Both director Tim Burton and visual effects master Ken Ralston were presented with a vast catalog of huge difficulties and challenges in the production of Alice in Wonderland (2010). Ralston and Burton both wrestled with the enormous amount of computer-generated effects. “The film used a lot more green screen than Ralston has ever dealt with before,” says Burton. But Burton insisted on avoiding motion capture as much as possible.
Alice in Wonderland won a final visual effects Oscar slot this year against stiff competition. It won because the visual effects are all-pervasive throughout the film, and are used in ingenious ways to mix and match live-action footage, precise exercises in shifting scale and key animation.
Ralston said, “It was one of the most complicated things I’ve been involved with. He added, “At first Burton was wary, but the great thing is, we hit it off. We didn’t dwell on the technical. We’d just get it done.” He wanted real props, to give actors something to work with. The hardest thing is the combination of creating a virtual world and adding action props so you believe that live actors are in that place. It’s complex, taking live actors who are talking to eccentric fantasy characters, to give a sense of relationship, to make them look like they are there.”
The film, for the most part, is an artful blend of live action and animation, live actors and digital doubles. Ralston says, “Along with green screen, Sony Imageworks used painted murals and reflective glass surfaces, digital environments were highly detailed renderings, complete with dust motes.” The characters Tweedledum and Tweedledee were filmed as live costumed actors walking against a green screen, they were then rendered by animators.
“The trickiest feat of visual FX magic,” says Ralston, “Was the so insane Red Queen character. They had to enlarge actress Helena Bonham Carter’s head by 175% of its normal size. It then had to be skillfully placed onto the Queen’s digital body. Ralston went on to say, “You have to believe it’s resting on her shoulders.” Depp’s Mad Hatter characters eyes were digitally enlarged also, the eyes morph into a green eyed Cheshire cat at one point in the movie.
But in the end and in spite of all the immense difficulties, headaches and challenges, both Burton and Ralston liked how Alice turned out. Ralston said, “It’s one of my best creative experiences on film.” He added that at Sony Imageworks, “every day had its share of terror.”
Contact the Author: MikeStringer@ArtsandEntertainmentPlayground.com