FUEL created 156 visual effects shots for the big screen adaptation of Charlotte’s Web including the ‘Baby Spider’ sequence – the film’s magical finale – as well as the talking Geese, complex simulations of webs, and assorted matte painting location enhancements.
Fuel VFX supervisor, Simon Maddison, accompanied the film’s VFX Supervisor John Berton Jr on set for the filming of Fuel’s plates. John paid tribute to the Fuel team in Cinefex: “Fuel’s (initial animation) test was so good, we asked them to do a lot of things, including the baby spiders. They hit a real home run with that.”
The look of the baby spiders was designed at Fuel, with reference to the work of Rising Sun Pictures who were designing their mother. Research undertaken by Simon and Fuel Technical Director Pawel Olas showed that baby spiders tend to have a translucency to their bodies, particularly their legs. This became an important part of the shader development of the CG characters.
When it came to animation, Simon realised that Fuel had to seal the emotional resolution of the film and lift Wilbur’s spirits so the team recorded children playing on swings and used that performance as a reference for the baby spiders so that the animated performances injected the right mix of childish playfulness into the scene.
A combination of live action and animatronic geese were used to depict the characters of Gussy and Golly. Major revisions to their dialogue in editing meant that CG work was required to adjust the beak movement of the animatronics, as well as enable the actual geese – previously with no dialogue – the ability to speak too.
With each animatronic being slightly different to the live action goose it was standing in for, it meant that Fuel needed had to have 4 different CG heads, depending on what goose needed to talk. The opportunity was also taken at this time to replace the eyes of the birds to give the animators more control over their expression and to add a more visible, moving tongue inside the beak – there was much debate about the nature, and even existence, of goose tongues during this time.