Behind the Scenes of <i>The Twilight Saga: New Moon</i><br /> Interview with Prime Focus VFX, Eric Pascarelli and Mike Fink

Dec 14, 2009 at 10:35 pm by Store Staff

Based on the mega-successful novel by Stephenie Meyer, The Twilight Saga: New Moon film (staring Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, and directed by Chris Weitz), is one of this year’s most successful movies to date. Taking in $72.7 million on its first day, it posted the largest opening-day box office gross on record.

An underlying success of the movie can be attributed to the talented team at Prime Focus VFX, who were responsible for adding the improved “diamond effect” to Stephenie Meyer’s infamous vampire, Edward Cullen. Director Chris Weitz, and visual effects supervisor Susan Macleod, loved what the team came up with in the early days of production, which according to Prime Focus VFX supervisor Eric Pascarelli, “ended up being one of the happy surprises during production."

Not only was Prime Focus VFX responsible for the vampire sparkle, the team also contributed to over 175 VFX shots. The team’s work included creating optical illusions of water, atmospherics, CG matte painting and environment work. According to their press release…

Prime Focus' Vancouver studio also collaborated with its Digital Matte Painting department in Los Angeles (headed by Ken Nakada) on recreating the movie's Forks High School, as well as craggy cliffs overlooking the ocean and other 100-percent CG environments depicting the movie's Washington State locale. Prime Focus also contributed CG water for multiple scenes and two elaborate time passage sequences featuring the Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) character in complicated multipart motion control shots.

For the cliff scenes, Nakada and his team designed the entire landscape using several locations in Vancouver's Whytecliff Park as reference material. The team also provided on-set VFX supervision for MacLeod and Weitz on a green screen shoot at Vancouver Film Studios of a stunt man jumping 70 feet off a tower as a camera rig does a 270-degree tilt, following him from the top of the cliff until he hits water. Additionally, Prime Focus created several digital doubles and did face replacement for the actors jumping off the cliff.

Forks High School with green screen
Forks High School recreated by the Prime Focus Digital Matte Painting department

Over forty-five Prime Focus artists (in both Vancouver, British Columbia, and Los Angeles) utilized their talents and the following software to create the “invisible effects” within The Twilight Saga: New Moon movie. Prime Focus' key software packages included Autodesk Maya, Autodesk 3ds Max and Autodesk Mudbox for 3D modeling, Eyeon Fusion for compositing, Prime Focus Software's Krakatoa for particle rendering, Prime Focus Software's Flood and Flood: Surf for fluid simulation.

Two of the men behind the magic, Eric Pascarelli (Prime Focus Visual Effects Supervisor) and Mike Fink (President, VFX Worldwide, Prime Focus) took time out of their busy schedules to give our Renderosity readers additional background into their contributions to The Twilight Saga: NewMoon movie.

Dee Marie: Thank you both for taking the time to sit down with Renderosity and give us the back story of the magic behind the movies. The Twilight Saga: New Moon showcased the most amazing “invisible effects” in a movie to date. How did Prime Focus become involved with so many of the VFX segments of the movie?

Mike Fink: Prime Focus VFX is known for its effects animation, particularly natural phenomena like fire, smoke, and water. In addition, I had worked with the director, Chris Weitz and the visual effects supervisor/producer Susan Macleod on The Golden Compass. Susan and Chris trusted us to create all of the effects in the film.

Dee Marie: Were there any visual special effects that you did not work on?

Mike Fink: The only effect we didn’t handle was the wolves.

DM: Your incredibly talented VFX team did an unbelievable job of perfecting the sparkle, of angst-ridden vampire, Edward Cullen. The effect was vastly superior in New Moon compared to its predecessor Twilight. What did you do differently to pull off the improved “diamond man” aura?

Fink: We took an entirely different approach, after discussions with Chris Weitz and Susan Macleod. Eric Pascarelli, our visual effects supervisor, brought in a chunk of Thassos marble, which has a terrific specular component, and beautiful sub-surface scattering of light.

Since the vampires were essentially stone, this idea worked with the essence of the story, and gave us great reference to begin tests. A number of iterations of different techniques were gone through, and we arrived at a solution with Chris that made sense.

DM: Were motion capture sensors used on Robert Pattinson to facilitate the effect?

Fink: No. We did place dots on Robert's face, which were later painted out, so that we could track the effect to his skin in post production. A model of his face was match moved to his photographed image, and that model carried the new sparkle effect.

DM: The effect was extremely successful, creating a glistening appearance of the first rays of sunlight on a new fallen snow.

Fink: We spent a great deal of time getting a sense of light scattering in Edward, as well as refining the sparkle itself.

DM: In the novel, another significant part of New Moon’s storyline revolves around the appearance of Edward within Bella’s subconscious. The concept of creating Edward as a dissipating apparition was ingenious. How complicated a process was it to bring the vision to fruition?

Fink: I'll leave most of this answer to Eric. But, we tested many possibilities for the apparition effect, finally settling on essentially mapping Edward's image onto CG flame animation.

Eric Pascarelli: Although it took many iterations and much experimentation to arrive at the look, the final effect was fairly straightforward; using ultra-slow CG and actual candle flame elements and 2D and 3D particles to affect the transparency, distortion and softness of Edwards's image in a manner that looked dreamy but was just shy of ghostly.

The less we affected the footage of Edward, the more of his original "beauty" was visible, which was important to the story.

