Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.
Led by Production VFX Supervisors Mark O. Forker and James E. Price, as well as MPC VFX Supervisor Dann Tarmy, MPC were a key contributing visual effects studio on Michael Gracey’s ‘The Greatest Showman’. The team was responsible for all of the scenes that contained circus animals, including elephants, lions, horses, and snakes. Additionally they helped transport the audience back into 19th century New York by crafting environments as varied as cityscapes, country sides, circus interiors, and mansion exteriors.
MPC joined the project during production, working to design the look of the circus animals and their costumes. It was critical to director Michael Gracey that the animals not only look and feel as natural as possible, but that they capture and enhance the pageantry of Barnum’s circus. MPC VFX Supervisor Dann Tarmy took several trips to visit the film sets so that he could ensure the designs MPC was putting forth would blend seamlessly with Michael Gracey’s vision, and the elaborate sets that were constructed.
With a history of creating realistic CG animals, MPC’s tools and workflows were very well suited to the task of creating the CG circus animals and CG showgirls. Whether it was elephants bursting through a wall of smoke, lions jumping through hoops, or showgirls standing on the backs of Lipizzaner horses, the MPC team of artists had an arsenal of techniques at their disposal to bring these characters to life.
For the scenes with actors riding on CG elephants and horses, MPC VFX Supervisor Dann Tarmy worked with the production teams to determine the size of the animals so that accurate practical rigs could be built for the actors to ride on. MPC animators tested the speed at which the animals would move so that when filming, the practical rigs could move at similar speeds. Additionally, the MPC team researched how people move, sway, and bounce when riding such animals so that the practical rig could provide accurate movement for the actors to react to. All of this was essential to seamlessly replace the scissor lifts and karts that the actors rode, with believable CG animals.
MPC’s environments team were then set to the task of enhancing, modifying, and in some cases rebuilding the photographic plates to reinforce the look of a stylized 19th century New York that could be seen throughout the film. Some of these environments revolved around the CG steam train that MPC created, building out both city and country environments around the train that captured the period and further developed the story. Another challenging environment the team tackled was converting a modern downtown New York into a 19th century snowstorm complete with P.T. Barnum (played by leading actor Hugh Jackman) riding an elephant through the snow. It was important to remove all signs of modernization, and replace it with buildings and a city structure that fit with the few practical buildings that were going to be kept.