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Oscar Magic: How Snow White and the Huntsman Shrank the Cast

Introduction

Snow White and the Huntsman may not have set the box office on fire, but its Oscar nomination is a testament to its exceptional visual effects. The film took a fresh approach to Snow White’s dwarf companions and enlisted several renowned effects studios to create a range of stunning visuals, including a fearsome troll, a dripping mirror man, an army made of obsidian shards, and, most impressively, a group of full-sized actors transformed into dwarves.

Snow White and the Huntsman
Image: Universal Pictures

The Challenge of Shrinking the Stars

Although casting full-sized actors as dwarves sparked controversy among shorter actors, the achievement of seamlessly integrating stars like Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth with miniaturized actors like Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, and Nick Frost cannot be overlooked. Eight different studios collaborated to create the effects in Snow White and the Huntsman, with Lola VFX and Rhythm & Hues, known for their work on the Oscar-nominated film Life of Pi, leading the way in crafting the dwarf effects.

A Technique That Worked

According to Lola visual effects supervisor Edson Williams, the team faced immense challenges in shrinking the actors but drew inspiration from a technique they had developed for the film The Social Network. By projecting Army Hammer’s facial performance onto a body double, they were able to create the illusion of “twins” interacting and even rowing a boat together. The face projection technique was a perfect fit for Snow White and the Huntsman since it allowed filming the principal photography first, followed by reshooting the hero actors’ performances in a controlled environment.

The Face Projection Process

To achieve the desired effect, the team used 3D tracking to analyze the lighting changes on the body double’s face. They then pre-programmed these lighting changes into a computer-controlled lighting dome using DMX lights and software, resulting in seamless integration of the dwarf actors’ faces onto the body doubles.

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The Role of Traditional Techniques

While advanced software and computer-generated effects played a significant part in shrinking the actors, several old-school techniques were also employed. In certain shots, Stewart and Hemsworth stood on risers while the dwarf actors walked alongside them on the ground. Wide lenses were used to stretch the shots horizontally, creating the illusion that everyone was on the same plane.

The Perfect Combination

Philip Brennan, one of the four visual effects supervisors mentioned in the Oscar nomination, explained how a combination of visual effects and camera tricks made the transformation possible. Despite time constraints, budget limitations, and the extensive number of scenes featuring the dwarf actors, the team managed to create the desired effect, blending the magic of visual effects with clever camera work.

Snow White and the Huntsman Dwarves

Green-Screen and Practical Techniques

Alongside face projection and traditional methods, green-screen shots played a crucial role in reducing or eliminating the actors’ limbs and replacing them with more proportionate dwarf appendages. The full-size actors playing dwarves also underwent training to accurately portray the movements and mannerisms of shorter individuals.

The Art of Walking

Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, another visual effects supervisor involved in the film, highlighted the importance of the dwarves’ distinctive walk in selling their characters convincingly. He discovered that little people offset their center of gravity left and right, while full-size individuals do so forward and backward. This difference in weight distribution creates the characteristic wobble seen in dwarf walking, which played a vital role in achieving authenticity.

The Perfect Blend of Modern and Traditional

For the team behind Snow White and the Huntsman, transforming a cast of full-size actors into believable dwarves required a harmonious blend of cutting-edge CGI and time-tested visual effects. The result, evident in the film’s presence within a fiercely competitive Academy Award category, speaks for itself.

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Conclusion

As we eagerly await the Oscar results this weekend, we can’t help but marvel at the magical transformation achieved in Snow White and the Huntsman. The film’s ability to seamlessly integrate full-sized actors into the world of dwarves through a combination of advanced techniques and artistic vision has left a lasting impression. To discover whether Snow White and the Huntsman emerges victorious, we must rely on the magic of the Academy Awards.

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