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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.

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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.

Framestore

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

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.”

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