Jaap Buitendjik / Warner Bros. Pictures
By Ron Magid, Special to The Times Making Santa's brother (Vince Vaughn) and an elf (John Michael Higgins) fit proportionally when slow dancing was no small feat for "Fred Claus" visual effects supervisor Alex Bicknell, especially because the actor playing said elf was a full-sized man. "Director David Dobkin insisted that Vaughn and Higgins shoot their scenes together so they could riff off each other," Bicknell says. To do that, Bicknell had to figure out how to reduce Higgins' scale while enabling him to improvise, and such rigorous visual effects shots don't exactly lend themselves to freewheeling dialogue. Fortunately, Bicknell had some previous experience milking comic chemistry from full-scale humans and effects-induced little people: his prior visual effects supervisor gig on "Little Man," a comedy in which comedian Marlon Wayans played the pint-sized titular character. Bicknell had Jorgé Rodero, a little person, portray Willie the elf from the neck down. For every shot involving dialogue, Higgins performed just off camera. Later, Bicknell digitally married Higgins' head to Rodero's diminutive body. Sound simple? Hardly.
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