BREAKING DAWN SPECIAL EFFECTS (Press Notes) – On The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn- Part 2 , Academy Award® winning visual effects guru John Bruno shared duties with his long-time colleague, visual effects supervisor Terry Windell, to conquer the massive amount of visual effects work required to create the one-of-a- kind Renesmee, and a vampire/wolf mêlée several times more complex than the one created for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. In addition, the special abilities of multiple vampires, along with those of newborn Bella, had to be addressed. The visual effects team worked closely with series veteran E.J. Foerster, second unit director, on the most painstaking of the stunts and effects filming; and during the film’s lengthy post-production, employed an army of visual effects artists.
“Because of the increasing fantasy elements, this project has so many more visual effects than any other movie that I have ever done before,” admits director Bill Condon. “In this movie, 80 percent of the shots got altered in some way. It’s been an incredible education for me, you shoot a movie, you put it together, and then you start to work on it again in post.”
“When I watched Bill’s films, specifically the odd movie that he did called Gods and Monsters, I thought this guy is really great with actors and with dialogue. He’s a really good director and very good writer, but when it comes to visual effects, I’m trying to do everything possible to simplify the whole process for him. I like to go with realism as much as I can and he was all for that. Bill’s also a perfectionist, which was great for me… somebody who can push me. I’ve worked with Jim Cameron… I know about perfectionism,” laughs Bruno.
Terry Windell was heavily involved during many phases of production on both films, including working as second unit visual effects supervisor for all of principal photography. After delivering The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, John Bruno transitioned out of the project when he had the opportunity to direct the 3D IMAX documentary Deepsea Challenge, working with his frequent collaborator James Cameron. As a result, Bruno’s old friend Windell took over the supervisor-ship of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 during post-production.
In his new role during post-production, Windell continued his working relationship with Bill Condon. “He is incredibly story and character driven. Bill speaks to of the effects from the character and story’s needs, instead of in terms of imagery or spectacle. He’s not concerned with how big the effect is, but whether it is the right moment serving the right purpose in the film. It’s more fulfilling to work that way because you feel a part of the story, versus being the guy making all the noise and explosions.”
“It’s been great working with Terry, who was involved from the beginning, because he always also tends toward subtlety,” says Condon. “He’s been doing it for so long that he knows it takes very little to suggest something.”
Extensive use of storyboards and pre-visualizations (“pre-viz”) helped filmmakers to plan the complicated sequences. “There are well over a dozen vendors dealing with various aspects of the special effects. In order to even figure out what those things were going to cost and who was going to do them, most of the movies had to be storyboarded and pre-vized,” says Condon.
Bruno and Windell cast the best visual effects artists in the business to create the fast- growing wonder child Renesmee, to send vampires to war, and to bring Bella’s hunt and supernatural shield to life; while established elements like vampire speed and sparkle, as well as the wolves were refined.
“We’ll reach 2,000 effect shots in this film, but what’s ironic is you won’t notice most of them, if we do our job right,” says Windell.
Located in Berkeley, California, Tippett Studio, founded by visual effects pioneer and a multi-Oscar® winner Phil Tippett, created the on-screen wolves for The Twilight Saga: New Moon, refined them in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, and worked with director Bill Condon to fulfill his vision of the supernatural creatures for both cinematic parts of the final novel. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 has twice as many wolf shots as the last film; more complex shots with increasing interaction.
“We’ve held on to the continuity of Phil taking the creative lead on the wolves,” says Godfrey. “The technology gets better every month and he’s a really enthusiastic partner in trying to create the best performance out of the wolves. We all feel a real sense of safety with Tippett.”
“They’ve always had a huge role to play in each movie, upping their game every time. But in this one with the battle, it’s the biggest and most important contribution. The thing about the wolves here is that there are many, many more shots than in any other movie, so it was fun to ask to Phil and his team – what haven’t you gotten to do yet?” asks Condon. “The wolves usually phase in a moment of rage and they get incredibly warm. But in this, Jacob has to transform for Charlie as a demonstration, this transformation is not coming from anything emotional. So Phil had always wanted to show this incredibly quick rise in body temperature with steam coming off of him. That’s an example of a detail that had never been attempted before.”
