THE LAST SPELL: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2” closes out a decade of Hogwarts in Hollywood. Hero Complex is counting down to the release of the final film in the magical franchise with exclusive interviews and photos. Today: Hero Complex‘s Noelene Clark chats with visual effects supervisor Tim Burke. Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t read the books.
NC: You’ve been working on these films since “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” And your job was still in full swing long after the cast left. How does it feel to be at the end of it all?
TB: It’s starting to feel a bit weird. We finished filming last summer, and that’s when most of the crews left, being the end of production. So watching them all leave was quite sad. But we were so busy finishing “Part 1,” and we’ve been just straight into “Part 2,” and it’s only now as I’m sitting in a room full of cardboard boxes. We’re basically packing up all the equipment, and it’s all going back to Warner Bros., and you know, in another few days, that’ll be it. It’s sort of slowly dawning on me that this is the end of an era.
NC: So you were working right down to the wire.
TB: We were past the wire, actually. We really pushed it right way to the end of any possible time on this one. We had the big conversion to 3-D as well, and that sort of added a massive complication. So yeah, we’ve used every second we possibly could.
NC: How is the 3-D?
TB: I think it’s good, actually. I think people are going to be really pleased. I know everyone’s a little nervous and skeptical of 3-D these days, but the work has been done very, very well. We’ve done over 200 shots in 3-D and in the visual effects as well, because so much of it is CG, so the results are very, very good. I think everyone’s going to be really impressed with it, actually.
NC: Is there a particular sequence you’re most proud of?
TB: There’s so much work. I think, hopefully, it will all be good. There’s some great stuff very early on with the dragon in Gringotts. There’s some great fun in that. The battle sequences are epic, and just continuous. It’s almost wall-to-wall work, that’s the thing. So it doesn’t really stand out as being one scene. We did a lot of the design for the school itself. And the school has been completely rebuilt as a CG model. In the previous films we’d always used a miniature model to do that part of the work. But in order to give ourselves sort of a lot of flexibility and scope with the actual battle sequence itself, we decided to rebuild it all as a CG model, and the surrounding sort of Scottish landscape, models so we could put the camera wherever we wanted. And because it’s all these different action sequences happening in the landscape, and in parts of the school, we needed to be able to link these together, and some of them were on practical sets. … We were able to basically build this whole environment in the computer, and then link all of these different things together in CG in this kind of virtual world. So that in itself was a massive undertaking. As soon as they get back to Hogwarts and the battle starts, every single shot is an interior or an exterior Hogwarts set-piece, and so it’s an environment that we’ve done something to. It’s just the sheer volume of work, and that environment work, and then the animation on top of that. It’s really worked as a whole piece. It’s not just one individual little thing. It’s an amazing amount of work.
NC: It sounds very challenging.
TB: Well, the logistics of that were massively challenging because we’re also sharing a lot of work with different companies around the world. One of the most challenging things was sharing the shots between the different companies and making sure that everyone could actually work together. We’d have one company creating backgrounds and environments, and another company creating animation to go into those environments, and then on top of that, we’d then have to do them all in 3-D in stereo, so that became quite a complex logistical management thing to make sure that all worked. Technically, there were some big challenges throughout the film. There’s a stand-alone sequence called the Room of Requirement where we had to do an awful lot of fire dynamics, and we had to create creatures out of fire. That was fairly complex and very time-consuming. But overall, you’d have to say it’s just the sheer volume and diversity of work that’s been the biggest complex thing on this film.
NC: Were there any surprises along the way?
TB: What we do is we try to plan as well as we can. We were still working on “Half-Blood Prince” — it was the beginning of 2009 — and we started doing what we call pre-viz animations, where we do simple animations and animatics, and we started designing all of the final battle sequence. We spent nine months basically designing shots and sequences. That ended up being over 30 minutes’ worth of material that we just created that allowed us to understand, and [director] David Yates and everyone else to understand, what was going on. Because the problem, as I was sort of mentioning, is that none of these places existed. You’re dealing with a huge action sequence where you can’t go to the location to film it. So you’ve got to understand how all these pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fit together. We were sort of trying to help everyone not be surprised, if you see what I mean, by illustrating to everyone how this all worked, and how it all fitted together. So thankfully we managed to sort of give everyone a clear picture of how things worked, and there weren’t too many surprises when it came to actually filming, because the preparation had been thorough enough. But I suppose surprises always came along in the form of new shots. Very late in the process, we kind of redesigned the way Voldemort was going to die, which was an interesting sort of challenge. That was something we had to get into very late in the game. That was quite a challenge.
NC: Didn’t you have to make last-minute changes to the final scene when the kids are all grown up?
TB: Oh, yeah, they actually had to re-shoot that. I’d even forgotten about that already. Because they were re-shooting it, they couldn’t go to King’s Cross, where it was staged. So they shot it with green screen, and we had to put King’s Cross in. So that was a surprise. I’d forgotten it all. And then they did some sort of makeup for the aging. But then at the very end, after the audience screening, they asked us to start enhancing it to make the kids seem older. So that was another surprise. See, you just forget these things. I think it’s called therapy. You just try and blank them.
NC: You mentioned this is the end of an era. Do you think these changed film?
TB: From a visual effects side, over here, it’s basically been the background of the growth of an industry. I’ve been working for 24 years in this business. We didn’t really have a visual effects industry in the mid-’90s. I was at one of the early companies. And the “Harry Potter” films came along in 2000. On the strength of the work that the facilities in the U.K. have been producing in the last 10 years, there’s been a recognition that the U.K. is a world leader in visual effects now. And it’s been illustrated through the “Harry Potter” films, to the point where the big studios in America are all bringing their work over to London to do it. That’s been a major achievement for London in particular. Also, it’s a global market. We’ve been working with companies in some of those four different continents on these films, and we’ve found ways of working where distance isn’t a problem. I can work with Australia in the morning, London during the day, and America in the evening. You can literally do the whole world, and distance doesn’t become an issue. It’s really been a fascinating development in our industry. It really has just helped everyone the companies over here develop to a very high level of work.
NC: Your other credits include fantasy and genre projects, including “A Knight’s Tale,” “Gladiator” and “Merlin.” Will your next project be in the same vein?
TB: It’s just the way it’s happened. It’s funny. I don’t know what would be next, to be honest. I’m going to take some time off. I’ve been promising myself that, so I’m definitely going to take some time off. And then, you know, looking into the next film, whatever that will be. I’ve got a couple of things that I’m talking to people about, but it’s very early days. It’s perfect timing. Take the summer off, have some holiday time, and then maybe start working something in the fall, hopefully.
— Noelene Clark
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