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‘The Little Mermaid’ VFX Supervisor Details How “Truly Amazing” Halle Bailey Became a Mermaid



Visual effects supervisor Tim Burke describes the complex digital effects used to put “truly amazing” Halle Bailey as Ariel and the rest of the cast members under the sea in Rob Marshall’s new musical adaptation of Disney’s The Little Mermaidwhich is projected to earn as much as $120 million over the four-day holiday.

In a new episode of The News84Media‘s Behind the Screen podcast, Burke – an Academy Award winner for Ridley Scott’s Gladiatorwho was additionally nominated for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2 – details the VFX process for making the film, which involved lensing the actors on rigs and the creation of hundreds of CG creatures under the sea.

To capture the performances of Bailey and other actors playing aquatic characters, “it really seemed that the principle for this would be to put actors on rigs that could be moved around spatially on the floor, using stunt people to actually push the rigs and also to introduce dance people who could help puppeteer the actors so they could actually move in a way that gave us essentially the movement of their head.

“If you are held in a rig, there’s no way you can move your, your body. You’ve gotta be fixed from a certain point,” he explains. “We used their faces for real, which allowed them to deliver lines of dialogue to emote, to give us the performance. … But we would then replace everything apart from the faces and the hands with digital bodies, which would allow us to then translate the movement through their bodies to make it look like they were really propelling themselves through the water.”

He adds that not only was Bailey “delivering the most amazing performance and singing as well, within these rigs, but she was giving a performance and a believability.”

“It really was her performance that sold the fact that she was a mermaid. Replacing her body, putting her tail on, obviously, creating the animation that went with her physical movement, was so much easier when we actually had a believable performance in the first place from her. She did an incredible amount of intense physical training to be fit for working on this because she was spending – I don’t know how many hours a day, but several hours a day – almost supporting herself through her stomach muscles in different positions. [in the rigs].”

Other topics include the “Under the Sea” musical number, which he relates, was the most complex as some individual shots contained as many as 400 or more hand-animated characters.

He also shares his views on the state of the VFX business. You can listen to the full conversation here:

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