Snicket’s Out to Sell Tickets

The story of a wicked count scheming to kill three wealthy orphans and steal their fortune may not sound like a holiday family film, but Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies are hoping to lure some Yule Tide business away from The Polar Express with Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Combining elements from the first three books in the popular kid lit series by Daniel Handler, A Series of Unfortunate Events follows the misadventures of the Baudelaire children, whose parents were killed in a fire. Feeling the holiday cheer yet? The fun starts when they are sent to live with a distant relative, a failed actor named Count Olaf (played with relish by the mercurial Jim Carey). Olaf sees an opportunity to inherit a lot of money but finds offing the kids much more of a challenge than he ever imagined.

The film was shot almost entirely on sound stages in Los Angeles, Calif. and features visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) under visual effects supervisor Stephan Fangmeier (Master and Commander: The far Side of the World, The Perfect Storm).

Animation Magazine Online visited the set during production and director Brad Siberling told us he was constantly working with the effects crew in bringing the books to the screen. He notes, "Especially in this case, because you’re using your effects team as truly part of your overall design [crew]. I did Casper and that was the first time we dealt with completely digital characters. That was a team at ILM with Dennis Muren and Stefan Fangmeier, so the first thing I did was call Stephan, who I thought was free. So he came down and I wanted to make sure he and [production designer] Rick Heinrichs met to see if there was a good marriage there because, as opposed to having a separate system, I wanted this to be a real, whole animal."

While Siberling was glad that none of the characters in Snicket’s were completely CG, one of the Baudelaire children is a two-year old who needed some digital doubling. "When people see Sonny on the screen, it’s going to give writers and directors a lot of new ideas," Animation supervisor Colin Brady boasts of the motion capture animation work ILM performed for scenes that twin toddlers Kara and Shelby Hoffman couldn’t do.

Read more about ILM’s work on Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events in the forthcoming February issue of Animation Magazine.

Also hitting theaters in wide release today is 20th Century Fox’s Flight of the Phoenix, a survival remake starring Dennis Quaid and Giovanni Ribisi. When their plane crashes in the Mongolian desert, the flight crew and a team of oil workers must work together to build a new plane from the wreckage in this harrowing tale featuring visual effects by Rhythm & Hues, Digital Domain, CaféFX and The Farm.

Opening in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco today is Martin Scorsese’s highly anticipated Howard Hughes biopic, The Aviator. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role and is highlighted by effects work from Sony Opictures Imageworks, CaféFX, Entity FX, Digital Neural Axis, DNA Corp. and others.