How Visual Effects Made Mulan’s Hero Fly Higher

Disney’s live-action adaptation of its most popular animated features has been a huge hit for studios in recent years. Mulan, The most recent remake, which premiered in September on the streaming service Disney + and received high praise from critics for its new spin in folklore Saga of Muldan, Which inspired Disney’s 1998 animated film of the same name.

Directed by Nikki Caro and starring Yafi Liu in the title role, Mulan Follows a teenage girl who disguises herself as a man to serve in the military during the Han Dynasty of China. The film has a splendid ensemble of martial arts film veterans, along with superb choreography and breathtaking sets.

Visual effects supervisor Sean Fadden worked with Karo to make the film’s most impactful moments a little brighter and talked about his experiences at Mulan And all the actions that go into creating an audience forget that there was no visual impact at all.

: Mulan This is the kind of film that makes it difficult to know where in-camera work ends and visual effects begin. What were some of the biggest elements that captured your time on the VFX side?

Shaun Fadden: One of the biggest challenges of this film from the visual effects perspective was to create an epic, while at the same time showing a kind of restraint that, in visual effects, we don’t always show. Many times we just go for it and add so much detail to the scenes that things can get a bit much. But in this case, through Nikki’s guidance [Caro] And mandy [Walker, cinematographer] And our production designer, Grant Major, we had some really great goals and great photography to work with.

That being said, there were a few scenes that needed visual effects to help and CG extensions and CG elements to make them work. Anytime there were wide shots of a fight and you saw too many soldiers or too many horses, we were amplifying those shots. I think they had 67 horses on set, and maybe 80 dressed soldiers.

What about environmental work? The sets in the film were gorgeous, but I suspect that what we saw included some subtle visual effects.

The locations were amazing. The Ivory Valley in the South Island, New Zealand, is one of the most spectacular places you will ever see. There are some mountains that surround the valley, but the heroes are mountains [the active focal point of the scene] That there was going to be an avalanche in the film wasn’t really there. We knew where the ridge is [below the mountain] Was going to happen, but we had to have a mountain above that ridge, in the background. The avalanche sequence was a major undertaking, and all of its elements – the battlefield, avalanche, mountains and valley post-Mulan moments of post-avalanche – were carried out by all [visual effects studio] Sony Pictures Imageworks. He really did a fantastic job.

Where the visual effects really helped, they were helping to expand the scale of the scene and to create and create digital soldiers for the shots, which had them drifting towards the camera on the rigline. Real horses could not ride that ridge, so we located them down the ridge and then formed a group of CG horses to get into that group. We used all the horses we have, because the visual effect is always better when you have as much as possible. This was always Nikki’s goal: to shoot as real as possible.

What about the horse that rides Mulan, the black wind? Was that CG?

During the avalanche, when Mulhan was galloping to save Honghui, there were some wide shots when we saw Mulan on his horse. Yifei [Liu] Has a great horse ride and has done a lot of those stunts, but in the scenes where he was galloping across the rough snow and reaching out to save Honghui, we put him on a terrible mechanical buck Was [a practical mount made to look like a horse’s back] That was created by our special effects team.

We preprogrammed a galloping running wheel and it moved very well – she bounced around and did a great job of convincing the horse – but ImageWorks created this very solid digital version of Black Wind Kiya, who also held in close shots. Kudos to him for that achievement, because that’s something I don’t think most people would realize is a digital horse.

Does a project with this level of comprehensive martial arts choreography create any unique demands on the visual effects side?

Yes, there are some great scenes where Mulan is running over walls or jumping over rooftops, and in some battles, he is leaping through the air. This is a challenge for us because, again, we are trying to make things real. You have to balance what feels magical and special and what is going to feel worldly. You don’t want to avoid gravity for too long. You want to believe that there is something special about him that enables him to reduce gravity to be a great warrior. So many times we ended up cutting it with one shot and adjusting our trajectory to help a little.

Most of the wire work was very good, but there are always moments where it feels a little too horizontal, so when we give it a bit more gravity, a little bit more. For example, she climbs to the ground on a man’s chest in the corridor near the end of the film, when she jumps off the wall, and they don’t think the landing has enough impact. So [visual effects studio] Weta added a few extra frames of sinking her legs and her body to the character’s chest to really sell that effect. Little things like that go much further.

Is there a scene you’re particularly proud of?

One of my favorite scenes is when we first reveal the desert garrison. There is a big, wide shot that comes to the corner of the garrison and reveals this bustling market. This is one of the shots that went from Previs [the earliest, conceptual visualization of the scene] Photography for the ultimate photography in such a beautiful, linear way. It looked good in Previs, and it looked amazing when we shot it, but once we put it together and enhanced it with visual effects, it was just so beautiful.

It was a huge set that they had made, and [visual effects studio] Image Engine added people and tents and markets, as well as a very solid desert environment that revolved around the whole thing. … When I saw that shot, I knew before the finale that it was going to be one of the greatest people in the film.

What is another scene?

The other scene that comes to mind is one of the witch transformation shots. Veta takes one or two transformation shots, but there is one particular where a young soldier roams the street and turns into a witch as he walks, and this is in the rhythm of his footsteps. The witch then becomes an eagle and flies away.

We shot in a street in China. … We basically shot both actors doing their thing, and Veta did a perfect job of mixing everything together. It is so subtle. This is a shot you have to see once or twice, because the transition from soldier to witch is so elegant and beautiful.

This is all when it comes to visual effects: Visual effects support the story and move it forward, but they don’t knock you over the head and say, “Hey, check out these cool visual effects Do! ” One thing that worked really well was that the stuntwoman standing for Gong Lee did this spin at the end of the scene, and that spin gave Vetta a very good sense of speed and energy. , And the hawk’s transition to it. It all worked so well.

Mushu, his dragon sidekick from the animated film, did not appear in live-action Mulan. Assuming that there was some discussion about him, was there ever any work to do to make him with visual effects?

Mushu was never a part of the film. However, Phoenix had different roles as the film developed. The early scripts had Phoenix as more of a sidekick to Muluk’s journey – much like Mushu’s – but it was determined that Phoenix would do a better job as a spiritual guide for Mulan. Like this [visual effects] The company that Phoenix was responsible for, Framestore, worked with a lot of changes to the character. Not only how it looked, but also how it was going to work. It went from being a little goofy to being more of a beautiful representation of his ancestor.

This kind of talk is difficult to express to a company or team. “Okay, now, you guys need to make it spiritual. Do not fool it “But how do you animate it?” So it was a challenge to keep something that felt like an actual bird, but also retain that magnificent color and quality. Finally, we came up with its slow-paced flight pattern and also that the tail feathers in particular flowed behind it. This is why it would go underwater, which was not exactly realistic for the wind, but helped give it a mysterious quality in the story.

Disney‘s live-action Mulan Now available on Disney +.

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