Tippett Studio first began working on the CGI (computer generated imagery) wolves in February of 2009 for The Twilight Saga: New Moon, and the look of the creatures has evolved, becoming more photo real over the course of the saga, with the input of three different directors. “It’s a subtle balance of just how anthropomorphic these wolves are,” says Eric Leven. “Bill wanted to make sure that we had a sense of the human or the shape shifter in there. Finding that balance of how much of a human performance versus an animal performance was important for Bill.”
Leven adds, “Bill has always treated the wolves as characters and never as computer generated things, and directs them in the same way he’d direct any actor. He would always give us direction like Sam should be angrier. It’s the best way to work. His treating these creatures as characters, instead of just computer bits, was really great.”
“Because we’ve been working on this franchise for such a prolonged period of time, we’ve been able to improve the look from show to show,” comments Tippett. “Wolves generally are pretty darn clean and since Bill wanted the wolves rangier, that means a lot more fur matting and clumping, like they’ve lived out in the woods. We edged towards something a bit more feral.”
“However, there is also a balance between look and technology,” adds Tippett. “The body count of the wolves escalates and because we’re adding a great deal more hair to get the right texture, that fur really ups the rendering time. We’ve gone from four wolves to eight to twelve, to sixteen in Part 2. So we have to be very careful about that balance, because it takes hundreds of hours to render each wolf.”
In the hunt, fans will finally get to see Bella’s newborn abilities, her strength and her speed. Her most important gift, her shield, is discovered over time and the audience gets to experience that power, as Bella learns how to expand and yield it to protect her family.
Vampire Bella is a completely different character from human Bella, and required the use of a multitude of effects to achieve on screen. After awakening with heightened senses and sharing her first vampire kiss with Edward, Bella needs to hunt for the first time. “We experience what Bella is experiencing – crystal clarity. For example, she can see dust coming from a moth’s wing. She can see through her skin. Clarity, depth and color is all enhanced,” comments Bruno.
“The whole opening is to reveal Bella’s finely tuned sensibilities as a vampire,” says Windell. “Bella notices when she wakes up that she has this very acute vision. Right off the bat you’ll see her zoom into something that’s almost microscopic, and so we actually did photograph real items that were actually on the set.
“Bella has a hyper-realistic, otherworldly look during the hunt,” adds Windell. “She is experiencing her new powers – she can run at vamp speed and leap incredible spaces. We start with a very visceral sequence where she’s just a blur, but then the camera chases her down and overtakes her. All of a sudden it snaps into this hyper, over-cranked, slow motion world, so we see that for her, even though the world’s going by in a blur to us as humans, when we come over her shoulder and see things from her perspective, everything’s moving in slow-mo. She’s going incredibly fast, but she notices everything – the thickness of the tree trucks to the little ferns on the ground. That’s another combination of cameras – the Alexas and the Phantoms – that we shot at a high digital rate. We also enhanced the spectacular quality of all the highlights, adding pollen and God rays of sun coming through the trees – all these little details that she’s seeing while running 80 miles an hour without any effort.”
A healthy share of the stunt heavy elements and visual effect needs during principal photography was delegated to the second unit team. “E.J. Foerster is somebody that I’ve worked with four times and I have an incredible comfort level with him,” comments Godfrey. “He’s very energetic and a task master. There’s also a comfort level with our actors, who have often worked with his unit throughout the series. For this, Bill sat down with E.J. and was inspired by his energy. Plus, he is really knowledgeable about the world of British Columbia and where we have to go for the material we need. Given that we’re all focused down here in Louisiana, it’s been great to have somebody with E.J.’s experience and knowledge up there scouting and sending us footage of where we need to go to shoot.”
The second unit on The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn was bigger than an average movie’s entire production. “You can’t finish these films without a really healthy second unit. It’s vital. We’ve got a 101 day main unit schedule, plus a 60 day second unit schedule shooting concurrently, and on material for both movies,” explains Godfrey. “You have to trust. The complication of the stunts is such that we can’t afford to sit around on main unit waiting for the rigging to get done… you want your second unit to capture all that difficult stuff.”
Pre-viz of the battle, Bella’s hunt, and her shield kept everyone working towards the same goal. “Throughout shooting, Bill works with second unit on a daily basis, looking at stunt rehearsals, looking at fight video, and trying to synthesize it all. The sequences have all been pre-planned, so in a weird way, it’s already been directed and shaped by Bill before they go shoot it,” says producer Wyck Godfrey.