Thursday, March 04, 2010

"Wonderland" a Challenge for Effects Wizard Ken Ralston

The Los Angeles Times recently asked Ken Ralston, the visual effects supervisor for Alice in Wonderland, what the biggest challenge was on making the film. His response?

"What part of it wasn't a challenge? All the characters in the film, all the weird combination of effects, and the always-lovely fact of too little time to finish everything -- all of it was a giant challenge. To think of one thing that was bigger or more difficult than the rest, I can't do it. It was one giant challenge."

Ralston has a thoroughly impressive resume in working in special effects. His credits include Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Cocoon, Return of the Jedi, and Forrest Gump, among others. This is Ralston's first time collaborating with director Tim Burton. The connection was made by producer Richard D. Zanuck, who produced Cocoon in 1985.

All of Alice in Wonderland was one immense challenge because of all of the components interacting at once -- live-action, animation, and motion-capture -- all starting with a sea of green screen and eventually converted into 3D.

"The great challenge of it was the fact that every shot in the movie and every scene is filled with a variety of techniques and ideas, so you can't just plug something in and run with it," Ralston said. "This is no one-trick pony, it's a 1,000-trick pony. It's all scattered around in weird ways. The huge challenge to make it all feel like the same world, to have smoothness to it so that Alice -- who is normal, except for size-changing throughout the movie -- is surrounded by Red Queen, the Mad Hatter and Knave -- who are versions of humanoids -- and then on top of that all the animal characters who are animated."

Ralston said that was only the first part of the puzzle -- then came the sculpting required to make those disparate pieces mesh without bumps and breakdowns.

"On top of all that, all three groups are for the most part in computer-graphic environments that are surrounding them. What's entailed in making that feel like a unified moment, where they're all on the screen and interacting with each other in a believable way, well, that was more than a little tricky. That's really all it took to make 'Wonderland.'"

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