Cinesite has completed visual effects on the new movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which was released in cinemas on December 9. For the third instalment in the Narnia film series, Cinesite were tasked with creating the White Witch, played by Tilda Swinton, green mist tendrils that embody evilness, a golden path of treasure and complex environments. The film used a wealth of British VFX talent, inciudng MPC and Framestore. 

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a return to C.S. Lewis’ world via the fantastic Narnian ship, the Dawn Treader.  In this new instalment, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, along with their cousin Eustace, their royal friend King Caspian and a warrior mouse named Reepicheep, find themselves swallowed into a painting and onto the Dawn Treader. Their mission – upon which rests the fate of Narnia itself – takes the courageous voyagers to mysterious islands and a river that turns to gold, to fateful confrontations with magical creatures and sinister enemies, and to a reunion with their friend and protector, the 'Great Lion' Aslan.

Cinesite’s team was headed up by Matt Johnson, visual effects supervisor and Stephane Paris, 3D supervisor. To create the White Witch, whose most striking appearance is in the final battle sequence where she tries to tempt Edmund for the final time, principle photography was taken of Swinton and scanned, generating a 3D model of the actress’ head. (Unfortunately no stills with Tilda Swinton in them are being made available to the press).

Cinesite rigged and animated the 3D model using Maya, matching it up to her live performance. CG hair was added to enhance the appearance of the witch and a shroud of upper body mist was composited over the live-action plate to add to the effect of her being a mythical, floating creature. To achieve production vfx supervisor Angus Bickerton’s vision of creating an evil embodiment, while striking a balance between a realistic body of mist and a solid entity, Cinesite used Houdini and created particle renders that generated an ethereal and misty look.


For the sequence preceding the final battle, which sees the Dawn Treader and her crew head into the heart of the enemy’s dark island territory, Cinesite created the green mist tendrils. These tendrils play tricks on the crew’s minds, taking the form of their greatest fears. The ghostly trails were created in Houdini and proprietary fluid simulations tools.

Animations were blocked out in Maya for each tendril shot using character eels to give a sense of position, speed and movement to the mist. Once the pre-viz was approved, the team were able to derive fluid simulations from the data, produce numerous lighting passes and animate the particles to interact with the live action elements in the plate. This meant rotoscoping the mist around the cast and props on the deck to ensure that it was realistically interacting with the live-action environment, which had been shot in front of a blue screen stage.
 “We were really able to put our pipeline to the test on this film,” said Antony Hunt, managing director of Cinesite. “The particle and fluid simulations that Matt and Stephane’s team created pushed the boundaries on what we’ve generated before, taking our work to another level. Thanks to the combination of Houdini’s software and our own proprietary tools, we’ve established a workflow that we can reuse again and again.”

Other effects completed by Cinesite include extending the bejewelled valley using 2D visual effects and digital matte paintings to give the effect of an extensive golden path, and creating set extensions of The Goldwater Island sequence. Here's some before-&-after stills of Cinesite's work.

All shots were composited in Nuke and the project was the first by Cinesite to be completed entirely using the software.