pattern of the foyer Josette ghost floor was deconstructed into its separate tiles.  A 3D wave effect was then applied to the tiles, with their separation allowing them to move independently of each other, revealing shadows underneath the joins.

Another supernatural element involved the cracking up of the witch Angelique.  To achieve this effect, Angelique's body was first tracked in 3D, with a digitally painted crack projected to give the appearance of a fault line travelling down her body.  The actual geometry of her skin was carefully altered to become more multi-faceted, so the effect seemed to be part of her, rather than just sitting on top of her skin.

Visual effects supervisor Angus Bickerton oversaw all the work on “Dark Shadows,” and The Senate was one of the leading visual effects vendors. 

“We are very proud of our work on ‘Dark Shadows,’” says Sarah Hemsley, CEO of The Senate.  “These sequences were complex but also subtle in a variety of ways.  Having our Soho facility, on Dean Street, for full 2K reviews and meetings was very convenient for our clients and kept the production schedule moving forward.”