Can you tell us how The Mill got involved in Snow White and the Huntsman?
Nicolas Hernandez: Universal’s production VFX supervisor Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and VFX producer Lynda Thompson, came to visit our studio. We showed them our latest reel and our current projects which included much elemental character work for both film and TV. I think they liked our creative boutique setup and awarded us the Mirror Man sequences.
How it was to work with director Rupert Sanders?
NH: We didn't work directly with the director, Rupert Sanders, only with the two VFX production supervisors -- Cedric Nicolas Troyan and Phil Brennan. They were both great to work with. The whole Mirror Man concept evolved quite a bit from the first brief on through to the final result and they were always very involved and passionate about the sequences. They put a lot of trust in us and always welcomed any tests or concept variations.
What is the work The Mill did for Snow White?
NH: We mainly worked on the Mirror Man sequences. The queen – Raveena (Charlize Theron) goes to her throne chamber and summons the Mirror. In this film the man in the mirror materializes into a physical shape.
Can you tell us about any new techniques The Mill had to develop for the Mirror Man?
NH: We used a different pipeline depending on the state of the character. When Mirror Man is in his liquid state our clients wanted something very ‘fluidy’ -- an elegant a mix of cloth and liquid. We did a lot of R&D and wrote custom forces / tools to achieve the liquid cloth look. When the Mirror Man is fully formed we used a rigged mesh with secondary cloth effect. In that state it was tricky to define how the Mirror Man was moving and interacting with Charlize. We had to respect physics and body weight and still keep every move very subtle. To finish, Ravenna had to be reflected into the Mirror Man face without getting too deformed, so her reflection had to be added in 2D in order to cheat that effect. We used a witness cam (red epic) to shoot her performance from the Mirror Man point of view.
What software did you use in your pipeline?
NH: We used Maya and Mudbox for sculpting and Mari for texturing. We used Maya Ncloth with custom forces for the first level of simulation and finally Houdini to make the cloth simulation look more liquid. The CG was rendered in Maya / Mental Ray. Nuke was heavily used to composite the shots.
What was your approach for the look of Mirror Man?
NH: We wrote a custom shader for Mirror Man and used maya mental ray as a renderer. The client was very specific about the look of the metal for each shot and the feature-like blurriness of reflections, smudges, oxidations … all had to be tweakable. So we wrote an uber shader in order to be able to control these features in compositing. We outputted 4 different levels of reflection, direct and indirect lighting, smugdes, oxydation, mirco scratches and a lot of utilities passes (normals, uvs, mattes ...).
What was most challenging in this project?
NH: The formation of the liquid Mirror Man was the toughest, because the effect kept evolving almost until the end of the project. It was tricky to control the shape and timing of the simulations. Any little tweak impacted greatly on the shape and motion. We wrote a lot of custom tools in Maya and Houdini in order to control the simulations by relaxing, deforming and enhancing the simulation.