Imagination Meets Reality for "Pans Labyrinth"

In Director Guillermo del Toro's visually rich and complex fable Pan's Labyrinth, the story shifts between the harsh world of the Spanish Civil War and a mythical land created largely by CaféFX.

CaféFx's visual effects team provided 300 visual effects shots, four months of location shooting and five months of postproduction, bringing del Toro's visions to life.

"It is not often that you get the opportunity to help contribute to such an incredible project," says CafeFX CEO Jeff Barnes. "Guillermo has outdone himself and we are honored that he entrusted the film's visual effects to CafeFX.

Pan's Labyrinth follows the adventures of Ofelia, a young girl taken to a Spanish hillside village where Capitan Vidal, a Francoist officer and Ofelia's new stepfather, is hunting a band of rebels. Unhappy with her new surroundings and her stepfather's ill treatment, Ofelia retreats to an ancient stone labyrinth where she imagines adventures with a faun, fairies, magical creatures, and monsters.

"Guillermo approached us before the screenplay was even written," recalls CaféFX VFX Supervisor Everett Burrell. "He gave us an outline and a list of the effects. The project seemed really special and, seeing Guillermo's enthusiasm and realizing the great opportunity we'd have to show off our character effect skills, we signed on."

CaféFX was asked to create several creatures that exist only in Ofelia's imagination, including a healing mandrake root that acts like a baby; Pan, the earthly faun played by a costumed actor, with computer-animated eyes and legs and a goat-like body; and an eyeless ghoul, who can only see through (computer-animated) eyes which he places in the palms of his hands and raises to his forehead.

Most prominent of the animated characters created by CafeFX are three fairies, who guide Ofelia through her adventures. "The fairies get a lot of screen time," admits Burrell. "We decided the flight of the fairies should be based more in science than in magic so we studied hummingbirds and made the fairies mimic their mechanics."

One fairy originates as a stick bug, following Ofelia to the Captain's home, before transforming into its true form. "The stick bug is my favorite creature in the film," says Co-VFX Supervisor and VFX Producer Edward Irastorza. "Like the fairies, its movements were formed from studying an actual stick bug that we acquired. And, for its transformation, we blended one model into another."

A "Throne Room," shown in the final sequence of the film, was a challenge of geometry and design. "As an entirely CG creation, the Throne Room's live-action plate consisted of only a partial floor, the bottom half of the three thrones, and the entry door," explains Compositing Lead Mike Bozulich. Concept art for the throne room set was conceived and developed with the help of both del Toro and artistic consultant Robert Stromberg and then modeled, textured, lit and rendered entirely in NewTek Lightwave. Special emphasis was placed on surface texture to achieve the director's rich vision. Once rendered, the various elements were used to construct the throne room composite using the concept artwork as a guide. Additional layers of particle dust and light beams were layered on to add atmosphere. The composites consisted of over 30 elements to build a complete throne room shot.

"We were expecting a labor of love, and that's exactly what we got," concludes Burrell. "This project was about believing in the story, and handcrafting everything-_from creatures, to mattes, to fantastic locations, to realistic battle scenes. And, above all, we did everything we could to get Guillermo's vision onto the screen."