Disney’s The Little Mermaid is making a splash with its new musical adaptation, and fans are eagerly anticipating Halle Bailey’s debut as Ariel. But bringing a mermaid to life on screen isn’t easy, and it took some serious VFX wizardry to make it happen.
Visual effects supervisor Tim Burke spilled the secrets behind the film’s impressive digital effects in a recent episode of The Hollywood Reporter’s Behind the Screen podcast. According to him, the key to making Bailey and her co-stars look like aquatic creatures was to rig them up and move them around using stunt people and dancers. “It really seemed that the principle for this would be to put actors on rigs that could be moved around spatially on the floor, using stunt people to actually push the rigs and also to introduce dance people who could help puppeteer the actors so they could actually move in a way that gave us essentially the movement of their head,” Burke explained.
While the actors’ faces were used for real, everything else was replaced with digital bodies, which allowed the team to create convincing movements that made it look like the characters were swimming through water. And while the process was undoubtedly complex, Burke says that Bailey’s performance made it all worth it. “She did an incredible amount of intense physical training to be fit for working on this because she was spending – I don’t know how many hours a day, but several hours a day – almost supporting herself through her stomach muscles in different positions [in the rigs],” he revealed.
But all the hard work paid off, as Bailey’s performance was nothing short of amazing. “It really was her performance that sold the fact that she was a mermaid. Replacing her body, putting her tail on, obviously, creating the animation that went with her physical movement, was so much easier when we actually had a believable performance in the first place from her. She did an incredible job,” Burke said. The Little Mermaid is set to make a big splash at the box office, with projections for earnings as high as $120 million over the holiday weekend. And with such impressive VFX work, it’s sure to be a feast for the eyes.