For director Craig Gillespie, legendary dogs and extraordinary fashion have been the key to the success of Cruel, his shattering blow 101 Dalmatians prequel and origin story for one of Disney’s most evil and iconic villains.
Cruel is now available on Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD, DVD and digital. Disney created three 4K Ultra HD SKUs as part of a limited edition collection at Target, Walmart, and Best Buy, respectively. In addition to the movie, viewers will enjoy an array of bonus features including casting interviews, featurettes, and deleted scenes in Ultra HD and Dolby Atmos quality.
To provide lifelike visuals essential to the story’s credibility, Gillespie relied on VFX supervisor Max Wood to provide 1,850 visual effects shots that included three snarling Dalmatians, a cunning terrier, a fearless Chihuahua wearing a eye patch and, of course, a series of extravagant dresses including one infested with thousands of moths. MPC Movie handled most of the visual effects production, with some aging, beauty and cleaning work done by SSVFX.
“I tend to script a shot list of the whole movie well in advance, so there aren’t many surprises for the VFX team,” Gillespie explains. “It is above all them who are preparing and we are trying to move forward quickly during the day. There were over 1,800 VFX shots in the movie, so there was a lot to cover in a very short amount of time while we were shooting.
In the movie, Emma Stone (La La Land) is one of the most notorious – and notoriously fashionable – movie villains, the legendary Cruella de Vil. Cruel takes place in 1970s London in the midst of the punk rock revolution; the story follows a young con artist named Estella, a smart and creative girl determined to make a name for herself with her designs. She befriends two young thieves who appreciate her appetite for evil, and together they build a life on the streets of London. One day, Estella’s flair for fashion caught the attention of Baroness von Hellman, a terribly chic and terribly high fashion legend, played by Thompson (End Howards, Sense & Sensitivity). But their relationship sets in motion a series of events and revelations that will cause Estella to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous, fashionable, revenge-hungry Cruella.
Asked about her use of previs, the director said the film used some of it, but not a lot, mostly for “big sets, like her.” [Cruella] descend from the cliff at the end. Gillespie also notes that “Previs ended up being very useful there because that scene evolved with a little bit of exploration just trying to figure out how the dress would work… if it opens or becomes a parachute.”
Having spent his creative years shooting commercials where he was always virtually constrained by budget and schedule, Gillespie took full advantage of the freedom offered by the scope and scale of production. “The really fun part of the production was having the creative freedoms and talking through stages with the crews,” he explains. “For example, one of the ideas I had in the movie was to start with a shot of a helicopter going through the roof of the Liberty department store, then down to the ground floor and through the doors. Everyone starts to brainstorm ideas and suggestions on how to do it. So for me it’s really fun to be able to do it without a lot of constraints.
Competing for screen time and viewer affection, the movie’s iconic canine actors, shot both conveniently and enhanced with CG. According to the director, “We always shot the real dogs in the scenes as much as we could thinking CG was there to fix and improve the shots. The VFX team really did an amazing job because as I watch scenes now , I can’t really say which ones CG are compared to real dogs.
“We had to act quickly,” he adds. “For example, the scenes of the Baroness trying to walk down the stairs with the three dogs or trying to walk 25 steps with them weren’t always easy, so we relied on the CG team to fix it if needed. Making sure the dogs always felt grounded and didn’t get too lively was of the utmost importance. Using CG for dogs was a luxury because sometimes the dogs would look at the trainer against the actor.
Gillespie was impressed with how quickly the VFX artists on set capture all the data they need without hindering the shoot. “We went so fast on this movie, but there was no hesitation in having only one Dalmatian on set and the VFX team would step in and get their references so that they could match two more to. this one.”
Ensuring the credibility of the show’s iconic fashion design, a mix of practical shots and visual effects, was also instrumental in the storytelling. “The fashion show in the park went to the end [of production] because [costume designer] Jenny [Beavan] was so busy with the number of costumes she was doing all the time, ”says Gillespie. “I thought Cruella’s fashion line would get us out of the movie really quickly if it wasn’t right. It was a delicate balance of trying to find something that felt ’70s appropriate but still felt current. So it was an evolution that continued [with design and VFX] until the end. “
Looking back on his hit movie, Gillespie reveals that the biggest challenge wasn’t the pressure inherent in battling such a prominent Disney franchise character. He was attacking his own expansive plans. “Crazily, the biggest challenge was that I was very ambitious in terms of what I wanted to accomplish,” he shares. “Sometimes I felt like it was too ambitious for the schedule and budget, and the suggestion was to try and lose things and I just don’t like having to lose anything. So trying to get everything that was originally planned was the hardest part. Some days were very condensed in terms of how quickly we had to move. I knew I had these actors who were so talented in their craft and it wasn’t about finding the moments; I knew if I could just go in there and get six or seven takes at a certain range, they would all be great and usable.
“There was a scene in the film where Horace and Jasper barge into the baroness’s house,” he continues. “While driving for the shoot that day, I realized that with all the rewrites, the Baroness had no motivation to put the dress in the safe, so that scene had been deleted. set and quickly told the crew to shoot the scene that had been taken out. I asked them to quickly find outfits for Horace and Jasper and bring in the stuntmen so we could bring them down rappelling We shot everything in about 45 minutes!
Dan Sarto is publisher and editor-in-chief of Animation World Network.