The army of Narnia: Bill Westenhofer reveals the magic behind the beasties


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This is the fourth installment in our series ‘Wizards of Hollywood,’ where we shine a spotlight on the masters of movie magic, the effects specialists who can dazzle us with screen images of liquid robots, giants and goblins, ferocious dinosaurs or just a special human soul who ages in reverse. Today, guest contributor Liesl Bradner interviews Oscar-winner Bill Westenhofer.


Bill Westenhofer of Rhythm & Hues Studios in Los Angeles has worked on ‘Spawn,’ ‘Men in Black II,’ ‘Stuart Little,’ ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ and last year he won an Academy Award for his labors on ‘The Golden Compass.’ Right now he’s working on ‘Land of the Lost,’ the Will Ferrell special-effects comedy based on the old Krofft Brothers television show.

My most memorable scene on film is the opening scene of the Battle for Narnia (“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”). It’s still my favorite. It starts with a gryphon flying in over the fields, sweeping over a completely computer-generated army of 60 unique creature types from centaurs to fawns to various exotic cats and rhinos, all moving in different ways. To create that army itself was an eight-month-plus endeavor of motion capture, creature development with a year and a half of prep work, taking character designs, figuring out how to implement them, working with the props department to realize what the practical versions of those would be, then flowing that into the CGI characters themselves.

Without having the creatures to study, we had to do several months of fight choreography with our motion capture artists to discover how the different creatures move and fight. We had stunt performers pretending to be cyclopes and minotaurs then used this piece of software called Massive, which handles crowd simulation to create a digital army.

Although we’re pretty well known for the creation of Aslan the lion, another creature I’m most proud of was the gryphon who lands on Peter’s arm to signify the beginning of the battle. Originally it was going to be a minor player using a live bird. Due to New Zealand import restrictions we had to use a native bird, all of which were too scrawny and not very impressive. One of our animators did a test of the (CGI) gryphon in majestic flight coming in for a landing and showed it to the director on set and that’s what we ended up using.

-- Liesl Bradner



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