Union Help Characters Seamlessly Transcend Time in Mamma Mia! Here we go Again
Ten years after Mamma Mia! we return to the magical Greek island of Kalokairi in an all-new original musical based on the songs of ABBA.
Directed by Ol Parker, writer of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, from a story by Richard Curtis, Parker and Catherine Johnson, the film goes back and forth in time to show how relationships forged in the past resonate in the present.
With over 500 VFX shots and 28 assets in the final cut, Union immersed themselves in the project from pre-production for over a year until final delivery for the 10th Anniversary release date of 20 July 2018.
The three month shoot took place at Surrey’s Shepperton Studios with a five weeks on location in Croatia and additional photography in other parts of the UK and Paris.
The main body of Union’s work was creating the key story environments - the Hotel Bella Donna, the Chapel, Sky’s New York hotel room and Oxford University - as well as imaginative transitions that help the story flow between locations and time.
Two versions of the Hotel Bella Donna on Kalokairi were built to show it in 1979 and it’s refurbished present day glory. These were then nestled into eight different versions of the environment that depicted different times of day and night and the storm.
A set of the interior courtyard was built at Shepperton and a Lidar scan formed the foundation of our hotel. We built the exteriors in CG and bedded them into the Croatian location adding a pool and paths leading up to it through lush vegetation.
The team shot panoramas on location at different times of day and used photogrammetry and digital matte painting techniques to build the the views from the hotel and chapel that were then composited with the majority of principle photography shot at Shepperton against blue screen.
The 1979 Oxford environments were also built using this technique with VFX Supervisor Simon Hughes shooting thousands of photographs from a cherry picker.
Transitioning seamlessly between locations and time formed another core part of Union’s work on the show.
This work is evident from the opening shot where an aerial shot on a trajectory for Kalokairi becomes the invitation to the reopening of the Hotel Bella Donna held by Sophie.
The team used a helicopter plate of the Croatia harbour location, dressed the location to look more Greek and added lush vegetation reflective of summer, removed boats and production crew and then tracked it to a green card with markers on it being held by Amanda Seyfried at Shepperton. The whole environment was then reprojected so that we could create a new camera move which flew into the invitation that she picks up.
Sophie’s husband Sky is in New York when the preparation is happening and a mirror was used to allow them to appear together singing to each other across geographies. The team rebuilt part of the room interior to smooth out the transition between rooms into the mirror.
In the same scene Sky is shown looking out of his NY apartment and a transition is employed to pull away revealing the skyline.
This was shot on set with a window frame and small piece of wall. A CG version of the window and building was created and placed into a 2.5D New York skyline created from photography to which the pull out camera move was applied. Birds, reflections and lens flares helped make it believable.
Another creative transition transports a young Donna and Harry from a tree lined avenue to the Waterloo restaurant.
The exterior live action was shot in the grounds of Eltham Palace for Touliers and a monet style painting created of the scene using digital matte painting techniques. From the painting we then pull back to reveal its place on the restaurant wall. This exteriors were shot in winter, so the team also had to remove the actors’ breath from the sequence.
Several other creative techniques saw us follow a flock of seagulls from 1979 Paris to present day Kalokairi, allow present day Sam to relive a memory from his past of him and Donna in the shack and transition from Sophie in present day to young Donna in 1979 walking through the hotel which involved rebuilding the interior wall and door to provide control between the time periods. We also used reflections to allow Sophie to recall Donna in the Chapel.
There was also lots of green screen work at other locations, car interiors, continuity fixes and embellishment to the foliage in the location environments to look more Greek and seasonally appropriate. The team also created the stormy sea and sky and embellished the severity of the storm that nearly disrupted the grand opening - no mean feat given the plates were shot in broad daylight. The harbour wall at the Apolina wedding was rebuilt and confetti added to the Dancing Queen finale.