Journey to the Center of the Earth
To capture the scale of sweeping panoramas ranging from the glacial peaks of Iceland to the vast sea at the center of the Earth, and the intricate detail of petrified mushroom forests and calcified rock formations, Brevig called on the expertise of an array of talented artists, including concept lead artist Erik Tiemens, production designer David Sandefur, director of photography Chuck Schuman and visual effects supervisor Christopher Townsend.
"When creating a fantasy story, you're taking the truth and stretching it," offers Brevig. "We began with the concept art, which was the touchstone for production design, visual effects and cinematography. The final look in the film is the product of tremendous collaboration by nearly 200 artists."
In referencing the concept art, Sandefur remarks that one of the greatest challenges was balancing the real and surreal. "There had to be some level of the fantasy, but at the same time, I wanted to try and maintain a level of realism," he notes. "The texture and color needed to look and feel very real and very rich. And although the audience knows we're in this fictitious world, I'd like them to think that we went to a location and shot underground or in a jungle."
"We approached the look of the film using what we called a 'color script,' which was a plan for the use of color throughout the movie," notes Brevig. "At the beginning of the movie, we start in a muted color range, then we take the audience into a heightened color reality once we get to the center and by the end of the film, they return to a more vivid environment to imply that Trevor's life is brighter and more hopeful."
Production took place in Montreal, which was hardly jungle-like, but surprisingly, the northern city proved invaluable when it came to set designs, particularly its natural surroundings. "One of the things we found helpful was the access just outside of the city to a phenomenal, organic terrain, which we used to come up with the texture and configurations of our sets," explains the production designer. "We took molds off of real surfaces in a lot of different areas and made plaster skins out of those and attached them to the walls."
For the Mushroom House that Trevor, Sean and Hannah find at the center of the Earth, Sandefur remarks, "My team and I spent weeks experimenting with materials to get the surfaces to look just right. After all, what does the inside of a mushroom look like? Can someone get me a few books on interiors of mushroom homes...anyone?"
Sandefur finally decided to use industrial-sized sponges, slicing them into thin slivers and painstakingly lacing them on top of each other to give the surface a porous, organic-looking texture. Once the slivers were bonded together, "we cast surfaces with translucent latex, and then painted and backlit them for a bioluminescent effect," continues Sandefur. "It's like being inside a giant Jack-o¬lantern."
While Sandefur's team built a rock wall that measured roughly 40-feet high by 30-feet wide, the visual effects team, led by visual effects supervisor Christopher Townsend, extended the wall hundreds of feet down with CGI. To create the visual effects (VFX) shots in "Journey to the Center of the Earth" in 3D, Townsend's VFX team performed double duty, rendering twice the amount of shots for each of the film's 726 visual effects shots, resulting in a total of more than 1,400 visual effects shots created.
Townsend explains, "In 3D, what we have to do is recreate the world behind the actor and convey that volume and that space. We have to render a piece of geometry in computer graphics that disappears back just as far as it would disappear back in the real world. So if it's six miles to the horizon, then within the computer, you have to build a computer model that actually disappears back six miles. You can't just fake it with a flat painting. You actually have to put it in its correct dimension."
Making a live-action 3D action adventure film with extensive visual effects that will be added in postproduction requires actors to have active imaginations during principal photography. "They have to be ready to interact with fantastical objects and creatures-glow birds and giant flying piranhas-that obviously aren't really there," states Brevig.
The filmmakers tried to make the experience as natural for the actors as possible. "You really hope that the technology is as invisible to the actors as it is to the audience," notes Huggins. "The cast needs to be focused on their characters and in the story."