The release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II on July 15th 2011 marked the end of perhaps the most ambitious – and certainly the most remunerative – film cycles in cinematic history. For Framestore, too, Deathly Hallows: Part II marked the end of an era. The creative studio had been a part of the cycle from the outset, contributing to every single film in the franchise. Framestore’s work included the deadly Basilisk in Chamber of Secrets, Buckbeak the Hippogriff in Prisoner of Azkaban and Dobby the House Elf’s moving final performance in Deathly Hallows Part I. The closing picture saw Framestore once more face new VFX challenges, with the company providing a brace of dazzling sequences, as well as – a bittersweet honour and pleasure – helping to create the last sequence and shot of this final film.
'The UK is now recognised as the leading provider for visual effects in the world. All the studios are bringing their work to UK effects companies. Every facility is fully booked, and that wasn't the case before Harry Potter.'Tim Burke - Senior VFX Supervisor
Water water, everywhere
The first of Framestore’s sequences takes place in the Chamber of Secrets, the underground cave system below Hogwarts, first seen in the eponymous second film of the Potter cycle. Ron and Hermione return to the Chamber, seeking one of the Horcruxes, is in the form of a cup. Finding it, they destroy it by striking it with a tooth taken from the corpse of the Basilisk that Harry slew several years ago. As they strike, the residual malevolent Voldemortian energy possesses all of the water in the Chamber, causing it to rise up (Voldemort’s face briefly forming in it) and pursue Ron and Hermione through the chamber before running out of energy and collapsing in a huge, drenching splash over them.
Whilst HP 2 featured a fully constructed Chamber of Secrets set, the location’s brief reappearance in DH: Part II meant that a digital environment was the order of the day. Filmed entirely on green screen, with even the studio floor replaced, faithfully recreating the Chamber was actually the least of Framestore’s problems. "The really tricky thing about the sequence was that you were dealing with this big FX water simulation," says VFX Supervisor Andy Kind, "but at the same time it was a sort of character. You had to convey that it was moved by a sort of primitive intelligence and malevolence, and show these forces rising and finally exhausting themselves."
'The water was a sort of character. You had to convey that it was moved by a sort of primitive intelligence and malevolence, and show these forces rising and finally exhausting themselves.'Andy Kind - VFX Supervisor
9¾ Steps to Heaven
Near the film’s climax, as he finally comes to understand his own nature, Harry Potter surrenders himself to Voldemort who casts the Killing Curse at him, sending Harry into a limbo-like state between life and death. He finds himself in a version of Kings Cross, but one very different from the station he knows. Everything has a bleached white appearance and the arches and platforms stretch off into infinity. Here he meets and converses at length with Dumbledore, his beloved headmaster, slain by Snape in HP6. Their conversation concludes with Harry’s returning to earth and to battle.
The initial brief for this sequence suggested a sort of ‘ice hotel’ feel, with everything somehow there but not there. Harry and Dumbledore were shot on a completely white stage. "This allowed the comp team, lead by Russell Hoarth, to key it differently with Luma keys," explains 2D Supervisor Christian Kaestner. "Of course, we did have to roto bits and so on, but at least we had a better starting point than we would have had with a green screen shoot – the bounce was all white and therefore more applicable to the final look of the environment. On top of that the team started animating the opacity of some of the columns. It’s very subtle, but some of them phase in and out, which adds to the 'otherness' of the place."
'We took out all of the walls and arches, leaving just the roof, columns and platforms, which opened and enlarged the space, as well as making it less "realistic", giving a much better sense of other-worldly infinity.Christian Kaestner - 2D Supervisor
Young Wizards in training
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II closes with a simple, epilogue-like sequence that takes place 19 years after the events we’ve just witnessed. Harry and his family and friends have gathered on Kings Cross’s legendary Platform 9¾ to say goodbye to their children – the next generation – as they head off to Hogwarts, some for their first term.
Shot at Leavesden, with green screens and partial set, the final sequence presented no dramatic challenges to the Framestore team. A couple of animations – a chocolate frog and an origami bird – harked back to the earliest films. The platform environment was digitally extended, including some rendering and matte painting, the whole assembled as a photorealistic comp with Senior Compositor Kate Windibank as lead. The final sequence was delivered to the client in 2D.