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THE BREAKDOWN
No. of f/x shots: 500
F/x shops: Industrial Light & Magic, Nexus Productions
Why it will be nommed: The digital toddler was as convincing as could be.
Why it won’t: Effects may struggle to stand out from film’s lukewarm reception.

Making a baby used to be a two-person affair, but when the modern world of digital effects meets the gothic kid lit of “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” and the infant character Sunny, it takes a few more people.

Industrial Light & Magic’s Stefan Fangmeier says while CG had been used to create fantasy characters such as the Hulk and “The Lord of the Rings’ ” Gollum, presenting a believable digital baby was a huge challenge. “It’s not an action sequence, it’s a real girl.”

In the film, Sunny, the youngest of the Baudelaire children, is a toddler whose penchant for biting things has her hanging from the edges of tables and taking on giant snakes. While twins Kara and Shelby Hoffman played Sunny on set, many of her scenes required some kind of digital adjustment or a complete digital double.

“Brad Silberling was very wise and used it only when he couldn’t do it with the actors,” says Fangmeier, who first collaborated with the director on 1995’s “Casper.”

The process of creating a digital character usually begins with a scan of the thesp, but with such scans requiring the subject to stay still for about 20 seconds using it on a real toddler required a different approach. Fangmeier says four pairs of high-res digital cameras were used to take photographs of a child that captured the geometry, skin color and tonality for the computer. Subsurface scattering techniques were used to make the skin look real.

Sunny’s hair and clothing were handled by separate teams. Fangmeier says they sought to improve on previous attempts at hair and cloth, which he says often look like they’re made of Rayon or rubber, respectively.

Fangmeier says it was a great advantage in being on set and being able to use photographs and film of the actors as reference. “We paid a lot of attention to all those details, to matching all those details.”

The film also had a unique look, which Fangmeier describes as a 3-D painting that had to be realized through visual effects. Between 40 and 50 exteriors were created for the film, which was shot entirely indoors.

A variety of techniques were used, including forced perspective for a train-tracks scene and miniatures for a house on a cliff that falls away into the ocean. The train sequence had a few odd challenges, as the train couldn’t be done in camera and a digital one had to be added later.

Slightly more standard types of effects include the World’s Deadliest Viper, which was conceived from scratch rather than based on a real snake, and a water leeches scene, which was shot in a tank and needed digital leeches, and an extended horizon and background.

ILM was the lead house on the project, with Nexus Productions doing the puppet opening sequence.