Cedric Nicolas-Troyan was the visual effects supervisor on the VFX Oscar-nominated Snow White and the Huntsman. He has returned to direct the follow-up film, The Huntsman: Winter’s War - a continuation of the story involving Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), Ravenna the Evil Queen (Charlize Theron) and her sister Freya the Ice Queen (Emily Blunt). fxguide talked to production visual effects supervisor Paul Lambert about five of the film’s main VFX sequences.
1. Delivering dwarves
The first Huntsman film featured several dwarves, which wee played mostly by principal non-dwarf actors shot with various forced perspective techniques or with digital augmentation to bring them to dwarf size. In Winter’s War, there are fewer dwarves (mainly Rob Brydon as Gryff and Nick Frost as Nion).
For shots around Freya’s castle, DNeg made use of reference photography and plates captured in Iceland. “I spent a week in a helicopter in Iceland, prior to the main shoot,” says Lambert. “From that we created geometry and cycs to go around our courtyard set which was shot on the backlot at Pinewood.”
This ultimately meant there were fewer visual effects requirements. However, the production did make use of what Lambert describes as “a great prosthetic mask for the dwarf stand-ins which helped for mid-to-distance shots.”
For close-ups, the actors were commonly filmed in strategic ways against their taller counterparts such as Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain. While doing some digital shrinking, DNeg also carried out a partial face replacement on the head prosthetic since it tended to make the eyes a lot closer than the real actor’s eyes.
“We’d take the area from around the eyes,” says Lambert. “The prosthetic would cover the eyebrows and a bit of the nose and transfer our build of the main actors onto the prosthetic mask using a 3D head track.”
2. Emily Blunt riding a Dyrio
Although it appears only briefly on screen, Emily Blunt as Freya the Ice Queen makes one dramatic appearance atop a Dyrio, a cross between a polar bear and a snow leopard. DNeg built the creature in CG with a complex fur groom.
“We had to build that model early because we needed to get a walk cycle,” explains Lambert. “The idea with that was we were going to build a mechanical rig for Emily to sit on and this was a rig that had a go kart attached to it. It was a fully mobile rig. It wasn’t quite a motion base because the SFX guys took the walk cycle and came up with this mechanical contraption which mimicked the walk cycle. The area Blunt sat on was covered in green and also a fur material. That gave us exceptional reference for how our CG character should fit into the scene.”
3. The Goblin King
On a mission to recover the stolen Magic Mirror, Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), along with the dwarf companions enter the Sanctuary where a gang of Goblins hoard gold. Here, Eric confronts the Goblin King, another CG creation from DNeg.
“Cedric wanted the King to be half human and half ape like to the point where some of his skin has a specular shine similar to a gorilla’s face,” outlines Lambert. “The idea is that Goblin King has evolved into more of an upright position where his army felt more monkey like. He is covered in gold, although originally he did have so many necklaces and chains of gold but then he was going to be fighting so much and rolling around that we realized there would be a lot of sims so we toned it down a bit.”
To bring the scene to life, it was first previs’d by Proof. Says Lambert: “We did photogrammetry in the area so we could provide that to the previs team for real-world reference. It was a very enclosed area. We were going to have to be pretty precise to where the camera was. Our Goblin King stand-in wore an Xsens MVN suit - so we were capturing his 3D position and movement during the shoot. We didn’t actually get to use that data exactly because Cedric wanted more of a performance and what was on set was more for eyeline and stunts. But it was good for reference. We then did some more mocap at DNeg later on but everything really was keyframed.”
4. Mirror reveal
Freya’s army steals the mirror, which the Ice Queen activates back at her castle. However, the mirror reveals itself to be a norm form of Ravenna (who had been destroyed in the first film). DNeg utilized The Mill’s mirror man model for a flashback sequence but then developed a different effect for this reveal sequence.
“Firstly,” says Lambert, “I had Nvizage in London previs the actual timing of how long it would take for the body to form and reveal. Now due to previs and the complexity of the effect, we couldn’t previs the cloth or any of the simulation, so what we ended up doing was doing the sequence with a body representing Ravenna starting in the foetal position and then rising up and coming to life.”
Inside her castle, Freya is regularly surrounded by icy particulates in the air - all implemented digitally. “This was quite tricky,” says Lambert. “When they are falling close to and also away from camera and you have very shallow depth of field and then you have the camera moving through this stuff, well, it had to all be physically correct and that did take a while to set up.”
“We had the shape forming in the cloth on the ground which then rose up and floated in the hair,” adds Lambert. “The guys at DNeg came up with a novel solution of using a sand solver and a cloth solver inside Houdini and marrying the two worlds to get us the flowing on top of itself look.”
A key part of the reveal is the blasting off of gold flakes from the form’s skin to eventually show Ravenna. “On set,” recalls Lambert, “we had done some tests prior to the shoot of having actual gold flakes put onto a body and then trying to explode them off. It was shot purely for reference. We then had a model of Ravenna slowly pushing through the cloth to reveal its form until you can see more and more of her form and we started to peel the gold flakes from her body to ultimately reveal her.”
5. The final fight
Eric and Sara finally take on Freya and Ravenna in an ice-filled battle. “Freya has the ability to freeze her surroundings,” states Lambert”. We tried to base it on the physical environment around her. For example, she’s able to freeze water near her and moisture. We always tried to ground it to whatever was in the environment. Cedric wanted a very stylized vision of the ice. The ice was made up of little triangles and we tried to keep them in the vector of the direction they were traveling in.”
That effect to build the ice wall was done in Houdini, notes Lambert. “We had to come up with a system with making the ice triangles and have them melt and congeal and form like a solid structure which then had refraction. That took a while to actually resolve.”
Ravenna, on the other hand, reverts to her power to control black obsedian-like shards and structures - elements which are shown to actually make up her insides. “What Cedric wanted to do was still have the shards as you saw them in the first film,” explains Lambert, “but they are actually internal to her so when she comes out of the mirror you only see the gold wrapping before you see the flesh. When she gets stabbed and pulls apart in the end you actually get to see that internally. The brief was to have this black obsedian as a goo form which you see as liquid first that forms into solid rock-like material and the tentacles."
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