Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a live-action adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 novel The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker which has hit the theatres recently and made an amazing impact on the VFX front.
The story revolves around a young girl named Clara, finding a Nutcracker doll amongst family gifts and was charged by her parents to take special care of it. In the movie, the only aim that Clara has is to find the key that will unlock a box that holds a priceless gift from her late mother.
Now here is the catch, when a golden thread, presented to her at godfather Drosselmeyer’s annual holiday party, it led her to the coveted key-which promptly disappeared into a strange and mysterious parallel world.
There, Clara encountered with a soldier named Phillip, a gang of mice and the regents who preside over three Realms- Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers, and Land of Sweets. Clara and Phillip bravely crosses the ominous Fourth Realm, home to the tyrant Mother Ginger, to retrieve Clara’s key and brings back harmony to the unstable world. Unlike any other fairy tale, it has an enigmatic charisma which was driven by an adventure that was compelling, exciting, and full of equal parts action and heart.
Overall, the movie was lead by VFX supervisor Max Wood and MPC VFX supervisor Richard Clegg along with the artists at MPC, who have crafted more than 1000 shots for the movie.
The scope of the work was wide-ranging, from CG environments including palaces, forests and rivers, to large-scale FX work and extensive digital character builds and animation.
Here is the deeper insight into the VFX front of the movie:
- For creating the Four Realms of the Nutcracker was a huge visual effects task for the team. MPC team created 101 CG assets in total, broken down into several distinct areas: the beautiful, majestic Russian influenced Palace, realms of snow, flowers, and sweets. For the Fourth Realm, MPC’s team built polichinelle clowns, an army of tin soldiers, a giant Mother Ginger mechanical puppet, the mice, the Mouse King, numerous environments and other animals.
- Production Designer Guy Hendrix Dyas and the production art department produced stunning concept art for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. While the designs were fantastical, there was a strong focus on realism by ensuring real world scale to the environments. For example, the waterfalls had a realistic drop and the mountains were an appropriate height. The world, which needed to be visible from different angles and distances throughout the film, was fully built in CG and rendered, rather than relying on digital matte paintings.
- Then the Mouse King character was one of the most unique characters in the film and was the most complex in terms of development. To create this nine foot creature, formed from thousands of mice, MPC’s team had to find the right balance between creating believable physical crowd simulations of the vast quantity of mice and allowed the base shape and structure of the Mouse King to be directable.
- The Mother Ginger marionette was a giant puppet, designed by the art department to be a menacing 40 feet tall and 30 feet wide, with a circus tent for a skirt. In several shots, there was a huge practical Mother Ginger puppet skirt, torso and head, but for most scenes, she was a full CG character, built to perfectly emulate the practical build used while shooting. For shots where the puppet was practical, she was enhanced with CG steam, arms and mouth.
The most complex challenge was designing her mechanics to work for a battle scene where she was attacked by an enormous army of seven foot-tall tin soldiers that swarm around her.In this scene, she uprooted the trees and used them as clubs to beat down the soldiers in an attempt to escape. MPC’s artists animated the army of tin soldiers to climb on top of each other to form a pyramid that raised them up to her height. The complexity of making the climbing and interacting soldiers was made all the more difficult by the cloth simulations that needed to craft, as they push against the canvas of her tented lower body.
- Finally, one of the exceptional characters was the Mouserinks- the small, furry, hero mouse of the story. Mouserinks was the leader of the Mouse King’s army, but also Mother Ginger’s trusted sidekick. MPC’s character lab artists had to find the right balance between anthropomorphism and natural mouse behaviours in his performance to maintain his cute appearance for the duration of the film.There are a lot of controversies aroused with the launch of the movie among fans but it has reigned over everything as it was visually stunning. At the VFX front, MPC indeed created an enchanting aura on the screen which was pleasing and enchanting to watch.