There’s definitely something magical about the world of Harry Potter brought to life on film, and surprisingly, it has nothing to do with wizardry. The man behind the magic is actually Tim Burke, visual effects supervisor for Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part One, in theaters now.
Burke has worked on every film in the Harry Potter franchise since Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets (the second in the series), acting as the lead supervisor for the fifth, sixth and seventh installments (parts one and two). Recently, Techland caught up with Burke to reveal the real work behind the “magic” of some of your favorite Deathly Hallows scenes.
(More on Techland: 10 Technologies We Want To Steal From Harry Potter)
The Death of Charity Burbage
“It’s actually the real actress (Carolyn Pickles) suspended in a very uncomfortable position. (Director) David Yates wanted it to be like invisible torture, like she was bound with invisible ropes. We actually bound and suspended her with ropes that we digitally removed later. She was shot separately on a green screen stage later on and then she’s complicited into the shots with the death eaters.”
(More on Techland: The Boys Who Might Have Been Harry Potter)
“It was very important that we create a very believable, scary character. Nagini is a servant to Voldemort, but also a very evil creature in her own right. In the past she never had a large role, but in this film she was going to have a lot of chances to scare the kids.
We actually redeveloped her character a little bit. For this one, we based her on a real python, but gave her more scary characteristics, so she’s is slightly different from previous films. I felt that when we’d last seen her, she wasn’t quite a real snake. She was a hybrid of a python and an anaconda – 20 feet from tip to tail. This time her design is based on a real python, but we gave her the eyes of a viper.”
Seven Harry Potters
“The first thing we needed to do for this scene was to achieve the transformations of the other characters into Harry Potter. While they’re transforming, they’re full CG characters. We used this technique, this new facial capture technique called Mova, which uses ultraviolet makeup. It allows you to capture real time facial expressions during the performance from the actor.We used it to capture the expressions of the actor who was becoming Harry Potter so we had their reactions to when you’ve drunk Polyjuice potion then used the original performance of the actor to drive that so the characteristics of the behavior was the real actor. It was great that those impressions came through and it doesn’t just look like seven Dan Radcliffes.
We did these little transformations, then when we got through to the seven Harry Potters, we used Dan Radcliffe seven times. We used a motion control camera to film him seven times. To convince people hat there were different people inside a Harry Potter-looking body, for each shot we rehearsed what was going to happen with each of the real actors. Dan would study the way each of them behaved and would mimic the way they acted, copying their performances. He really got into the character of each one of them and then we would shoot separate passes and combine each of those layers afterwards into the computer. It was a very long, complicated thing to shoot. Each pass for Dan playing the other actors was at least ten takes, so we ended up doing up to 70 takes for each shot, which was obviously incredibly difficult for Dan, but he’s a great actor.”
(More on Techland: A Harry Potter Style Invisibility Cloak Is Possible, Science Says)
The Escape From Privet Drive
“The supernatural world is invading the muggle world. We start with the big fight in the air, which is a lovely CG environment, but David Yates really wanted to do a James Bond, Bourne Supremacy-type car chase right in the middle of this thing – even the “going down the tunnel the wrong way” idea. We spent six months pre-visualizing all of this big sequence, basically working out all of the action. It was complicated further by having Hagrid and Harry in the shots – Hagrid’s played by Robbie Coltrane who isn’t actually a giant and every time you see them he has to be scaled and put back into the same shot.
We did as much in-camera stuff as possible using stunt men to really try to get some great moments. We used an old airstrip, a runway near the studio and had a stuntman for Hagrid and Harry and stunt drivers. We filmed for a week of nights, shooting as many stunts as we could get. We created a CG version of Dartford Tunnel to digitally drop in around them and did face replacements. If we got into a big close up with Dan maybe firing his wand, we did that back on the stage with a green screen, with Dan in a sidecar that was sitting on a big motion base, which would allow it to turn and twist as if it were really being driven along. We did end up turning a real bike upside down so there were real shots of Dan hanging upside down out of the sidecar. But we added the CG backgrounds in but shot them all and then put them all back together again.”
“We had to consider how to kill a part of some one’s soul and what that would look like. We were trying to create something very amorphous – abstract, but quite sinister and evil. We did some great performance sessions with Ralph Fiennes. We used his face, while he’s rolling and writhing around, to make this evil Horcrux creature. The idea is that the Horcruxes create themselves out of the surrounding environment, and in this instance it was dragging a lot of the dead, mold and detritus from the bottom of that pond, literally forming itself out of what was around it. Inside the liquid, we created faces that were almost pushing through. The inspiration was the self-portraits of Francis Bacon, which are very distorted, abstracted versions of himself. We took that idea and used abstracted versions of Voldemort and wove them into this massive, swirling evil. The faces in there are driven by Ralph Fienne’s performance, but then they’re being distorted and twisted. It’s pain, it’s agony, it’s excruciating. He’s having his soul ripped apart. The idea was to avoid an obvious creature and give a suggestion of an emotion more than anything else.”
(More on Techalnd: J.K. Rowling Says No More Harry Potter Books)
Part two is pretty monumental. There’s over 20-some minutes of fighting and aerial action, but the dragon in Gringotts is great. It’s a different dragon than we’ve seen before. This is a badly, maltreated dragon who’s been kept in the dark cave all its life. It’s emaciated. It’s partially blind. It’s very, very dangerous. It’s a great character, but you’ve got to get the three kids on top of it and then they escape from Gringotts on the back of it.
But of course the main thing is the fight back at Hogwarts. The whole sequence is a roller coaster from when Voldemort arrives. It’s just non-stop action. It’s going to wow everyone.