London vfx houses create wizardry

Four outfits dominate U.K. biz

Soho VFX scene still strong

Each of London’s big four film vfx houses has its own strengths, but tries not to get pigeonholed. As Double Negative’s Matt Holben explains, “If we do get known for one area, we try to address a weakness in other areas.” For Potter, all four worked collaboratively to the vision of Warner Bros. vfx supervisor Tim Burke, who divided the tasks among them.

Moving Picture Co.

Popular on Variety

MPC provided the pre-visualization team for the two parts of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” The company delivered more than 500 shots across both films, with the climactic action of Part Two playing to the company’s strengths in big crowd simulations and large-scale fire and water effects, including the Room of Requirement conflagration. In Part One, it created the serpent Nagini, and the multiple Harrys of the polyjuice transformation scene.

Previous innovations included tree dynamics for the Whomping Willow and fur simulation software used for werewolf transformation. It developed its realistic lighting and rendering pipeline for Voldemort’s nose replacement, then passed that task over to Cinesite for the final films in order to concentrate on larger tasks.

Upcoming work includes “X Men: First Class” and “Prometheus” for Fox.


Best known for character animation and large-scale photorealistic effects, Framestore won a VES award for its work on the house elves Kreacher and Dobby (originally created by ILM in HP2), using keyframe animation rather than motion capture to make the characters more emotionally expressive.

Framestore was also responsible for the most striking stylistic departure of HP7, the Tale of Three Brothers, the sequence animated in the cutout style of Lotte Reiniger to explain the meaning of the Deathly Hallows.

Upcoming work include “War Horse,” “Johnny English Reborn” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”

Double Negative

From “Prisoner of Azkaban” onwards, DNeg has brought Hogwarts to magical life, developing its environmental pipeline for the project. To cope with the Potter magic and the flying Death Eaters, the company created its own software to control huge volumes of particles “so we can render photo-real smoke and fire, and blow things up and destroy things,” notes exec Holben.

Beyond Potter, DNeg has become Christopher Nolan’s house of choice. It handled all vfx for “Inception,” and its supervisor is already on “The Dark Knight Rises.” Other work includes “Paul,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “Attack the Block,” as well as most of the character animation in “John Carter of Mars,” a relatively new area for DNeg.


Cinesite is the only company to create physical models for Potter as well as visual effects. It built huge miniatures of Hogwarts, Hogsmeade and the Burrow, elaborating and extending them according to the demands of each successive film. This work originated at the Mill, but the team moved over to Cinesite when the Mill pulled out of film.

Cinesite has invested heavily in its 3D capabilities, and was rewarded by a large volume of work from Disney on “John Carter of Mars” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”

More Film

  • A still from Rebuilding Paradise by

    Ron Howard on Capturing Wildfire Devastation in 'Rebuilding Paradise' Doc

    Ron Howard’s upcoming documentary “Rebuilding Paradise” puts the spotlight on survivors from the northern California community in the aftermath of a deadly and destructive wildfire. “We weren’t just interested in the drama and the trauma, but on a human interest level,” Howard told Variety’s Matt Donnelly in conversation at Sundance Film Festival’s Cinema Cafe series. [...]

  • Zola

    'Zola,' the Stripper Tweetstorm Movie, Premieres to Warm Reception at Sundance

    “Zola,” the A24 movie based on a viral Twitter thread, premiered to laughter and applause on Friday at the Sundance Film Festival. The film is based on a mostly true story tweeted in October 2015 by Aziah Wells King (nickname: Zola, played by Taylour Paige). King recounted, in highly entertaining fashion, her journey from Detroit [...]

  • Alma Har'el with Lucas Hedges and

    DGA Marks Inclusion Milestones on the Eve of Awards Ceremony

    Two months ago, the Directors Guild of America heralded a major milestone in its long push for inclusion in the television industry. The DGA’s episodic television director inclusion report found that half of all TV episodes in the 2018-19 season were directed by women or directors of color for the first time. “Inclusion has been [...]

  • Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg Quibi

    Jeffrey Katzenberg, Meg Whitman Explain How Quibi Differs From Other Streamers

    Jeffrey Katzenberg has heard the chatter about streaming wars, but the media mogul thinks that when the dust settles, the fight to attract audiences won’t end with just a few victors. “Everybody suddenly wants to declare winners and losers and the fact is there’s only winners and winners right now,” he said during an interview [...]

  • Anaconda

    'Anaconda' Reboot in the Works at Sony With 'Divergent' Writer

    Sony Pictures is in early development of a reboot of the “Anaconda” franchise, hiring “Divergent” writer Evan Daugherty to write the project. The studio has not set up the project with a producer, director or actors. Sony released the original “Anaconda” in 1997 as a horror thriller starring Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric [...]

  • Annabella Sciorra

    Friend Tells of Annabella Sciorra's Mid-1990s Struggles at Harvey Weinstein Trial

    A longtime friend of Annabella Sciorra testified Friday in Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial that the actor turned to cutting herself and exhibited other troubling behavior in the mid-1990s after she was allegedly raped by the disgraced film mogul. The defense questioning of model Kara Young got heated as Judge James Burke sustained repeated objections to [...]


    Box Office: 'Bad Boys for Life' to Lead Weekend With $26 Million

    Sony’s “Bad Boys for Life” is dominating North American moviegoing with about $26 million at 2,155 sites, early estimates showed Friday. Universal’s World War I epic “1917” will finish at a distant second with about $13 million in the wake of receiving 10 Academy Award nominations and the top film award from the Producers Guild [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content