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Building Castles in 360 Degree Projection – The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

 Process… Building Narnia from Studio to Stage

The major difference between this show and any other stage production I have worked on previously is the 360 degree element. Creating images in this way means the audience is completely immersed in a projected environment that is essentially seamless. Projecting on this scale has been done before in purely CG form, but after meeting with Stage Directors Rupert Goold/Mike Fentiman and Stage Designer Tom Scutt, they wanted something of the hand-made aesthetic afforded by stop-motion, in particular the texturized, vignetted look I’d achieved for the recent Pilsner Urquell ‘Legends’ animation.

In basic terms, the show is designed in the round with an automated circular stage. There isn’t a single square meter of it that doesn’t open, lift, swivel, eject flame or have a projector sticking out from it. The audience are closely esconsed all around the stage and behind them are the sides of the tent upon which 12 x 20KW projectors punch out an image of overall size 7680 x 960 pixels. The left and right edges join to form the wraparound effect, so a panorama image that looks like this in After Effects…

Icicle interior panorama of witch’s chamber (7680 x 960)

 

Gets chopped up, re-rendered and output like this…

Projected image with staged scene

 

The interior scenes worked well as these play to the conical shape of the tent. This way the image becomes architectural around the staged action. Whilst giving a sense of where we are story-wise, it keeps focus firmly in the centre where it should be. With all scenes comprising of models shot on green/red/blue screen to achieve the 83 individual sequences, there was a heavy reliance on compositing.

 

Interior of Mr Tumnus’ Cave. Model sculpt by Jon Kiefert, character illustrations by Natalie Bancroft

 

Exteriors, however, were a bit trickier. Much of the forest of Narnia was abstracted by building model trees from the splinters of the wardrobe (stop-motion). These were relatively straight forward to differentiate between locations with position, amount/shape of trees, grading etc. Although the only viable way of building much larger scenes and moving a camera through them (allowing room for all the editorial changes of the tech period) was virtually in CG.  Matthew ‘Mash’ O’Neill was responsible for the Cinema 4D witchcraft, within which he designed a virtual parabolic lens to move through models that had been hand built and then laser scanned courtesy of Central Scanning or shot as high res stills.

The scans and stills worked well, producing texture and colour maps that were then duplicated several times in different configurations to build two signature castle scenes for story polarity: Cair Paravel (which I originally designed as a kind of Battersea in wood) and the Witch’s lair in ice, rough sketches for which live here. When combined with Mash’s moving lens, the projected 360 image gives the sense that you’re traveling or flying through and around things. For anyone who has flown in the front seat of a training glider, this kind of projected experience makes you feel like a fly stuck inside the cockpit window. Coupled with a huge puppet of the lion Aslan that rotates with the direction of travel on screen, this creates the illusion of travel and movement (ie, away, towards, side profile) relative to where you’re sitting in the audience. To better explain the process behind it:

Iceberg models shaped in plaster

Left to right: Wireframe as provided by 3D scanner. Coloured/texture information overlay. Fully rendered.

 

Ice field rendered into panorama (pre-grading)

 

Balsa model of single bridge

Test POV shot of bridge and tower

Duplicated bridges and towers as they appear in ‘The Journey’ sequence.

 

Duplicated bridges and towers as they appear in the finale.

 

To keep the different styles looking consistent, all the shots were graded with a suffused glow to them, particularly towards the end of Act 2 when the story journey moves from dark to light. Although this doesn’t cover as much of the CG process as I might have liked, there’s a ‘making-of’ video that lives here:

The technical team who made it all happen on site were Alan Cox who engineered the system and Alan Macdonald of Media Powerhouse who provided the gear and expertise. The very patient Alex Cox figured out how to slice the massive panoramas into their component parts and then program them into the show.

Here’s the official publicity video of the show to illustrate how the scenes dovetail with the staged action.

To finish, say hello to all the patient, dedicated people who worked/put up with me to make this happen:

Stop Motion Assistant Director: Ian Whittle
Stop-motion Animation and Models: Adam Watts, Tristan Pritchard, Lauren Newman, Becky Smout, Ben Whitehouse, Nick Locquens, Drew Roper
Assistant Animators & Modelmakers: Joanne Goodchild, Natasha Williams, Abigail Walters, Orla McElroy, Sophie Huckfield, Charlotte Duckworth
Modelmakers: Emily Woodall, Carina Stuart, Leigh Townsend, Amy Jennings, Jon Kiefert
Lead Modelmakers: Paul Doran, Karen Richards
Moulding and Casting: Adam Watts, Karen Richards
Studio Assistants: Oli Weinfeld, Gary Jones, Joe Randall

