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