Framestore makes a welcome return to Hogwarts for J.K.Rowling’s sequel Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald; having delivered 490 shots of VFX and animation across their sites in London and Montréal.
The studio was creatively involved from the outset, with Framestore Creative Director, Christian Manz, joining Tim Burke as the film’s Joint Overall VFX Supervisors. Framestore worked on huge London and Paris environment builds, the French ‘Ministere des Affaires Magiques’ as well as 15 separate beasts; including the standout ‘Zouwu’ and old friends Niffler and Pickett.
“It was fantastic working with Framestore. From the Zouwu and Niffler, to 1920’s magical Paris, the variety and quality of the work they delivered topped what even they did on the first film – David Yates was very pleased with the final shots!”Christian Manz, Joint Overall VFX Supervisor
Animation Supervisor Nathan McConnel joined from pre-production, overseeing a small team of animators on-site at Leavesden Studios to develop the film’s creatures through pre-vis and post-vis animation vignettes; playing a key role in shaping the creatures’ personalities and performances. As with the first film, the team worked from concepts developed by Framestore’s Art Department amongst others, animating over 100 beasts to showcase personality and behaviour variations. This gave Director David Yates the ability to visualise the beasts and work out how they would fit into the scenes. ‘It was the most collaborative film that I’ve worked on,’ says McConnel. ‘It was a very open brief; it was great to be there so early in the process and be so creatively involved.
Among those to find their way into Newt’s menagerie is standout beast the ‘Zouwu’ – feline-like, elephant-sized, with a scraggly lion’s mane, long sharp claws, and a disproportionately long, ruffled tail. ‘Our remit for this film was to create even more spectacular and nuanced, visually-striking creatures’, says McConnel, ‘this was embodied by the Zouwu.’ The team referenced lizards for her body movement, in direct contrast to the cat-like facial performance. They also took reference for her head and tail movements from Chinese Dragon parade performances. Says Andy Kind, VFX Supervisor, ‘She was one of the most complicated creatures that I’ve ever worked on; the long tail, the anatomy, the fur, the tendrils of the mane – all individual challenges that added up to a very complex creature.’
The story moves to Paris, France. Plates were captured in the city, overseen by Framestore VFX Supervisor Rob Duncan, who was 2nd Unit Supervisor on the film. The team still had to extend the city within a complex CG build. Says VFX Supervisor Nicolas Chevallier: ‘It was a huge challenge, especially since we had shots in both daylight and in the night. We used Stuart Craig’s production design, original drawings of the city, references of the period architecture and LIDAR scans of Paris itself to make sure that we captured a close match.’
Framestore was delighted to bring to life the French equivalent to the Ministry of Magic, the ‘Ministere des Affaires Magiques’; a huge build which took around a year to complete. The design was based on the Art Nouveau architecture of the time, and features an ornate sequence of domes intersected with columns and animated shelves. ‘It has a cathedral scale,’ says Kind. ‘We ended up creating a lot of full-CG shots to work with the animation and camera.’ The environment hosts one of the biggest action pieces of the film. Newt attempts to escape when set upon by the guardians of the Ministere des Affaires Magiques; the Matagot. Painfully-thin spectral sphynx-like cats, the Matagots are distinctive; the team built underlining muscular anatomy to allow the audience to sense their inner skeleton using proprietary tool Flesh and Flex. The whole sequence took around a year to complete, ‘It was a huge environment build encompassing a lot of action with the Matagots and the Zouwu appearing too,’ adds Kind, ‘We also had to add intricate engravings on the glass walls of the domes, and there were lots of magical elements inside the building to create.’
The Niffler also makes a return from the first film, as Newt’s scene-stealing sidekick. ‘We get to see the connection Newt has with the Niffler in this film’, says Chevallier, ‘and our artists were able to work on showing this relationship develop.’ Newt conjures golden dust to help the Niffler trace footprints, helping Newt to understand what happened at the Circus; ‘The Niffler acts as a kind of Watson to Newt’s Holmes, a bit like a cute sniffer dog,’ adds McConnel.
A heady mix of creatures, FX and environments proved to be an exciting challenge for the team used to working within the Wizarding World. ‘These films are fun to work on because there’s always a great creature that can be designed and conjured up’ says Kind. ‘It was also really nice to see the flurry of excitement when the Nagini snake reveal ended up in the trailer.’
Joint Overall VFX Supervisors: Christian Manz, Tim Burke
VFX Supervisors: Nicolas Chevallier, Andy Kind
Animation Supervisors: Nathan McConnel, Kyle Dunlevy
Visit the Framestore website for an even more in-depth look of the team’s work on the Film.