Reimagining a classic story is always a tricky proposition, especially when you’re dealing with a cultural touchstone as beloved as Snow White. This summer director Rupert Sanders will offer a wildly different take on the tale with Snow White and the Huntsman, a dark retelling starring Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth in the title roles, and Charlize Theron as the Queen.
What’s most striking for those who grew up on adaptations like Disney’s animated classic is the haunting bleakness of the film’s visuals, a stylistic decision that was supported by a team of talented effects artists that included Computer Animation graduate Nathaniel Sims. Nathaniel is a technical director at Rhythm and Hues, the studio responsible for a number of its major action sequences, and he spoke with us during production about his role in updating the story with help of today’s technology.
“As a technical director I basically take care of anything that’s natural phenomena that can’t be hand created, like water, fire, explosions,” he says. “So on Snow White I tend to get handed more of the fluid simulations for water and oil, as well as a lot of magical things like fairies. It’s been fun because everything we’re doing is pretty different from what you’ve seen before.”
Early clips of the film have revealed ornate creatures and brutal action sequences – far different from the work Nathaniel previously handled on more family-friendly fare like Hop and Big Miracle. Delving into this gothic-inspired world has been a welcome change, and he’s enjoyed the creative opportunities the film’s art department allowed them in experimenting with the visuals.
“Snow White is very stylized, and these effects are a lot more unique than I’ve been used to,” he says. “There’s this shot in the trailer where Charlize Theron turns into a group of black birds, which is one of my favorite sequences we worked on. They gave us creative leeway on the way we set it up, and getting that down was an interesting tackle for the effects team. It’s pretty striking, and there are a lot of things like that in the movie that people are going to connect with.”
One of the perks of contributing to a big summer movie is being able to enjoy the buzz from fans and journalists in the months leading up to its release. Snow White and the Huntsman is already getting strong word of mouth for its bold adaptation of the children’s classic, and Nathaniel admits that the attention has been welcome encouragement as he works to wrap up the visual effects for opening day.
“It’s definitely a thrill being out in public and randomly hearing somebody talk about the movie,” he says. “I was actually at Universal Studios recently and they had the Snow White trailer playing on the jumbo screen, and I heard these people talking about it and just thought to myself ‘the guy behind you worked on that movie, and the things you see on that poster – I did that.’ It’s kind of crazy, you feel like you’re creating material that millions of people are going to enjoy.”