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December 22
2020

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

How The Nose Grows: The Fairy-Tale Effects Of PINOCCHIO

Carpenter Mister Geppetto (Roberto Benigni) and his puppet creation Pinnochio (Federico Ielapi). All images courtesy of One Of Us and copyright © 2019 Archimede/Rai Cinema/Le Pacte/Recorded Picture Company.

BY IAN FAILES

Matteo Garrone’s Pinocchio, an Italian-made re-telling of the classic tale by Carlo Collodi, is a film that draws upon both practical and digital effects to tell its story of the central puppet character wanting to become a real boy.

 

Behind the majority of the digital visual effects work was One Of Us, based in London, which augmented several scenes that made use of on-set makeup and prosthetics, as well as delivering a number of fully-CG elements that had to stay within the fairy-tale realm of the story.

Here, One Of Us Visual Effects Supervisor Theo Demiris breaks down a number of the studio’s characters and shots from the film.

 

Pinnochio: “Pinocchio as a character was entirely filmed in-camera made possible by some incredible prosthetics developed by Mark Coulier and his team. Our intervention consisted mainly of cleaning up creases and imperfections, usually around the hands and neck area.

 

“Even though we did experiment in pre-production with various half-VFX solutions, like CG legs, we decided early on that those weren’t needed and would actually be getting in the middle of the performance. Pinocchio was, however, fully scanned and recreated for some specific sequences that needed CG takeovers such as his transformation sequence and the moment where his nose is starting to grow.”

“When the nose was long enough to start interacting with the environment we started using a specifically-designed helmet with a practical and adjustable stick where the nose would be to give us real interaction with the surroundings, but also to get the little actors to react to it. This allowed for a very fun shoot and Matteo really embraced the fluidity and the beautiful accidents of it. Our asset then replaced not only the entire nose but the back of the head – where the helmet was – the sides and ears as well as parts of the neck.”

—Theo Demiris, Visual Effects Supervisor, One Of Us

Pinnochio’s nose grows: “The nose sequence had two parts, three if you count the arrival of the birds! It was maybe one of the longest sequences we had and it was pivotal to the story, so it had to be perfect.

 

“First came the growing. For that, we had a perfectly-scanned model of Pinocchio’s head from the set along with two witness cameras always pointing at the action. This provided us with accurate head and body tracks to then fully replace the nose with a CG build. As the nose would grow it would also pass through five different steps of textures blending from one to the other. This made it look as if the actual wood was growing rather than stretching.

 

“When the nose was long enough to start interacting with the environment we started using a specifically-designed helmet with a practical and adjustable stick where the nose would be to give us real interaction with the surroundings, but also to get the little actors to react to it. This allowed for a very fun shoot and Matteo really embraced the fluidity and the beautiful accidents of it. Our asset then replaced not only the entire nose but the back of the head – where the helmet was – the sides and ears as well as parts of the neck.

 

“For the birds, we decided with Matteo early on during post that the Great Spotted Woodpecker would be a great fit for the sequence. Its cuteness could only be matched by the charm of our two young actors. As the birds were at the epicenter of the sequence, they had to be perfect, so we spent a lot of time developing the look and had a lot of back and forths between rig and animation to allow for the complexity of all their movements. The nose was then procedurally destroyed by using the animation caches.”

Donkey underwater: “We knew from the very beginning that this was going to be entirely a VFX shot. This moment was all about hitting the emotional beats of the story, and we very quickly realized that this also meant that it had to be a very long shot, 1,000 frames to be exact. The donkey had to lose its breath and then very slowly be enveloped in a shimmering school of fish.

 

“Once we blocked the Donkey animation, we started working on the environment and the behavior of the fish. The environment had to feel Mediterranean – highly detailed but murky and poetic. The fish had to behave beautifully but also realistically. For that, Matt Noris, one of our Senior FX Artists, put together a crowd simulation that was flexible and easy to art-direct. Once we had all the ingredients out from CG, Guillaume Menard, our Comp Supervisor, put it together himself and introduced a lot of real-life elements in the environment.”

 

“For the birds, we decided with Matteo early on during post that the Great Spotted Woodpecker would be a great fit for the sequence. Its cuteness could only be matched by the charm of our two young actors. As the birds were at the epicenter of the sequence, they had to be perfect, so we spent a lot of time developing the look and had a lot of back and forths between rig and animation to allow for the complexity of all their movements. The nose was then procedurally destroyed by using the animation caches.”

—Theo Demiris, Visual Effects Supervisor, One Of Us

 

Further creature work: “The Snail, Cricket and Tuna were all characters requiring VFX augmentation. All three of them were talking performances, so the camera would stay on them during long dialogue sequences and made for a lot of long shots.

 

“The most notable of them in terms of work was the character of the Tuna. Not only was it a big fish, but also had to interact with the surrounding water and performances. For this, the actor was in prosthetics on the face with the rest his body hidden away underwater. We then kept only the very front of his performance and attached a CG body behind him. To do so seamlessly we had to track the head and attach the body while reverse-engineering his head movements and adjusting the animation to make them feel as if they were coming from the body rather than the other way around. It had, after all, to feel as if the body was floating and driving the movements of the head.”

The whale: “The whale is one of those parts of the Pinocchio story that is iconic, and Matteo had such a great vision for it. It was big and ambitious, and it was all down to the VFX to get it working. Overall, the work consisted of three different kinds of shots.

 

“First, we had the big exterior shots where Pinocchio is being chased and eaten by the whale. Those needed a full CG creature build and a lot of CG water. The actors were filmed in shallow waters on a beach near Rome, which we then made to feel like the open waters of the Mediterranean sea.

 

“Then we had the interior shots inside the belly of the whale where Pinocchio is finally reconnected with Geppetto. Those were filmed on a practical set in Rome, and our work consisted of extending it, but also bringing it to life by moving all the walls as if the whale was alive and moving.

 

“Finally, we had the moment of the escape where Pinocchio and Geppeto are crawling out of its mouth. Those were filmed with a semi-practical mouthpiece in a swimming pool in one of Rome’s main water parks. We then had to extend the set and bring it to life by animating it while also extending the surface of the swimming pool.”

On-set makeup and prosthetics were crafted by Mark Coulier. 

One Of Us realized the birds and extended nose.

Pinnochio turns into a donkey, with the aid of visual effects.

The Donkey underwater scene was completely digital.

One Of Us’s CG whale and fluid simulation for the ocean.

The Tuna was done with a combination between practical and digital effects.

The Tuna actor wore face prosthetics for the scene.

On set with the Tuna prosthetics.

The whale mouth interior on a bluescreen stage.

The Pinnochio nose rig used for filming scenes where the character’s nose grows when he is lying.

Visual Effects Supervisor Theo Demiris adds some marker dots to Pinnochio’s face.

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