Los Angeles-based VFX facility Pixel Magic recently completed over 60 invisible effects shots for The Help – a DreamWorks production based on the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett. The movie, opened successfully with a box office gross of $35 million in its first week of release.
Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s, The Help explores how the unspoken code of behavior governing Southern households is shattered when an aspiring writer interviews a maid, who speaks candidly about her experiences. The interview sets off shock waves that reverberate across the entire community.
Hired by DreamWorks, Pixel Magic was responsible for completing a variety of work including fixes, period enhancements to practical shots, sky enhancements and composites. The main focus of the effects work was to enhance the reality of the practical production shots so that the effect produced was unnoticed or invisible.
According to Ray McIntyre Jr., visual effects supervisor for Pixel Magic, “We did everything from adding clouds, rain, and blowing leaves to create a stormy environment, to adding CG tears on a young child for emotional impact. We painted out scaffolding and production lights, created several TV composites, added CG earrings to actors for continuity, added CG steam fuming from background buildings to enhance realism, and changed non-period labels on products.”
McIntyre explained that approximately 10 artists at Pixel Magic worked on the project for over three months. In addition, McIntyre was on set during production, serving as VFX supervisor. The facility relied primarily on Adobe After Effects and Autodesk Maya along with Iridas’ Framecycler Pro to review shots.
He explained that one key challenge was that the child actress who played Mae Mobley (Eleanor Henry) was unable to cry on cue. “We created red eyes, tears, and tear streaks rolling down her cheeks for a total of five shots in two sequences,” said McIntyre. “Unfortunately, the work Pixel Magic did is so transparent that it goes unnoticed by most movie-goers, however, it’s a great compliment if they do not notice.”