Modus FX completed 194 shots in a remarkable eight weeks for Mirror Mirror, Tarsem Singhs whimsical adaptation of the popular Snow White folk story. Modern-day behavior and speech are set in a rich fairytale world, creating a light-hearted coming-of-age story for audiences of all ages. While larger-than-life characters, such as the wicked queen, played by Julia Roberts, drive the narrative, the sets and costumes are crucial for establishing the magic and the feel of the film.
Shot on a sound stage in Montreal, sets for the winter scenes used artificial snow and trees, and painted backdrops. However, once production had begun it became clear that additional work would be needed in order for these scenes to look authentic on the big screen. Modus FX was called in to deliver CG refinements, a daunting task given the tight production schedule.
In total, the team had eight weeks to complete 194 shots. "We needed to enhance and extend the backgrounds in every direction," said Martin Pelletier, CG supervisor at Modus FX. "The challenge was to produce a large number of shots in a short time, and make sure the results were believable for the audience."
"We knew that a shot-specific approach would be too time-consuming," Pelletier explained, "so we broke down the 194 shots into 12 groups, divided according to depth-positioning of the cameras. Then we created new 2D background cards for each set of shots."
The solution included photos of birch trees captured in the nearby Laurentian mountains. These were applied to the 2D polygons and seamlessly composited into the 3D environment, creating a "2.5D" effect. Modus then added rocks and other landscape elements, along with falling CG snowflakes to enhance the verisimilitude of the shots. The final results were a combination of live-action, 2D backgrounds and 3D elements blending flawlessly to create believable outdoor winter scenes.
"It was essential for the story that it looks like the actors were in a real forest," Pelletier said. "Our team delivered that."
"We received calls from the other facilities, who were also working on the film, asking for our set up for the falling snow," said Wayne Brinton, VFX supervisor at Modus. "They had been asked to match our look."
"The VFX community in Montreal works well together," added Brinton, "and that allows us to manage large projects, handing off shots and CG elements between studios. The process is as seamless as the results on the screen."
"It is rewarding to work on a number of shots, plus the limited time we had to do them, and have that turn into something were proud of," Brinton said.
This is the second project for Modus with director Tarsem Singh, having previously created a surreal combat sequence for his film Immortals.
Produced by Relativity Media, Citizen Snow Film Productions and Rat Entertainment, Mirror Mirror stars Julia Roberts as the Queen and Lily Collins, as Snow White. The film was directed by Tarsem Singh and saw theatrical release on March 30, 2012.