The senior visual-effects supervisor tells Jeremy Kay about the painstaking CGI work behind the creatures who populate The Golden Compass.

One of the highlights of The Golden Compass is the extraordinary realism of the creatures that populate New Line's fantasy adaptation, a key focus for senior visual-effects supervisor Michael Fink.

"The movie was to have an unprecedented level of interaction between humans and furry CGI creatures, which presented major hurdles," Fink says. Simulating animal movement, the play of light and the rolls and folds of skin and fur was painstaking work.

"There's a sequence where (Lyra's companion) Pan starts out as a cat, jumps into the air and becomes a bird and lands on Lyra's shoulder as a ferret. It was very difficult because of all the camera motion. It was a key establishing shot early on in the movie and you wanted everybody to understand what was going on. The team did a great job."

Fink, who shared an Oscar nomination for Batman Returns in 1993, says the other major challenge was the centrepiece battle between the evil armoured bear Ragnar Sturlusson and his arch rival Iorek Byrnison. The sequence took 18 months to film.

"It was important for everybody to keep believing they were watching live action, even though much of the time young newcomer Dakota Blue Richards was acting against a green screen.

"There were 120 bears in those shots, but even when we made the bears small we still rendered fur, which is so hard to do. Then we had to make the armour move independently and render light on all the different surfaces. Something like this sequence probably couldn't have been done five years ago, but we're happy with what we achieved."


For his fifth collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson, cinematographer Robert Elswit's brief was to capture the rugged reality of the American frontier. Patrick Z McGavin reports

Robert Elswit has photographed all five of Paul Thomas Anderson's features. Their latest project, There Will Be Blood, registers as their most daunting and ambitious. With a stunning 20-minute opening sequence composed entirely of dialogue-free imagery and sound, the film spans several decades in the life of oil tycoon Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis).

"Finding the locations was really the way to make them visually interesting," Elswit says. Outside Marfa, Texas, the film-makers discovered a silver mine with an 80-foot shaft and an underground tunnel that had been dug in the 1880s, and used it for the key opening location.

Anderson highlighted two John Huston films, Moby Dick and The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, as his visual touchstones. The director wanted imagery that was not beautiful or picturesque but hard-pressed, rugged and visceral in order to capture the near biblical conditions the early pioneering oil developers encountered.

Furthermore, Anderson demanded authentic imagery that was not digitally manipulated. In the movie's breathtaking central scene of oil gushing from the earth, the only digital augmentation was the shots of water turning into oil.

"Paul knew he was making a western, and (focused on) the idea of the frightening landscape that could kill you if you just walked the wrong way or fell down, that life is harsh, brutal and very hard to scratch out a living," Elswit explains.

"It has a most unusual beauty because of that, but it is not at all an inviting landscape. Paul wanted it to be a frightening place to be living and existing, and I think we pulled that off."


The stars of breakout Irish musical Once also composed the film's songs, says Patrick Z McGavin

In John Carney's Once, a contemporary Irish musical about the relationship between an Irish street musician (Glen Hansard) and a beautiful Czech emigree (Marketa Irglova), the first song is an impromptu, plaintive number called Falling Slowly.

Originally Carney asked Hansard to write just one or two songs for his fledgling project, which was conceived as a larger-budget vehicle for Irish star Cillian Murphy. Knowing Carney was searching for a young Eastern European woman for the female lead, Hansard introduced Irglova to the film-maker.

As part of her audition, the two performed Falling Slowly and Carney was riveted by their chemistry. "John heard us play that song, and he said, 'That's my centrepiece'," Hansard says. "That night, John asked me to write all the songs."

After Murphy dropped out, Carney reconfigured the project as a low-budget musical starring Hansard and Irglova. Once has been a sensation since its international premiere at Sundance, earning $12m at the US box office and developing a wide and avid audience for its haunting folk-rock songs.

During shooting, Carney asked Irglova to compose a piece similar to Alanis Morissette's Thank U. Irglova walks down an empty Dublin street listening to music on a Walkman as the soundtrack plays her rendition of If You Want Me.

"It was really hard to write songs during the shoot because there wasn't any time," Irglova says. "We finished it the night before the scene was shot, and we quickly recorded it on a laptop and that's the version you hear in the movie."