Watch our WIRED DesignFx piece with our media partners WIRED magazine.
Weta Digital know a thing or two about fire breathing dragons, having done a few shots with dragons, but perhaps not that many with a dragon like Elliot from Pete’s Dragon. Oscar-nominated Visual Effects Supervisor Eric Saindon actually joined Pete’s Dragon directly from the Hobbit. As Saindon relates, “he went from one dragon to another” and it was Saindon who walked a giant 20 foot stick with a ball around on set, while filming. Saindon himself acted out the role of Elliot.
Sometimes he swapped out the ball and stick for a giant green dragon head so he could get shadows and bounce lighting on the young actors, not just the correct eye lines and blocking. He also sometimes used a balloon Dragon “It is funny the local press got some photos from when we were filming in NZ,” he jokingly recalled, “and they assumed this was actually something we were going to use in the film!”
Weta Digital helped redesign the character, making the nose more horse like, as horses have very expressive noses, and making the ears lower on is head like a cat and more like a dog.
Director David Lowery was keen to shoot in New Zealand, so the partnership with Weta Digital worked out well. Elliot presented many challenges to the effects team, chief among them was the idea of Elliot’s invisibility. During the course of the film, the nature of this changes are based on the emotion of the scene. In some scenes, Elliot is effectively camouflaged and at other times he becomes invisible.
As you can see in our WIRED piece, the team worked hard on particles in the air to hint at where the invisible Elliot was for the invisible transitions.
While the film had been prevized by Proof in LA, the team worked very closely with the director to produce the emotional beats of the film.