Animal Logic Film’s Designer/VFX Supervisor, Andy Brown, worked on the digital
effects in Holy Smoke, Jane Campion's latest film, starring Kate Winslet and Harvey
Keitel; he talks about visualising Harvey Keitel's hallucination.
By Sandy George and
What was Animal Logic’s contribution to the film?
AB: "There are two aspects to our design input: the visual conceptualisation and
the technical realisation. In all, there were 13 sequences, which equalled about six
minutes of the film. These included the main titles, ‘Prue’s vision’
sequence in which Ruth is touched by Baba, ‘PJ’s hallucination’ sequence,
‘Boyfriends’, ‘Postcards’ and the sunset (the end shot of film). We
devised the concept, design and production of visual effects and this included 3D
animation, compositing, colour treatment, tracking, matte painting. I was also involved in
previsualisation and shoot supervision."
Which scenes did you find most challenging and why?
• PJ’S HALLUCINATION (pictured)
"Crawling across the desert, PJ (Harvey Keitel) has a vision of Ruth (Kate
Winslet) as an Indian goddess. A lone figure appears first in silhouette, then distorting
like a mirage. She refracts into multiple images, her many arms opening to him. She merges
with the heat haze and transforms into three characters walking towards him. The design of
this sequence involved substantial input from our compositor Kirsty Millar."
• MAIN TITLE
"At first I thought my idea was too obvious - using smoke to form the main title.
But Jane liked it because the background plate shows steam coming from a chai pot. So the
concept became the title forming hypnotically from the steam before drifting off again,
like a realisation almost grasped then gone. A lot of themes in the film relate to belief
systems and the way they can be changed; truth as inconstant as smoke or a magical trick.
"The challenge for me was that I didn’t want the design of the title to be a
typeface or font. I wanted each letter to form in a natural way, trance-like. 3D animator
Brett Feeney did a great job in creating the smoke using proprietary software written by
Chris Bone, Animal Logic’s Head of R&D."
• PRUE’S VISION OF BABA
"For me, this is one of the most important shots of the film: it has to convince
the viewer that Ruth really believes in Baba. Because it’s from Prue’s point of
view, there’s a level of over-reaction, the enlightenment is deliberately overplayed.
Had it been Ruth’s vision, it would have been different.
"Dion (Beebe) filmed the scene with the bold colours already in shot - gold, magenta,
whites. We enhanced the religious iconography by isolating these colours, ensuring
sufficient contrast whilst softening off highlights. The celestial rays give Baba a
religious energy; his eyes are enhanced and this is transferred to Ruth as her eyes take
on the same quality, even fill with 3D tears, as she falls back into the spiritual
"For this section, which involved many versions and an intense previsualisation
phase, I designed a kaleidoscope of metaphors: Eastern spiritualism meets Western
materialism as Ruth’s inner self radiates outwards. Lotus flowers, clouds, her third
eye; pink butterflies from her bedroom wall and a koala bear (her favourite toy). Each
object has a meaning."
• POSTSCRIPT / ‘POSTCARDS’
"We used typographic sequences of the two scenes as introductions revealing
cropped sequences of shots. The whole thing was heavily graded with the ‘India
look’. For PJ’s letter we envisaged a computerised font as if he was typing it
What was your reaction to hearing you were going to be doing the film and how did you
prepare for it?
"The pitch involved assurance of both visual and technical design. Jan, Jane and
Dion approached us to do a test on the sequence where Ruth is touched by the guru and
falls into a state of enlightenment. We shot this ourselves in 16mm and entered a process
of creative and technical experimentation.
"To create the desired ‘Indian vision’, we surrounded the figure with a
painted loudscape, celestial light and eyes revolving around her head; kaleidoscopic
elements. A grading and colour treatment to give the desired look, almost like a Bollywood
"Because I’d been to India before, I really clicked with this. And I had
collections of Indi posters which were a major inspiration, though I did do a lot more
research. I was ecstatic to work with a director I had so much respect for."
What did director Jane Campion tell you she was trying to achieve?
"Jane works very collaboratively. Rather than working to a fixed brief or board
she talks about the mood and feeling and what’s going on in the narrative. Bouncing
ideas in an open environment. This inevitably takes more time but did bring out the best
work. Design is an evolving process.
"For ‘PJ’s hallucination’ (above) she made me listen to music which
conveyed sweet, warm imagery. She’d talk in that same language. I would then
interpret this and develop a storyboard to create a focus in a certain direction. From
there we did video temps, which took on rich, golden hues to convey the right feeling. So
again, I’d take it to a
point, then Jane would come in and take it further, and so on. An evolving process."
What other features have you worked on during the past 12 months and why was this one
"From pre-production to finished material, this project took me a whole year.
Prior to that, I art directed some sequences for Mouse Hunt, worked a little on Face/Off,
and worked on Dating The Enemy and Dead Heart."
How are attitudes of local directors changing towards visual effects?
"Jane Campion uses visual effects as a collage of metaphors, adding a new level
of meaning to the story. Everything has to have the right feel and mood."
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Says Daily Variety of Holy Smoke (premiered at the
1999 Venice Film Festival):
"A ravishing title sequence swiftly conveys the overwhelming physical presence and
heady spiritual allure of India, where vacationing Ruth (Kate Winslet) becomes convinced
she has found something to believe in... [Dion] Beebe's camera tirelessly seeks out
unusual details, and the film is peppered with surprising visual inventions, some of them
narrative expedients and others just clever stylistic touches. These include Ruth's
enlightenment in India, shot like a Bollywood fantasy sequence, her appearance before PJ
as a Hindu goddess and an amusing recap of her past relationships" (September 7,
HOLY SMOKE (Opens December 26, 1999)
DIGITAL DESIGN CREDITS
Title Design and production: Animal Logic Film
Designer: Andy Brown
Executive Producer: Zareh Nalbandian
Producer: Fiona Crawford
Compositor: Kirsty Millar
R & D: Chris Bone
3D Animator: Brett Feeney
Visual Effects: Animal Logic Film
VFX Supervisor: Andy Brown
Executive Producer: Zareh Nalbandian
Producer: Fiona Crawford
Lead Compositor: Kirsty Millar
Compositors: Charlie Armstrong, Robin Cave, Leoni
3D Animator: Aidan Sarsfield
Technical Support: Naomi Hatchman, Aaron Barclay