DM: Did you run into any complications refining the technique?

Pascarelli: The most complicated part of the process technically was the shooting of the Edward footage, which was always green screen. Sometimes he was shot on set, in situ, with a small screen behind him after the main action was shot. For the moving shots, the foreground plate was shot without Edward and the resulting footage tracked by the Prime Focus camera-tracking department. That data was then translated to a motion control camera, which was used to shoot Edward on a green screen stage.

DM: I know that our readers will be stunned to learn that many of the breathtaking scenes, and scenery, featured in New Moon (such as the cliff diving scenes), were created by Prime Focus. The attention to detail made the transition from realities seamless. What process was used for the majority of the environmental re-creations?

Fink: I'll leave that answer to Eric. But let me say that it is not the software that makes these scenes work so well, it is the artists working on them that bring off the sense of reality and integration with the story.

Pascarelli: Much of the land-based imagery, the cliff, the trees and so forth was done in compositing, by integrating the work of our skilled matte painting department (headed by Ken Nakada and Susan Stewart) with live action green screen footage.

Pre-production, Bella (Kristen Stewart) prior to her cliff diving
Final version of Bella’s cliff diving scene

DM: What software was used in creating the illusion?

Pascarelli: Eyeon Digital Fusion was the primary software used for this, but as Mike said, it's the skill of the artists that really matters. The matte paintings were created using reference photos of various locations around Vancouver and elsewhere. The paintings were created in multiple layers to allow for the subtle animation of the tree branches and leaves by the compositors. For some shots, a full CG cliff was created.

The CG water was created with Flood, the Prime Focus water simulation software by our sim team. Chad Wiebe and the 3D team created a "digital double" of one of the "wolf pack" for a shot where he dives off of the cliff and splashes into the water.

Bella (Kristen Stewart) overlooking the Puget Sound, recreated by Prime Focus

DM: Did your talented team run into any specific difficulties during the process of flawlessly matching computer generated scenery within that of the actual environment?

Pascarelli: Both of the cliff sequences were quite challenging because the cliff location as it appears in the movie does not exist anywhere in its entirety. A cliff environment had to be created that worked with the variety of angles of the green screen live action and still worked in terms of continuity and story.

Chris Weitz had a clever idea early on in the process to include a large tree stump in all of the shots to help tie the various angles together as one location. This was helpful, but it was still quite a jigsaw puzzle to create the environment that met all of the requirements for all of the shots. And a small change in one shot would "ricochet" to the others in interesting ways.

DM: Another of the more memorable special effects moments involved the Volturi showdown. One scene in particular stood out: during his battle with the Volturi, Edward was slammed into the stone floor; causing Edward’s face to crack, simultaneously with the marble upon impact (I must add that, the scene appeared so real that it was painful to watch). What process was used to create the “cracking” effect?

Pascarelli: The face and floor crack were created with two totally different methods. The live action part of the shot had Edward falling down on a green screen stunt mat. This element was tracked and the mat was replaced with a CG floor derived from photographs of the Volturi set.

The floor was cracked using a simulation in 3ds Max. John Mitchell and his team dropped a virtual bowling ball on the floor and then tweaked the results by hand to achieve the timing that Chris and Susan wanted. Particle dust was added.

For the face crack, Edward's face was tracked in a manner similar to that used for the diamond skin sequences. Crack art was created by matte painter Susan Stewart showing the crack in several stages of formation. This animated art was mapped to Edward's face in 3D and revealed and augmented in the composite, where a slight scar and a lifted skin effect were added.

DM: Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedules for the interview. One last question…what new and upcoming movies can we look forward to seeing the Prime Focus team work their magic within?

Fink: Unfortunately, we can't discuss films that we have in process, or which have not been released yet, but there is a very eagerly anticipated film due a week or so before Christmas this year, and two other films that have been completed, but will not be released until next year.

Dee Marie’s Last minute note: Hopefully the Prime Focus team will not send a hit squad out after me, but…if you want to view the amazingly talented Prime Focus VFX team at work once again (and who wouldn’t), be sure to look for their movie magic within the much anticipated film, Avatar (which combines live action drama with CGI magic).

About Prime Focus:

Prime Focus is a global Visual Entertainment Services group that provides creative and technical services to the film, broadcast, commercials, gaming, internet and media industries. The group offers a genuine end-to-end solution from pre-production to final delivery – including previsualisation, equipment hire, visual effects, video and audio post-production, digital intermediate, digital asset management and distribution.

Prime Focus employs more than 1200 people with state-of-the-art facilities throughout the key markets of North America, the UK and India. Using its 'worldsourcing' business model, Prime Focus provides a network that combines global cost advantages, resources and talent pool with strong relationships and a deep understanding of the local markets.

Prime Focus is a public stock company with shares traded in the Mumbai and National Stock exchanges in India (Symbol -PRIMEFOCUS). Prime Focus also owns and operates Prime Focus London plc (Symbol - PFO), which is publicly traded in the LSE's AIM market. For more information, please visit

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All supporting images were used with permission from Prime Focus VFX
All supporting images are copyright and cannot be copied, printed,
or reproduced in any manner without written permission.

Get to know industry leaders and professionals
as they sit down and talk candidly with
Contributing Columnist, Dee-Marie,
Author of "Sons of Avalon: Merlin's Prophecy"

December 14, 2009

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