The Effects of The Spiderwick Chronicles

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The last we heard from The Spiderwick Chronicles, we entered a world of goblins, snakes, monsters, and trolls. Now, it’s time to actually hear from the people who created that universe.

Directed by Mark Waters, The Spiderwick Chronicles is based on a series of children’s books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. Taken from the first few in the series, this film follows the adventures of twin brothers Jared and Simon Grace (Freddie Highmore plays both roles), and their sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger), as they find themselves pulled into an alternate world full of fairies and other creatures. Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Films went to two of the only places on this planet who could design these amazing creatures – George Lucas’ ILM and Tippett Studios. Each studio split up the duties to create characters and the architecture.

For Mark, it was a different experience for him bringing the animation side to his directing world. “It’s actually been fun, because it’s been directing animators the way we would work with actors. The nuance that these guys bring to the animation level is incredible. You first put the movie together the way you think it is, and it’s just a thimble full of what the movie will become.”

After Freddie and Sarah, the voice cast boasts of Hollywood star-power – Nick Nolte as the evil Mulgrath, Seth Rogen as Hogsqueal and Martin Short as Thimbletack / Bogart. “You bring in a Seth Rogen and Marty Short, you do the lines that are scripted, but they do extra lines, and you play around with the scenes. Especially because those guys are great comedic writers and actors as well, they come up with stuff as well. And you can go so much beyond that in the animation. It’s great not being able to be constrained with motion capture.”

Mark’s process for shooting the animation made it a lot easier because of the technology of ILM and Tippett. Their processes were shown to them just a few days after shooting a certain scene on set. “We took entire animation sequences and did them as we were shooting other scenes. And when you’re on the set, you’ve got Freddie Highmore, and he’s acting with Thimbletack (the loveable mouse-like creature voiced by Martin Short). First, he’s acting opposite a nine-inch mannequin we made, and I’ve got an actor on set doing the lines for Thimbletack. When that’s over, we sent it to these guys, and we wanted ILM to be doing these lines, doing these actions. They would do this rough animation of them doing moves. Through several levels of the process, he looks like this photo-real little creature sitting in your living room. Every time another level would be done, I would be in amazement; I’d be like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s magic.’ And they would say, ‘That’s why we call ourselves that.’”

But even the guys at ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) were excited to work on The Spiderwick Chronicles. “We had the privilege of working on this film from the creatures to the environments,” noted supervising animator Christian Alzman. “Being that this is a fantasy film, the genre demands that it has its own set of rules, that it has to be based around forest creatures. This is a magical place, we never wanted to leave; the best part about working here is we get to see it all the way through.”

The same definitely went for the guys over at Tippett. “This has been a fun ride,” says Phil Tippett. Phil’s staff echoed his thoughts, notes Anthony Lucero. “As soon as we read it, we had to do it. It’s great creatures, really cool script. It was so cool, we did it from the computer, and then had a 3-D maquette model made out of that; this was the other way. We hit it out immediately, and we were able to play with all these toys.”

Because “Spiderwick” is based on the book series, a lot of the creatures already have their own look. For the animators at ILM, that was an easy start. “For the actual ‘Spiderwick’ books, Tony gave us a world that was such a great jumping off point. That makes everything a lot easier, for sure. But his work helps speed up the work.”

Both authors were perfectly fine with moving beyond their original ideas when it came to the film, says Mark Waters. “With Tony and Holly’s blessing, we didn’t want to make a film only for 10-12 years old; we exploded it a bit and went for the more dynamic, a little more action packed. In the books, they have to cross a bridge with a troll; in our movie, they’re in a scary chase sequence with a troll. They liked the idea about making it into a grander scale. Just the complexity of this planning – having one actor play two characters, especially with the special effects team on set.”

One instance of making this a grander scale flick – Mark built an entire exterior of the kid’s house, and had ILM re-create that house for most of the digital effects. “There are lots of scenes of coming in and out of that house. Most houses that look like this are in the historical register, and you have to walk through them with socks on – and they don’t take kindly to having goblins attack them. In order to do that, we knew we had to build it from scratch. You just don’t want to settle for something where it’s just ‘good.’ The house represents ‘Spiderwick’ throughout the movie.”

With ILM and Tippett Studios involved, you know The Spiderwick Chronicles is going to be amazing. You can check it all out in theaters when it opens conventional and IMAX theaters on Thursday, February 14th. Check out more photos from the film here!

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