Luma Pictures Applies Its Wizardry to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Studio's Clever Illusions Include a Bronze Owl, a Mysterious "Love Potion", Flying Books and a Malevolent Necklace
July 1st, 2009 —
LOS ANGELES - Although they didn't wave wands or recite incantations, the visual effects team from Luma Pictures worked some pretty remarkable magic for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, conjuring up more than two dozen visual effects shots for the latest edition of the immensely popular J.K. Rawlings saga. Luma's enchanting work included a handsome, bronze owl that springs to life and stretches its wings, "heart-shaped bubbles" that emanate from bottles of love potion, books that return to their shelves under their own power and a necklace with a menacingly evil shimmer.
Luma Pictures worked on the film under the direction of visual effects producer Emma Norton and visual effects supervisor Tim Burke (who previously was nominated for an Academy Award for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). "The Harry Potter films have not only been extremely popular, they have also set a high bar for visual effects production," says Luma Pictures Executive Visual Effects Supervisor Payam Shohadai. "We were very proud to be able to contribute to that tradition and were especially pleased to create visuals that play a part in the storytelling."
One of Luma's more interesting effects involved a bronze owl that adorns a pulpit in Hogwarts' Great Hall. As Dumbledore stands behind the pulpit delivering a speech, the owl starts to move, spreading its enormous wings wide in a fluttering motion.
Although Luma has created countless creatures, both real and imaginary, the owl presented a unique artistic challenge as it had to appear lifelike, while retaining its metal character. "We created an intricate rig and model, that allowed the owl's feathers and wings to fan out," notes VFX Supervisor Vincent Cirelli. "Because the owl is made of metal, it was very important that the surface did not stretch when bound to the skeleton. It needed to look and feel like thousands of small, metal feathers, each able to achieve independent movement."
Like the owl, a stunning opal necklace that plays a central role in the film possesses quasi-lifelike qualities. The necklace carries an evil curse that manifests itself in the peculiar way it shines. "It needed to exude evil overtones," Cirelli says. "We did that by keeping the animation rigid, and by applying a metallic shader that makes it feel darker and less reflective."
Another effect involved a "love potion" that plays an important part in one of the film's comic subplots. Ron comes across the romance-inducing liquid in a magic shop and watches with delight as heart-shaped bubbles rise out of glass vials. Luma's subtle treatment of the bubbles enhances their magical quality. "We used HDRI panoramas to light and reflect the store interior onto the surface of the bubbles and used distortion techniques to give them a unique aesthetic," recalls Sequence Supervisor H Hammond.
In another scene, Hermione is in a library returning books to their shelves. Because the books are magical, Hermione needs only to lift one up and let it go; the book flies back to its spot on its own. The effect was accomplished through a combination of CG and practical means. In some instances, Luma's team created stacks of CG books that levitate throughout the library as well as individual books that maneuver to their appointed spots on bookcases. In other cases, practical books held by Hermione transition to levitating CG book after they are plucked from her hands by crew members reaching through openings in the bookcases.
In post, Luma digitally "erased" the crew members' arms creating the illusion that the books are floating on air. "We also removed custom mounts that Hermione used to hand off some of the books she was carrying," explains VFX producer Glenn Morris. "For the clean up, we used 3D projections along with painting and touch-up techniques. In some instances, we replaced practical books with CG copies that levitate to their assigned places."
Luma also made it appear as though a snow storm is raging outside the library window. What made that a challenge was the window's glass, whose elaborate pattern caused light to refract and distort in complex ways. Replicating the distorting effect of the glass required a delicate artistic touch and a whole lot of number crunching. "We needed to hold out the glass so that it wouldn't be affected by the color correction," notes Morris. "We used articulate roto and proxy 3D geometry for the panes and tracked that to the camera. The compositors then had a fully opaque alpha element that they could control and use to make precise color and defocus adjustments to the background."
Luma worked on the project for 18 weeks, a relatively lengthy period, given the size of the effects package. The unusual luxury of time allowed for extra attention to detail. "We were able to polish shots even after they were approved," observes Senior Producer Steven Swanson. "Our artists welcomed the opportunity to demonstrate their passion and commitment to quality, and the production team appreciated the 'beyond the call of duty' attitude that we strive to bring to all of our projects."
Luma Pictures is a leading provider of visual effects services to Hollywood with a reputation for artistic integrity, technical innovation and efficient production. The company served as lead visual effects provider on multiple Academy Award-winner No Country for Old Men (Paramount Vantage) and City of Ember (Walden Media). Some of the studio's other credits include X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Twentieth Century Fox), Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End (Walt Disney Pictures), Apocalypto (Buena Vista/Icon), Hancock (Columbia Pictures), and Burn After Reading (Focus Features). Upcoming projects include A Serious Man (Focus Features).
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
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