Capturing the detailed world for ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’.

The opening scene for Walt Disney Pictures’ The Nutcracker and the Four Realms begins at the Disney Castle. Just like every other family film from the major US studio. The difference here is this sequence is extended through as a flight along a 19thCentury River Thames, then a sharp right turn into the centre of London, to reveal all the trappings of human activity in a snowy city, pre-Christmas.

While the majority of the other VFX was produced by artists at MPC globally, craftsmen from RodeoFX and Audiomotion created a stunningly beautiful and romanticised version of London, complete with 19th-century families celebrating the Christmas season.  The extensive detail of the sequence was captured in part, during a five-day motion capture shoot to generate crowd scenes, ice skating, and chestnut sellers.  All work was completed at Audiomotion’s Oxford studio, which contains three separate stages offering 60x40x20-feet volume for wire work and large scale capture. The studio also features two smaller capture volumes for either greenscreen mixed reality capture, or cut scenes for virtual reality. In total, the studio features 160 Vicon cameras, each feeding to Vicon’s Shogun software.

One scene of Christmas revelry includes several people ice skating against a backdrop of London, which required an unusual setup. To create these moving characters on ice, VFX house Audiomotion used its Vicon motion capture system to turn its studio into an ice-skating rink, minus the ice.

Although Vicon’s motion capture cameras have been used to film movement on ice before, the additional challenges of working on a frictionless surface compound the issues for performer and filmmaker alike. Audiomotion instead came up with a simpler solution: Rather than taking the performers to an ice rink, the team created an ice-free ice rink inside Audiomotion’s studio. Six skaters were brought in and given rollerblades. They then performed as if they were on ice, while Vicon’s Vantage recorded their full range of movements. The data was then sent to Vicon’s Shogun software to animate the characters.   While no imagery from this effort is yet available from Disney publicity, these will be posted once they are.

Along with the ice-skating, Audiomotion worked with filmmakers to create several other mocap scenes throughout the film. For the action scenes, Audiomotion worked with the stunt team to help breathe life into the polichinelle, small, acrobatic clown-like characters that serve Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren). Recording the tumbles and fluid movements of the polichinelle took two full days.

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Walt Disney Pictures’ The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is based on the short story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, written in 1816 by German author E. T. A. Hoffman. That story was then adapted into the famed ballet, The Nutcracker, by choreographers Marius Petipa and LevIvanov, and composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Disney’s adaptation takes inspiration from both.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms has recently been selected as a contender, a short-lister for the Best Visual Effects Oscar nomination.

Related links:

Nutcracker IMDB page

RodeoFX

MPC Film

Audiomotion

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Written by Paul Hellard

Freelance journalist. Also videographer, photographer, cyclist and lover of all things sustainable, creative and digital.

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