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Interview: Visual Effects Supervisor Gary Brozenich on the Making of ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’

January 14, 2020Ben MK

For a studio best known for its fairy tales, 2014's Maleficent marked quite the departure for Disney, as it focused on expanding the backstory of one of their most infamous villains — Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent. Now Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and her goddaughter Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) are back for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. And they're joined by Aurora's soon-to-be mother-in-law Queen Ingrith (a scene-stealing Michelle Pfeiffer), a royal with designs of her own for the creatures of the Moors.

I caught up with Visual Effects Supervisor Gary Brozenich to chat about his work on Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, and to find out more about the making of this latest installment in Disney's bewitching live-action franchise.

What was it like working with director Joachim Rønning again? You previously worked together on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Brozenich: It was great. I think that the benefit was there was a lot of shorthand that we had developed about my knowledge of his working style and his instincts, things that he naturally gravitated towards, and likes and dislikes. So there was a lot of those kinds of conversations and feeling-through processes that we luckily didn't have to go through again. Also, I just like him as a person, so it was nice to be able to work with people that you like again. Especially when you're gonna be on a show for as long as we are together on them for.

Speaking of Pirates of the Caribbean, that was the first Disney franchise you worked on, and now Maleficent makes two. How does working on a major Disney franchise compare to the other movies you've done?

Brozenich: I think just in terms of working with Disney, referring to Pirates as an example, there's such a rich visual vocabulary that's been established already — both through the [Jerry] Bruckheimer world and then the Disney world — to create that universe. Pirates is very recognizable, and people will immediately come into one of those movies and have a definite idea of what they can expect to see or what the texture of that world will look like.

And the good thing about working on sequels is that [the studio] knows that there is already an audience that will be there. So they're a little less nervous about spending more money on doing special effects and fun visual effects work, because they've already established that that works and that gets the audience's attention and gets them involved. There's a lot less second-guessing and a lot more making decisions, I would say, in terms of doing big designs and big ideas. So they're a lot more fun.

Can you tell me more about the complexity of the VFX sequences in this film and what the VFX team's approach was to dividing and conquering the work?

Brozenich: We did 2,165 or 2,168 shots. I can't remember the exact number, but we did well over 2,000 shots on the movie. It was on a little bit of a compressed schedule than what we had originally gone into it expecting to work with, so that created its own challenges. Really, the good thing about that it it eliminates a lot of the second-guessing and speculating. You really just have to dive in feet first and start making stuff. And it meant that the director had to be more deeply involved earlier — to be there on a much more regular basis — all the way through post[-production], than would normally be the case.

But I don't think the film suffered for it; I think that it actually heightened everybody's senses — being put in the position of having to make quick and solid creative decisions. Especially on large Disney movies like this, the level of the complexity with the numbers of people that need to be involved to make these big decisions. It really helps focus the team.

Do you have a scene in the movie that was a favorite of yours to work on?

Brozenich: I think that one of the scenes that I found the most pleasing to watch, after the fact, was probably the one that has some of the most what would be seemingly simple visual effects in it, or the least amount of imposed visual effects on it. The dinner party dialogue scene is basically the main 8 or 10 principal actors in the movie sitting around a table, all having a dialogue. And we shot it over, I think, 10 days. It was quite a grueling shooting process because it was the same dialogue pieces again and again and again over a 10-day period.

The effects that we were adding to it primarily were adding wings to Maleficent — to [Angelina Jolie] — and giving the Maleficent treatment to her eyes and her skin so that she had the look that Maleficent had. And even though that became more what would be bread and butter work on the film — because there was such a high volume of it — there was a lot of intense scrutiny of [things like] what her emotional intent was for those individual moments and how the wings could actually play with that or making sure that they didn't play against it.

So, in a funny way, it was one of the more visually simple scenes for visual effects to conquer, but at the same time it was actually really satisfying. I think it's one of the more fun scenes in the movie, too. It's a real actor's moment, rather than a visual effects moment, but that actually made it more fun for us.

How about the most challenging scene — do you have one that stood out for you?

Brozenich: I would say that it was the battle sequence that capped off the movie, [because] it had 6 or 7 storylines all woven together that were taking place in different parts of the world that was being created. Basically, there was a group of people in the castle, there was a group of people on the ground, there were some people on the parapets, there were flying Fey creatures that were coming towards the battle, there were a lot of different moments that had to be choreographed in a very big, geographical way.

Actually mapping that out with the editor and with Joachim was a proper challenge. Just to make sure that the audience at least kept some sense of where each character was in this huge space, in relation to each other. And because of the complex nature of mapping that out and the difficulty in editing something like that with so many interwoven storylines, it meant that the work that we were doing on it was some of the last that came up for visual effects to be able to have turned over, which adds extra pressure to it. But I think that that was probably the most challenging logistical and creative work that we had to do.

Last but not least, what advice would you give to someone hoping to break into the VFX industry?

Brozenich: I'd say try to come at it with your own unique perspective. Try to not necessarily just come up through the pipeline of going and studying visual effects and going and working in a facility. Come at it as an artist, come at it as a photographer, come at it as an engineer or a musician. I think that those unique perspectives — knowing that someone has something else that they bring to the table — makes for a far more interesting person and it also makes the industry richer. So get all the technical knowledge that you need, but make sure that you come at it with your own unique perspective.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is now available on 4K, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital HD.

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