Armature Engineering: Westley Wood
3D Scanning by Tom White, Steve Lane of Central Scanning

CGI Animation: Matthew ‘Mash’ O’Neill
2D Animation: Natalie Bancroft

Miniature Photography: Luke Unsworth

Lead Compositor: Matthew Higginbottom
Post-Production: Adam Fenwick, Craig Reeves, Frazer Milton, David Birkill
Artworkers: Chris Warren, Matt Sandbrook

System Programmer: Alex Cox
System Designer/Engineer: Alan Cox
Show Equipment Supplier: Alan MacDonald, Media Powerhouse

And here’s but a few of them in action:

 

To read more about how all this integrated with the rest of the show, here’s what The Telegraph said about the work behind it.

And here’s a more stream of consciousness post of work in progress at the time of production.

Thanks for reading.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – Building Narnia in Miniature

The Studio Design and Build

I used this post originally to keep the production office and other members of the creative team updated privately on progress here at the studio during the latter development stages and rehearsal process. It was a really useful tool for inviting feedback and allowing cross-collaboration with Stage and Costume Designer Tom Scutt. The order in which the sketches, shots and notes appear has not been altered since they were privately posted. Consequently there’s a lot of overlap in terms of what’s being sketched/modelled/cast at any one time but its a verbatim account of the thought process and how the different elements dovetailed. (Hopefully there’s also some kind of logic in there.)

Next post: Building Narnia in 360 degrees. Mixing it up with 2D and CG.

Cair_Paravel_3

Witch’s Chamber_1

Icebergs

To be used for Edmund’s blizzard. We could also use these for tail end of the flight and attempt to get Aslan ‘running’ between the outcroppings towards the Witch’s Castle.

Frozen Waterfall

Frozen waterfall for the Dead Lake.

Walls for ‘No Man’s Land’ Canyon and Dead Lake Cliffs

Curved Splinter Trees 1

Aslan Catapult 1

Aslan Trebuchet 1

 

Witch Castle 3

 

Witch_Castle_4

Aslan Camp 1 (Day) Mock animal hide battle tents

Aslan Camp 2 (Night) Tents glow like lanterns


Aslan’s Camp/Battle Banners (To be interspersed amongst tents)

 

Rafters_Quad_1

Rafters_Quad_2

Henge Plinths

Cair Paravel Bridge_1 (to be slightly less splintery)

Splinter Fir Trees

Splinter Curved Trees

Throne Sculpts (pre-moulding)

Aslan Camp Tent_1 (Day)

Aslan Camp Tent 2 (Day)

Aslan Camp Tent 2 (Night)

Aslan Tent Detail 1

Aslan Tent Detail_2

Tree Warrior Maquette (Body only)

Beaver_Dam_1

Plan here is to show entrances/exits curving away from the centre homestead.

Aslan_Camp_Banner_4

 

Simplified shape to be repeated all round the camp with different emblems on. These then unfold to reveal images relating to prophecy.

Ghoul_1

Ghoul and spine shaped ‘siege ladder’ (Spines will feature as animal bones in the Witch’s courtyard in previous scene(s) then animate into life for the battle. Ghouls then scurry up them ‘into’ cupola.

Witch_Mountain_1

Mountain made up of overlaid pieces of tree bark.

Spine_ladder_1

Splinter_groundrows_1

Witch’s Castle sculpt 1

Witch_Castle_Sculpt_2

‘Twig_boy’_1

Ghoul_Sculpt_1

Cair_P_Turret_cladding_1Cair_P_Bridge+Bracing_1

Columns for Witch’s courtyard_Pre-moulding

(Note these are amended from the adobe block type design before for practical reasons) Bricks will still form the inbetween sections. Drawing to follow…

Aslan_Battle_Catapult_Work_In_Progress

Gold/Amber Thrones

Emerald/Jade thrones

Henge_1

Henge_2_(Narnian Symbol)Henge_Group

Witch Mountain Entrance (partial mould)

Spine Ladder Mould

Flight Sequence:

Amended Cair Paravel Design (ignore relative scale of windows to doors). The floor around the castle will be map detail blending into the earthwork and then into splinters and then into the castle towers themselves.

Tumnus Cave Wall detail model_1

‘Twig Boy’ finished armature

Aslan – Battle Catapult

Next post: Building Narnia in 360 degrees. Mixing it up with 2D and CG.

You can see the making of documentary here.

You can see footage from the show here.