I’m late! I’m so terribly late! Better late than never. I’m finally getting around to giving my thoughts on the last Siggraph event I attended, appropriately titled, Alice in Wonderland: Creating Underland. There were two presentations that covered a behind the scenes look at first the animation then the visual effects of Burton’s take on the classic tale. I didn’t really care for the film’s plot shortcomings, but the eye candy was impressive. Funny enough the film just recently became one of the highest grossing films of all time by passing the one billion dollar (world wide sales) mark, so what the heck do I know? Both presentations were very interesting, and I’ll highlight what I can remember from each.
The animation presentation started off with various concept sketches for each of the characters in the film. At first they went way off the map, and finally honed the characters down to what Burton had in mind. Based on some of the earlier designs, the characters could have been a lot darker, and I hope to see the same concept sketches published some day (if they aren’t already).
The animators teleconferenced with Tim Burton via satellite, and the audience was shown a glimpse of what it’s like to receive direction from Burton (it looks like they had a lot of fun making this film). From some of the most vague instructions and doodles, the team was able to figure out what Burton was after and produce some really detailed and subtle animation. One shot in particular, where the white rabbit first introduces Alice to the Red Queen (in the garden) was shown from first to last pass. Burton’s keen eye for animation brought the shot from wild and zany down to extremely subtle, but it’s exactly what the scene called for.
Moving onto the visual effects side of things, this film certainly took green screening to a new level, providing some massive sculpted green set pieces for the actors to work with. When shown a side by side of the original footage with the final shot, you really have to tip your hat to the effects artists on this one. From the giant green faces that Alice skipped across to a full scale dog head for her to climb up (when she was tiny), while the actors did have to imagine almost everything around them, they at least had some incredible physical references to help them in this endeavor.
Next the audience was treated to how some of the more specific effects were created, namely enlarging The Mad Hatter’s eyes and The Red Queen’s head. Johnny Depp’s eyes were enlarged by 50% for every single shot. There were some shots where the size varied based on the emotional state of the character, so the team created a plugin that created the effect in a couple of steps on the fly. A similar plugin was created for the Red Queen’s head, but the difference here was that the film was shot simultaneously in two different formats. I forget the name of the second, but it was roughly four times the resolution of BluRay (so roughly 4000p). The effects artists used the head from the higher resolution files and imported them into the regular HD shots. This gave the Red Queen a massive head without compromising image quality. The plugin took care of other issues like the seems in the neck. Watching the artist make these adjustments in real time in front of us was a real treat. By solving the problems through software, they were able to make incredible effects quickly that would have otherwise been a nightmare.
The evening was capped off with a screening of the film and some door prizes. It was getting late so I didn’t stay for the film, but the presentations were top notch. Look out for the DVD/BluRay Bonus Features, as I’m sure a lot of this and more will be covered there, and you won’t want to miss that.