November 2015

‘Making Pan has taken us to extraordinary places. It has been a pleasure working with Framestore to bring our ideas to life’ - Chas Jarrett, VFX Supervisor

Framestore were awarded over 400 shots on Pan, split between their London and Montreal offices. Having previously worked with director Joe Wright and Supervisor Chas Jarrett, Framestore were confident that the partnership could successfully deliver Wright’s vision for Pan - an intriguing mix of fantasy and reality.


Peter’s journey to Neverland was perhaps the most difficult conceptual sequences of the show, combining as it does a space setting, flying against a sky, and zero-g balls of water, which in turn play host to various pirate ships. ‘The shots that came before us were dark and gritty’, says CG Supervisor Stuart Penn. ‘Then we approach Neverland and it’s vibrant, with very saturated colours and a real playfulness. There are fantastical fish within the bubbles, flying fish skimming off the bubbles, it’s all incredibly beautiful’.

An important element for the Journey to Neverland was the cloudscape. Framestore’s Art Department were involved from an early stage, providing cloudscape concepts for the initial visual pitch, and later refining them for use by the VFX artists. A new system was developed, which allowed the wider teams to create volume-based clouds. Three teams pulled together to maximise its use: Environments, Effects and Lighting. ‘We ultimately had bespoke set-ups per shot’, says McCulloch. ‘Each build was a triumph for the teams involved, who all worked together to create each shot as it was required’.


The pirate ship soon sweeps through the voluminous cloud into a tunnel, landing in a mine environment created by Framestore’s Montreal team. VFX and CG Supervisors Stephane Nazé and Ben Magana chose to work in full CG, to maintain a degree of flexibility through the process, and to allow amends to lighting direction with relative ease.

The primary challenge of the environment was sheer scale. ‘We needed to include various elements, to draw the audience’s attention’, explains Nazé. ‘Of course, we had to fill the space with miners - thousands and thousands of them - but it was also key that they didn’t look lost. The audience need to be able to read something’.

Montreal handed the baton back to London to create the above ground mine environment, seen as Peter, Hook and Smee escape by cable car. Again, the epic proportions of the environment were of primary importance, alongside the look and feel. ‘Joe was very clear’, says McCulloch. ‘It was blasted and destroyed, but it also had a lot of colour - nowhere in Neverland is monochromatic’.

Digital matte painting was key in replicating the mine for its many miles, building on the initial look provided by Framestore’s Art Department. CG Supervisor Stuart Penn notes the tactics behind the work: ‘We were intelligent in the way we went about it. Once we had enough shots in, we broke down the environment into key areas, and worked out where we should make and reuse to cover as much of the expanse as possible’.


‘It’s hard to beat getting one of the most recognised faces in the world to play all of your mermaids!’, says McCulloch on Cara Delevingne’s triumvirate role in the film. ‘She was great, a real team player, and able to work with the very technical set-up that we had’.

Once the plates were shot, Framestore were in for another year’s worth of work creating Wright’s vision of three visually similar, yet distinct, mermaids. Deemed ‘motherly, feral and flirty’, the differentiations helped the teams to finesse the build and performance of each personality. 

The Art Department delivered concepts to create the right feel for the mermaid forms. Says Brandon Norris, Art Department Production Manager, ‘We worked to define the textural details, the materials, and the quality of lighting needed to give Cara’s mermaids their magic and intrigue. She’s ethereal, but the colours are electric’.

Using the same conform animation rigs pioneered for Gravity, Framestore were able to take Delevingne’s face from live action footage and reanimate it into the mermaids’ shots. Their aquatic environment was crafted using references of Vietnam’s Halong Bay to inform the work. Framestore’s artists also built the Nevercroc crocodile, sharing the asset between London and Montreal. 


The project was another prime opportunity for Framestore to maximise its creative workforce across offices, drawing on collective experiences to deliver a polished picture. ‘Our input from the early stages of concepting had us so invested in the project’, says McCulloch. ‘It was a pleasure to work with Joe and his team to realise his vision for this magical story’.

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