Making A Peculiar Home Seem Inviting

Discover how Roland Lukacsi at Fugitive Studios made the intro to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children live up to Tim Burton's expectations.

 

When you're asked to produce an opening sequence for a Tim Burton film, you know the pressure is going to be on to deliver the goods. That was the challenge for those involved, not the three to four months' timeframe, but that it would be good enough for Tim when it was finished. For the three-minute clip Roland Lukacsi (Uniq Inventivewas 3D Motion Designer and VFX artist, freelancer Soren Bonke handled compositing and Matt Curtis took on title design and was the bridge between the artists and Tim Burton. For Fugitive Studios, company director Stuart Pitcher acted as VFX Supervisor and was responsible for production and compositing, while the other company director, Jason Griffin, took the role of Producer.

Roland went through the brief, “Tim wanted us to create something which gave the viewers clues of what they are about to see without giving away too much. And of course be dark and alternative about it. We had lots of assets from the actual set so we used those to create various footages and then comped them together with several CG elements.” 

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To create the footage there were a number of actual, physical props supplied. There was a box full with things like old letters, photos, the pocket watch and the clock. The book you see at the beginning was put together by the team then actually created by a separate company to Fugitive Studio's specification. It was then scratched and messed up to make it look suitably old. How they used the assets was entirely down to the team, as long as it fit in with the overall concept.
 

 

Working out how it was all going to fit together required a storyboard, so Matt Curtis came up with a rough one. However, as things progressed, it was altered as new ideas were generated and inserted, like the bird dissolving into smoke. Almost everything they came up with went in because it fit with Matt and Tim Burton's ideas.

As the sequence was going to involve lots of smoke, it was obvious that it had to be generated using CG. However, halfway through, the team had a go at creating some footage using vape pens. Trouble was, the smoke went everywhere leading to a room full of it and frantically coughing VFX artists. None of the quick tests were used, it was to be CG all the way.

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To start with, the initial title for the film dissolves into smoke as the camera moves. Roland explained how it was done, “We had the vector for the title. I used it to convert and extrude in Cinema 4D to a 3D object. Then I used TurbulenceFD to create the smoke dissolve. It was rendered using Arnold within Cinema 4D and put together in After Effects. It created an insanely high volume sim as we travelled so close to it with the camera."

There's a particular look and feel to all the photos that were used in the sequence, the direction for those came from Tim and he kept an eye on the project as it moved along. There were lots of amends but mainly about the order things went in and swapping photos around. However, there was nothing he didn't like. As Roland put it, “We had tons of material we didn't even use. In general he loved everything.”

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One of the big smoke effect pieces was where a rose appears to turn into smoke. If you watch carefully, the rose doesn't actually disintegrate, it is simply engulfed by the smoke. I asked Roland if there was a practical or artistic reason for doing it this way. He responded, “Tim wanted a really gentle effect here. Nothing violent so we ended up using a stock footage for the rose with the smoke sim put behind.”

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The same kind of process was used for the other main smoke effect, where a dove flaps its wings and dissolves. Here the dove object was supplied by MPC and Roland used the bend function in Cinema 4D to make the wings move before the smoke simulation covered it. This went down well as Roland explained, “We were so happy as Tim especially loved that piece. We were really pushing the limits with the particles there.” 

 
To control the smoke TurbulenceFD was used, which involved a lot of trial and error. Roland pointed out that he had quite a lot of experience with smoke simulations so he knew what to do to achieve a particular effect. He added, “It works just like in real life. So if you know the general behaviour of smoke it's easier to control.”
 
It's not all smoke and mirrors though, there's a cracking effect that appears in the middle of the sequence. To create this the glass object was broken within Cinema 4D and then put into a fracture object. Some effectors were then used to control when and where the breaks would occur.
 
To get lots of different looks from the same render, images were rendered as 32-bit so they had a lot of information. There were so many different CG smoke effects used to hide and reveal elements throughout the sequence that it created billions of particles, about 20TB of simulation cache in fact. Putting it all together required lots of mattes and masks, and hundreds of layers. Thankfully Cinema 4D coped admirably with the workload. Roland found that, “The viewport was easily usable even with heavy smoke scenes. Dynamics were really accurate after playing with the sub settings.”
 

The entire three-minute sequence was rendered on four workstations kitted out with 12-core Intel i7 processors. Lots of things happen throughout the sequence, with hundreds of layers involved, but the end result was a suitably Tim Burton-style spooky intro that drew the viewers into the film.

All images courtesy of Uniq Inventive and Fugitive Studios.

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Welcome to the official MAXON UK Blog. This blog provides the most up-to-date official information about MAXON, its products – in particular its flagship product Cinema 4D – and the Cinema 4D community. You can expect to see posts from a wide variety of MAXON UK employees.