Inside 'The Golden Compass'

Animation and Live Action
Dakota Blue Richards (Lyra) isn't really acting with a polar bear here.
Dakota Blue Richards (Lyra) isn't really acting with a polar bear here.

During production on green-screen soundstages at Shepperton Studios, the actors held and acted with a variety of objects that would be replaced by computer-

generated daemons.

"We used every sort of contraption you can think of, from a little green football to a cat on a fishing line that we could swing into Lyra's arms for situations where Pan is a cat," says Rhythm & Hues visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer. "We had to get [Lyra's portrayer Dakota Blue Richards] to put her hands in the right place and react in the right way." An on-set puppeteer would also act out Pan's part and read his dialogue with Richards.

Other aspects of daemon placement were equally tricky, such as when Pan and the Golden Monkey fight in Mrs. Coulter's living room. "It's the little touches that fool the eye into believing he's in the scene," says Westenhofer.

In scenes with many daemons, like battle sequences, R&H animators used "Massive," an artificial intelligence program, to add background characters. They would coordinate and share materials with the other effects houses.

Rhythm & Hues was also responsible for creating a plethora of other effects, including: a daemon death effect, the electrical sparks in the Intercision machine, the mystical particle called Dust, and a complex grand finale sequence involving the aurora borealis.

Rhythm & Hues created hundreds of computer-generated animals for the film, including the daemon Pantalaimon (left).

"We worked on about 80 shots for that sequence," says R&H effects producer Gary Nolin. "But the decision was made to end the movie slightly earlier and have that scene begin the second movie." The second film in the series, based on "The Subtle Knife," is the next step in what New Line Cinema hopes will be a franchise as successful as the "Harry Potter" films or the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

"Every year we're getting better at what we do, and already we've made another leap forward in realistically portraying these animals," says R&H animation director Erik De Boer. "Some of it has to do with the technology, but it's [more] the experience and the craftsmanship that we have and are expanding on every year."

Mike Fink, the film's visual effects supervisor, is equally proud of his work. He says his favorite sequences are the ones "that don't look like visual effects shots. You don't want the audience to suddenly think they're in a fake place, a different place ... The more invisible my work is, the happier I get."

To learn more about "The Golden Compass" and movie special effects, check out the links below.

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  • Michael Fink interviewed on Nov. 7, 2007
  • Gary Nolin, Bill Westenhofer, Erik De Boer and Ray Chen interviewed on Oct. 15, 2007