BLOG: ‘Alice In Wonderland’ has VFX Oscar hopes
By Daniel Restuccio
January 7, 2011

BLOG: ‘Alice In Wonderland’ has VFX Oscar hopes

CULVER CITY, CA — Not long after the list possible films vying for the visual effects Oscar was shortened to seven, Sony Imageworks held an informal "tea party" for press to revisit the animation and visual effects of Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland.

As I sipped a cup of Earl Grey and munched on cookies with edible images from Wonderland printed on the confections, I watched as animation supervisor David Schaub (pictured below) guided me through shot breakdowns on a giant 55-foot screen.

As Schaub pointed out the amazing attention to detail in the creation of the characters, I was startled as he stepped frames through a shot where Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter’s eyes and tie get larger and brighten as the Hatter leans forward. It is an effect that is virtually invisible when played in realtime, yet still makes an impression.

I posed the theory question to Schaub: ‘Have we moved from the age of visual effects to visual affects?’ I say that the difference is that the visual effect is the frames of the Hatter’s eyes and tie getting larger and brighter, the affect is the emotion transmitted to the audience.

Schaub understood instantly. “An effect would be: where it is the ‘Wow’ factor. How many things can blow up? How many buildings are going to tumble down. An affect is what you're saying to the audience to create an emotional impact. That's the realm we were in all throughout Alice — trying to affect — create a certain mood.”

“Not only do (the Hatter’s) eyes get bigger,” Schaub continued, ”but the color of his eyes change as his mood changes as well.” From a story standpoint he says there wouldn't be this magical moment of awakening in the Hatter’s expression when he sees Alice. You wouldn't notice that stuff unless it was pointed out to you, but subconsciously and subliminally you're picking up on these things. It's a hunch you get about who these characters are. It affects you on an emotional level you can't necessarily put your finger on.”

Schaub continued, “As we have a character perform it's not just a character delivering dialogue, there's a subtext there. This is what we did with the frog footmen in the (Red) Queen’s court. They’re not saying anything and there's that moment of terror you feel in these frogs. You could call it an effect because the frogs are digital creations, but we are trying to affect by imparting a performance through subtle nuances in the way they emote through their eyes.”

Schaub recalled when he was affected to go into animation. “I was a big Saturday morning cartoon kid. I had an epiphany at Disneyland when I was about six or seven and they were selling those little flip books. There was a Mickey Mouse and a Donald Duck flipbook. That's when it all came together and I realized that’s what they’re doing. You can have this little movie in your hand. No turning back ever since that moment.”