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How the first animated sequence in a 'Harry Potter' movie came about

January 28, 2011 |  3:30 pm

Harry Potter 2 
We asked animation director Ben Hibon to discuss the animated sequence in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1," which picked up two Oscar nominations, one for art direction and one for visual effects. Here's what he had to say:

"This is the first animated sequence ever to appear in a Harry Potter film, so it had to be distinctive and special. It’s not animation as we might think of it today; it is a moving illustration of the story being read aloud by Hermione — the story of the Deathly Hallows. The fact that the sequence would be explaining the origin of the title made it all the more important.

"In a moment that takes our central characters to a world of ancient fables, the titular tale of the Three Brothers, found in the book ‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard,’ has an eerie undertone, reminiscent of the timeless Grimms’ fairy tales, which I found particularly relevant for us. Although they are labeled as ‘children’s tales,’ they often tell stories of dark kingdoms and sinister characters. We wanted the audience to experience the story as if through the imagination of a young child.

"The work of artist Lotte Reiniger from the 1930s was another early reference. Her silhouette-style stop-motion animations are beautifully handcrafted and captured the naïve visual tone we were after. We also looked at Asian shadow-play, which is visually striking, very intricate and yet so beautifully simple. The technique is basic, but the end result is particularly charming and engaging. There’s something so ingenious about projecting shadows onto a simple cloth.

"The shapes and motions can be very enigmatic and leave a lot of scope for invention, experimentation and interpretation. A shadow play evokes a sense of wonder and enchantment. It can take one’s imagination beyond what’s actually on the screen. What you don’t see is as important as what you see. Of course, the characters are the centerpiece of the story, a set of elongated human-like dark silhouettes.

"Their designs are reminiscent of handcrafted wooden puppets; their gestures are limited to basic articulation. The crude feel of the animation accentuates the characters’ theatrical performances, the simple outlines drawing our attention to the smallest of details — each subtle hand movement, each head motion gets interpreted as another nuance of human emotion.

"Animation is the art of smoke and mirrors, lights and shadows, and the team of artists behind this piece are true magicians."

 — Ben Hibon

Photo from Warner Bros.