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Feature: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The Potter Effect

Warm as toast…!

Visual effects supervisor Jimmie Mitchell and special effects supervisor John Richardson speak to us about how they worked their magic in creating dragons, underwater scenes and the maze…

At the film’s set on a nippy January day we meet a pair who have been filling Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with the kind of artistry that might just lift the bar in the visual standard of the Potter films. “The World Cup, the dragons, the underwater scenes, the maze, I would say are big sequences and for that reason it’s all just fabricated here in the studio and in the computer,” says Visual Effects Supervisor Jimmie Mitchell “One of the first things we shot was the maze over at Pinewood. The way we’re playing that is it’s a mixture of this 25- to 30-foot tall maze – that’s quite spooky in its own right – but once again, we wanted to amp up what that was all about. We also created the maze in its entirety in the computer, because there’s a valley up in Scotland that we basically are now putting that maze in – so it’ll stretch for miles and give it the expanse that it needs.”

The maze sequence in question is one of the dangerous tasks that Harry must perform as an under-age competitor in the Tri-Wizarding Tournament. “There’s a sequence in this where the walls of the maze move,” Special Effects Supervisor John Richardson tells us. “A lot of that was actually done for real and we built a whole section of maze where the walls would wriggle and move in and out, and appear to crush the actors. The maze set filled one of the stages at Shepperton; our moving section was about 40 feet long, 25 feet high, six-feet wide. We could pre-programme it into a computer and then play it back and run it at different speeds so we were pretty safe with our movements and putting our actors in it – because that was the key thing. If you’ve got 25-foot high steel walls and people in between them, you do have the ability to crush them if you’re not careful. You’ve got to be particularly careful with youngsters, as good as they are. Some of the more seasoned actors, you know if they say they’re going to put a foot there, they’re going to put a foot there and you’re all right, but with the kids you’ve just got to be that much more careful.”

One of the most ambitious parts of accurately reflecting the tournament on the cinema screen was creating the round in which Harry and the other selected champions must save their loved ones from the bottom of a lake. Mitchell explains the process. “Between ourselves and the Second Unit, who shot a lot of the footage underwater, we’ve now got to take all that blue screen and create this environment with plants, the huge cavernous rocks and all the marine life underwater. Once the contestants and Dan dive underwater the Scottish lakes or lochs actually will exist on the computer everywhere he’s swimming, all the creatures and characters that he meets, that whole environment,” he reveals. “Then of course you rely heavily on the creature department to mock up the mermaids and the Grindylows so you have something to hold and specifically know what you’re trying to make something look like. That’s still the trickiest part of the computer graphics, as you want something concrete to match and so we always work with those departments to make the best of each of us.”

There's more on Harry and his magical world in
Starburst #330

Image © Visual Imagination, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire images © Warner Bros
Feature © Visual Imagination 2005. Not for reproduction

Taken from
Starburst #330, see below for ordering options
Starburst #330
November 2005
ships from Oct 20 2005
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