The Soho based VFX studio One Of Us was one of the VFX companies who contributed on Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, released in DVD next month from Fox.
The film, starring Eva Green, Judi Dench and Samuel L. Jackson, is the story of Jake Portman, and his journey into a mystery that spans different worlds and times. He finds Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, where mystery and danger deepen as he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers.
In the film, Abe Portman (Terence Stamp) has told stories to his 16-year-old grandson Jake (Asa Butterfield) about his childhood battling monsters and spending part of World War II living at "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" at Cairnholm, by the coast of Wales. The home's residents and their headmistress, Miss Alma Peregrine (Eva Green), possess paranormal abilities and are known as "Peculiars". After receiving a frantic phone call from his grandfather, Jake rushs to Abe's house. In the woods nearby, Jake finds his grandfather collapsed with his eye sockets empty, and he tells Jake to find "the bird, the loop and September 3, 1943" before dying.
By following the advice of his psychiatrist, Dr. Golan (Allison Janney), and after finding a letter from Miss Peregrine to Abe, Jake and his father Franklin (Chris O'Dowd) travel to Cairnholm. Jake explores the island and finds out the children's home was destroyed during a Luftwaffe raid. As he explores the house, some of the Peculiar Children from Abe's stories greet him.
The children take Jake through a cave and he finds himself in 1943; they take him back to their intacted house, where Miss Peregrine greets him. She explains that she belongs to a class of female Peculiars named "Ymbrynes", who have the power to transform into birds (in Miss Peregrine's case, a peregrine falcon) and manipulate time. She and the children hide from the outside world in a time loop she created, permanently set to September 3, 1943.
Jake is introduced to the rest of the children, including Hugh.
One of Us, led by supervisors Dominic Parker and Emmanuel Picherau, were tasked with the character of Hugh (Milo Parker). Hugh's peculiarity is that he is inhabited by bees. In some sequences these bees are calm, tumbling out as he opens his mouth, a few simply circling him. In others, Hugh wears a beard of bees at a carnival side-show. When the children are under attack, he uses his bees as a weapon, sending out a swarm to attack his assailants.
The beard itself was made up of around a hundred bees, wriggling and crawling over each other, each a variation on OOU’s model of a Honey Bee. The team animated the bee swarms to exhibit benign behaviours, going about their everyday business, except when directed by Hugh to go on the offensive. How the bees behaved depended very much on the mood of the scene.
We asked One of Us about working on the film:
FXG: What tools were involved in doing the swam, flocking behaviour with the bees?
One of Us: We used both Houdini and Maya, because we used various different techniques for the different bee behaviours. All key frame animation was done in Maya, including animation loops - wing cycles, walk cycles, etc. with all the appropriate variations in them. These were cached out separately, with the wings sampled at a much higher rate to allow for high sub frame motion samples. This was in the interest of greater realism in the finished look, which needs the right amount of randomness and motion blur.
FXG: What was your preferred renderer?
One of Us: Everything was rendered through Houdini's Mantra. We like the openness and flexibility, and it solved some technical motion blur issues for us.
FXG: Did it require a digital face at any point - other than, of course, a digital stand-in Geo for the 3D bees to build on?
One of Us: There was no digital face rendered, but it was necessary to derive an extremely accurate face track. Because there were shots which ended up with a beard which hadn't been planned to have a beard, there were no tracking markers. But our matchmove team did a great job locking those tracks.
FXG: Was readability an issue when then flew, giving their fast movement, small size and motion blur?
One of Us: All too often CG suffers from a fear of not being readable - which results in the over emphasis of the digital elements in a shot, and a loss of realism. I never mind if our elements get lost in blur or in shadows - that's what happens in the real world. On almost all shots we stuck to the proper dimensions and light. Just in a couple of instances, for the sake of the narrative, we overplayed the bees .. just a little.
FXG: Did Hugh (Milo Parker) require any special considerations in terms of how he was filmed, or was the face enough to track, and the lighting broad enough that it just worked from the principle photography?
One of Us: As discussed, most shots had no facial tracking markers, and Hugh has a child's perfect skin, and also a very flexible and expressive face. But we managed, and we really like the results. A bee beard is a creepy thing and gets a visceral reaction.
FXG: Did Tim Burton require anything particular about how the bees either rested (bee beard) or flew?
One of Us: The direction we received from TB was on the whole very broad, and he often responded favourably to our first layout animation. And then a couple of shots were worked and reworked, over and over. For example, in the sequence at the dinner table - the first close up of the bees coming out of Hugh's mouth. Maybe he was learning what he wanted from the bees as the other shots progressed. But this is so often the case, that a director homes in on one or two shots, with apparently disproportionate attention - and it's hard to predict which shots they will be.
FXG: I assume the plates were ARRI raw at 2.8K or were they pre transcoded when you got them? What colour space did you use?
One of Us: It was ACES colour pipeline. All worked smoothly.
Hugh's big moment takes place in the circus, where each of the children uses his or her peculiarity to attack Barron and his sidekicks, and Hugh summons his bees to join the battle. But it was the Movies Dreams sequence which presented the most challenging work.
Dominic Parker commented: “The Movie Dreams sequence involved great detail and complex animation. The close up shots of Hugh's bee beard were an exciting challenge - almost as scary to do in CG as in real life! It was a pleasure to work with VFX Supervisor Frazer Churchill and VFX Producer Hal Couzens to help Hugh’s insect companions crawl, fly and swarm”
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