Magazine article Screen International

VFX on Maleficent

Magazine article Screen International

VFX on Maleficent

Article excerpt

Digital Domain's Kelly Port tells Elbert Wyche how he created technical processes to produce the stellar effects for Disney's fantasy blockbuster Maleficent.

Even for a 19-year veteran of the visual-effects industry, working on Disney's Maleficent presented a unique set of technical challenges.

Kelly Port has contributed to 26 films and counting during nearly two decades at Los Angeles-based visual-effects company Digital Domain, overseeing visual effects on films such as Thor, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Star Trek and Gran Torino.

That's precisely why Disney, Digital Domain veteran Carey Villegas and the film's director, Robert Stromberg, recruited Port as Maleficent's visual-effects supervisor. Port's strong technical foundation, having worked on the development of groundbreaking software at Digital Domain, made him the perfect choice.

"The biggest goal for us was challenging ourselves to take it to the next level," Port recalls. Which is exactly what he and his team had to do when creating the whimsical and intricate pixies, who are introduced in a pivotal opening scene of the film.

"It was actually one of the last scenes that we did. We had, at that point, done quite a few scenes already and had gotten a lot of practice. It was a beautiful sequence that we were all proud of," he says.

Although slightly stylised, the pixies also needed a likeness to the actresses who portrayed them (Juno Temple, Imelda Staunton and Lesley Manville). To accomplish this, Port and his team turned to University of Southern California-based Institute for Creative Technologies, which created high-resolution scans based on photogrammetry of each of the actors.

'It's critical that VFX are not used just because you can'Kelly Port, Digital Domain

"We needed them to be photo-realistic and we didn't want to be confused by any of the stylistic treatments that we were putting on," says Port.

The costumes for each pixie were incredibly detailed, made of multiple layers of different materials, all of which were organic. Twigs, flower petals, grasses, dandelion fluff and weeds had to interact and collide against their own bodies in the individual layers of the costume.

"Animators had to move forward with dialogue even before the design of the pixies became finalised. Using a proprietary flight motion transfer tool developed by Digital Domain, facial animation could be translated into pixie animation relatively quickly," Port explains.

In a case of necessity prompting innovation, the complexities of the pixie characters led Digital Domain to improve on its existing technologies. …

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