The real stars of J.K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts,” of course, are the creatures themselves.
They’re animated by a gaggle of VFX all-stars: Framestore, Double Negative, MPC, Image Engine, among others, overseen by production VFX supervisors Christian Manz and Tim Burke.
The mandate from “Harry Potter” veteran director David Yates was not too make the creatures overly fantastical and thereby unrelatable, which is why there are so many distinct animal influences. And originally the VFX supervisors envisioned individual environments for each beast inside the suitcase, but Rowlings suggested that wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) would have to be as powerful as Valdemort to pull that off, so they scaled it way back. Here are a few of the highlights:
This badger-like creature has a penchant for stealing treasure. “He was always going to be a cheeky character that’s always trying to get out to steal stuff and embarrass Newt,” said Framestore’s creative director Christian Manz. “He’s feathered and we found great reference of a honey badger raiding somebody’s house for food on the Internet.” Framestore used its proprietary Flesh and Flex rigging toolkit (developed for Yates’”The Legend of Tarzan”) to develop an authentic muscle and skin simulation for when the Niffler stuffs jewelry into his magical pouch.
This enormous female resembles a rhino. Framestore nailed the Erumpent early during the design phase but Yates wanted her reworked because she looked too dull. Unfortunately, she then became too fantastical so they went back to the original design. “It was important that all the of creatures had to be believable,” said Tim Burke. “Referencing bison, actually, she became a fun thing to animate, with the internal flow of her [lethal] fluid lighting that gets more and more intense because she’s in heat, and getting the jiggle to work with elasticity.”
The Swooping Evil
Image Engine’s bat/butterfly combo boasts blue and green wings. Swooping Evil was challenging in terms of finding the look and texture of its cocoon, and then, when fully grown, the iridescent, thin wings and the skull for a head. “It was also about coming up with a choreographed rhythm of its swoops in previs and postvis by The Third Floor,” said Burke. “It had to wrap its way around people’s heads and suck people’s brains out, so we designed something for the purpose it had to do.”
MPC was responsible for the Demiguise, a cross between an orangutan and sloth with long silver hair than can become invisible and serves as the basis for the Invisibility Cloak, as well as the expanding and shrinking dragon-like Occamy. “We looked at an artist called Veruschka, who paints people so they disappear into the environment, a wall or the front of a shop,” Burke said. “So we developed this idea how he could turn from solid to invisible. And David’s inspiration for the Demiguise is that he’s a wise, little, old man like Jim Broadbent, who chatters away to himself.”
“When they get to the attic they discover that he’s been babysitting the Occamy,” added Burke. “The tricky thing of the Occamy was the design of her body, which was part serpent, part bird. We found a picture of a hummingbird with individual feathers that when fit together almost form a serpent-like pattern, so MPC used that as their inspiration. It was a massive digital set, so she was animated in pieces.”
Pickett, the Bowtruckle
This tiny tree dweller used for making wands actually lives in the pocket of Newt Scamander. Framestore went through 200 different designs before Yates was pleased. “We originally made him older, but David wanted him young, who wants to be with Newt,” Manz said. The special effects department assisted Pickett’s interactions on set with tiny mechanical rigs, giving Framestore good reference for the keyframe animation. “He has a lot of character without a lot of expression and they got to play with his physicality,” Manz said.