From dinosaurs and prehistoric fish to fully CG oceans, Frantic Films used every trick in the book to create a stereoscopic visual effects extravaganza for Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D.

Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D is one of this summer’s big family movies – and as the directorial film debut of award-winning VFX supervisor Eric Brevig, it’s no surprise to learn the movie is a visual-effects fest.

Based on Jules Verne’s classic novel, the film tells the story of a science professor by the heroic name of Trevor (played by Brendan Fraser) who, on an expedition in Iceland with his nephew, discovers a lost underground world populated by dangerous, prehistoric creatures.

As a stereoscopic film, 3D effects such as fish and tentacles flying towards the viewers are put to good use in the film. Frantic Films, a division of Prime Focus Group, was one of three major VFX studios asked to work on the film, joining Hybride and Meteor Studios.

Led by Vancouver-based visual-effects supervisor Chris Harvey, Winnipeg-based visual-effects supervisor Mike Shand, and visual-effects producer Randal Shore, Frantic employed a team that varied in size between 15 and 60 artists and programmers on the film, over the course of a year.

The studio was given the task of producing more than 180 visual-effects shots for the film, including 135 fully digital ocean shots, of which 83 contained CG creatures, for a pivotal four-and-a-half minute sequence.

In the last month of production, the studio was awarded an entirely fresh sequence, with a whole new creature, the Trilobite, to create. “It was very exciting to receive this kind of confidence from them, as it was a decision late in production and involved the opening sequence of the movie,” says Harvey.

During the key underground ocean sequence, the film’s main characters stand perilously atop a raft, floating on a raging CG sea, surrounded by giant plesiosaurs and under attack from jumping razorfish.

It was a tough challenge, recalls Harvey. “We’re talking about an entirely synthetic stormy ocean, with a raft of four people splashing about on it. Add to that hundreds of man-eating fish and a couple of handfuls of giant dinosaurs – all of which have to interact with each other – and you have a heck of a lot of work in front of you. Oh – and of course, everything’s in stereo!” he says.

“That said, it was an extremely exciting prospect from the outset, because of the amount of water-work and, for me personally, the creature work.”

The actors were shot against green screen on an articulated raft set-piece, and all the other elements in the sequence were composited into the live-action plate.

Even though the scene was shot with on-set rain pouring down, Frantic Films rotoscoped a significant portion of the rain and recreated it in CG to ensure it was seamlessly consistent across the whole sequence.

Key to achieving this number of complex visual-effects shots was a strong pipeline, which, says Harvey, was kept as non-linear as possible so that multiple stages and passes could be worked on simultaneously, and changes could be made easily, whatever stage they were requested at.