The Special Effects in Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland"

by Nola Moore
Helena Bonham Carter's head was blown up to epic proportions in one of the film's more novel effects.

Helena Bonham Carter's head was blown up to epic proportions in one of the film's more novel effects.

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

As mystical worlds go, perhaps none prove more whimsical than Lewis Carroll's "Wonderland." It is not surprising, then, that when director Tim Burton teamed up with screenwriter Linda Woolverton and Walt Disney Pictures to re-imagine the classic tale of Alice gone down the rabbit hole, the 3-D movie would be packed with special effects. In fact, special effects experts used dozens of different techniques to blend reality and fantasy into a cohesive mixture in "Alice in Wonderland."

Visual Team

"Alice in Wonderland" utilized three visual effects supervisors--the job usually is held by a single body. Ken Ralston headed the team; he was joined by Sean Phillips and Carey Villegas. These men were assisted by dozens of people, including Gentle Giant Studios and Sony Pictures' Imageworks. All in all, it took 22 months to transform the actors' work on greenscreen stages into Alice's "Wonderland."


The greenscreen technique was crucial to the development of "Alice in Wonderland." "Greenscreening" is the use of the color green on film as a signal for what will be replaced by a computer-generated model. In some cases, this method meant actors were completely covered in green suits or had only parts of their bodies showing. In most cases, the entire set was painted green to make space for computer-generated backdrops.


In "Wonderland," the world is populated by three types of characters: the standard humans, the modified humans and the completely animated. Alice is the primary example of a standard human: While she does change size in relation to her environment, her body itself is normal and was unmodified on screen. Animated characters are completely fabricated by computers. During filming, voice actors often wore green suits and stood in for their animated counterparts. In some cases, the actors weren't even on set. Modified humans, like Helena Bonham Carter's Red Queen, were filmed whole or partially green-suited and modified later. In the case of the Red Queen, two cameras filmed each shot: one for her head--which was blown up--and one for her body, which was graphically modified.

Three-Dimensional Effects

Almost all of the three-dimensional effects in "Alice in Wonderland" were added after the fact, rather than filmed by a 3D camera. The live-action filming was completed in 2D. A computer program called "Maya" added the third dimension. While the program's algorithms and analysis aided in the process, the process wasn't fully automatic. Specialists tweaked each scene to ensure that each effect appeared in its proper place in the final film.

Photo Credits

  • Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images