Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince

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Cinesite have worked on every Harry Potter film to date and are in the unique position of contributing both miniature and digital effects for the films.

The Cinesite model team, supervised again by Jose Granell, unwrapped the huge model ready to modify it interpreting the production design of Stuart Craig in preparation for 11 week shoot that started in early May, 2008. The shoot took place as always at Shepperton Studios with Nigel Stone as Director of Photography.

As with every installment of Harry Potter Hogwarts evolves and this time round the Cinesite models team were required to build a 1:24 scale version of the new Astronomy Tower, a beautifully elegant structure, to be placed in the centre of the school.

The models team also built a huge 40’ high version of the Astronomy Tower to enable them to shoot extreme close-ups. This was a great challenge as the top of the tower where most of the action takes place, is an open structure which meant they had to build all the interior detail and match all the main unit set dressing.

Another new build was a 1:3 scale model of the Burrows, the Weasley’s family home, which catches fire. Jose along with Stuart Craig and Model Unit Art Director, Gary Tomkins, decided that to achieve the shots they would have to build a large scale model to allow them to add a very high level of detail, they settled on 1:3 scale, which meant that flames would work and as it burnt, parts of the model would collapse and reveal the correct internal framework.

All previs work for the model shots is carried out by VFX Supervisor, Tim Burke, at Leavesden Studios. Jose then looks at the previsualised shots and works out how best to achieve them, either to shoot them using a stills camera as a locked off shot, or as a matched move moco shot.

Cinesite’s digital team, this time led by Andy Robinson as Compositing Supervisor and Ivor Middleton as CG Supervisor worked on various shots including CG twittering birds and the dramatic Glass Ceiling explosion as the Deatheaters escape and along with Bellatrix cause havoc in the Great Hall.

For the twittering bird sequence the art department provided concept artwork that we matched to. The birds were based on lovebirds but with slight embellishments and are magically summoned by Hermione and strike the door just as Ron exits disappearing in a puff of feathers. This effect was achieved using Maya dynamics and ncloth, the CG birds were created using Cinesite’s in house feather software, csFeathers.

Floating candles are always an important part of the Great Hall shots and Cinesite updated their candle pipeline to deal with an increased depth of field in the shots this time round. They also had to shoot additional flame and smoke textures for the shot where the candles are blown out. The glass explosion itself was achieved by Holger Voss using a piece of software designed to simulate the destruction of structures in response to catastrophic forces such as explosions, projectiles and shock waves.