VFX Supervisor Christian Manz took the time to discuss how the magic of the Wizarding World was created in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
It’s no secret that the Wizarding World movies are filled with visual effects. VFX Supervisor Christian Manz is one of the creative minds responsible for the magic we see play out on screen and he recently took the time to talk to Wizards and Whatnot about his involvement in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
This is not the first Wizarding World movie Manz has been involved in. He has also been credited for work in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and even the Harry Potter movies.
With such a long track record of creating visual effects for the Wizarding World, you would expect Manz to have a story or two to share.
And he does. Manz has Stories that will make your jaws drop and eyes widen in surprise.
Because listening to Manz explain the level of commitment and effort it took to create some of the magical scenes is truly an eye-opener. Hearing stories such as how it took over a year to create one scene which only lasted twenty seconds, gives you a much larger appreciation of the world that is visual effects. A world that many of us take for granted nowadays.
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Wizards and Whatnot: So, I think what we should get out of the way first, for those who are unsure what the role of VFX Supervisor is, what is it you do exactly?
Christian Manz: The role of VFX Supervisor on a film production is to creatively lead all of the VFX work in the film; be it animated creatures, environments or magic! For the first two Fantastic Beasts films, Tim Burke and I shared this role, working with all of the departments on the physical production and VFX companies around the world to design and execute all of the VFX elements to David Yates’ direction. We were on both films for about 21 months each, finishing only a few weeks before they hit the cinema.
WW: In terms of the Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. What was your favorite part of the movie to work on?
CM: That’s a hard one to answer, as there were so many different things we got to do this time around. If I had to pick one sequence it would probably be the Grindelwald escape that opened the movie. It took about 18 months to complete from inception to delivery and involved collaborating with a huge number of people to bring it to the screen.
On the production-side I worked directly with David Yates, Second Unit Director Stephen Woolfenden, Stunt Coordinator Eunice Huthart, SFX Supervisor David Watkins and many more to work out how to push the limits of what we could do physically with broom riding and the flying carriage rigs. The whole scene was mapped out in what we call Previs – a low fi CG version of all of the shots to work out the story telling, framing and VFX elements such as the Thestrals. This was used as a guide when it came to filming – Stephen rehearsed all of the shots over many weeks before we got to film the final shots with the cast and David over a few days.
I then worked with a team from Proof Inc, lead by Jon Allen, in-house at the studio to create a temp version of the sequence that David and Mark Day could edit and refine before passing on the baton to Martyn Culpit and the team at Image Engine in Vancouver who did the heavy lifting of pulling all of this together to produce the final shots. I’m really proud of what we all achieved.Fantastic Beast photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures via WB Media Pass
WW: Did anything prove to be a major challenge when creating some of the scenes in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald?
CM: One of the biggest challenges was the Nagini transformation – one of the hardest things is to try and think of something that’s never been seen before. We worked initially with concept artists to come up with various options of how to transition from a human into a snake. Some of the interesting forms in the artwork made us think of contortionists and so we shot some reference videos of two contortionists at the studio who showed us how far you could physically push the human body in terms of bending and flexing.
This footage became the basis of animation studies from which we arrived at the choreography of the final shot – David wanted it to be a fluid single shot which would be both surprising and engaging. Andy Kind led the team at Framestore to develop the complicated CG builds needed for the incredibly complex shot – all in all over a year’s work for 20 seconds of the film!Fantastic Beast photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures via WB Media Pass
WW: Having worked on both Wizarding World franchises. Has the Fantastic Beasts franchise been more challenging in anyway that you didn’t experience when working on Harry Potter?
CM: I worked on three of the Harry Potter films at Framestore. I was part of the teams delivering some pretty ground breaking VFX work such as the Hippogriff. Eventually, as Framestore VFX Supervisor, I led an immensely talented team to deliver Dobby and Kreacher for The Deathly Hallows.
For Fantastic Beasts though, the challenge is a very different one. I am now working production side, leading the VFX for the whole movie alongside Tim Burke, working directly for David Yates. It has been an amazing experience but also a lot more responsibility.
WW: Unlike Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts has split the fandom a little bit in terms of what they enjoy best. Some fans prefer seeing the magical spells being cast and the effects those spells have on the world, for example, the duel at the end of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Whereas some fans enjoy the magical creatures so much they could happily have a four, five-hour movie of nothing but Nifflers and Bowtruckles.
What do you prefer working on? The magic, or the creatures?
CM: Another tough one… I love being part of breathing life into the Beasts but it’s also a joy working with Stuart Craig and the art department to create the world and, on top of that, the magic.
The scene in the last film where Newt uses the Niffler and his magic to try and track Tina was a great mixture of all of these disciplines. David Yates really wanted us to enjoy the Niffler in this scene and it was great trying to think of things that he could be doing that gave the audience some of what they enjoyed about him in the first film – he’s helping Newt but at the same time surreptitiously stealing shiny stuff!
We worked closely with David and Eddie Redmayne to work out the story of the magic that Newt was using so that it felt connected to his performance as well as making sure that we had everything in place to extend the Parisian backlot set in the world that Stuart had designed. The Framestore team in Montreal, led by Nicolas Chevallier, were given all of this material and ran with it to create a beautiful and unique scene.Fantastic Beast photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures via WB Media Pass
WW: We’re all aware Fantastic Beasts 3 has been pushed back a bit. Have you begun work on the next chapter yourself? Is there anything you can tell us?
CM: I have begun working on the next film – this time as the sole VFX Supervisor. I can tell you that it will be Fantastic and there will be Beasts…
WW: Everybody loves the Niffler, and fans really loved seeing the Niffler babies. Personally, my six-year-old daughter couldn’t stop talking about the Niffler babies for about a week.
If you can answer, will we see more development of the Niffler in Fantastic Beasts 3? Pre-teen Nifflers perhaps?
CM: You’ll have to wait and see…Fantastic Beast photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures via WB Media Pass
WW: Harry Potter was a huge influence on many people. From aspiring authors, to filmmakers; I have no doubt Fantastic Beasts will do the same. What advice would you give to someone watching Fantastic Beasts, who is completely enthralled with the VFX side of things and wants to do that when they are older?
CM: I would say that the two biggest attributes that you require are a passion for film/image making and not being afraid to work hard. Artists in VFX come from both creative and technical backgrounds – it’s even better to have a combination of the two.
There are plenty of VFX and animation focussed courses now which offer students the ability to specialise in a discipline before entering a facility as a junior artist. I studied Illustration and couldn’t switch on a computer before starting as a runner at Framestore 22 years ago. With hard work, I learned to apply my artistic skills with a digital tool set in projects for television and film. Pushing the boundaries of what I was capable of increased my experience and got me noticed.
WW: Ok. So, this is my last question, and it’s more of a fun one than anything else. If you were given free reign to create a magical creature what would come up with?
CM: I’d probably create a creature that could transport me from home to Warner Bros Leavesden Studios every day in an instant – saving me the torturous daily journey on the M25… It would be a greener one too!