Despite rapid advances in the field of special effects technology, crafting a CGI character that feels both naturalistic and engaging is still a challenge — just ask Star Wars’ infamous Jar Jar Binks or Justice League’s utterly forgettable villain Steppenwolf. But the recent Paddington 2, adored by audiences and critics alike for its imaginative whimsy and earnest emphasis on found families, succeeds in the feat of translating its titular character from a digital model into a genuinely believable and endearing lead. In addition to Ben Whishaw’s gentle, heartfelt voice acting, it took a mixture of both practical effects and CGI magic to bring the beloved bear to life.
A video from the visual effects studio Framestore delightfully reveals how the film’s most memorable scenes were rendered, presenting before-and-after juxtapositions of what they looked like before the addition of digital effects. It’s a surprising and often funny look behind the scenes — for instance, we get to see that Paddington’s blocking in the prison cafeteria sequence is initially occupied by a smaller actress who’s dressed in the exact same stripy pink uniform. And when staging a scene in which Paddington uses his paw to smear condiments all over hard-boiled prison cook Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), there’s a real man tasked with squirting mustard across the esteemed Irish actor’s belly.
While Paddington’s presence may be the most notable difference between the first and final cuts, the video also displays the making of setpieces like the climactic train chase, which seamlessly melds the lower body of a stunt double with the hilariously expressive torso and face of Hugh Bonneville’s Mr. Brown and employs two real train cars against a greenscreen backdrop. The fantastic 2D landscape of pop-up book London also feels genuinely immersive as it unfolds with fluid, panoramic camerawork, welcoming the audience along with Paddington and his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) into its lively embrace. Even Paddington’s wild nighttime chase on dog-back, with both dog and rider rendered entirely in CGI, is captured with the same thrilling dynamism as any practically-staged car chase.
Most of all, the video provides a visual testament to both the production’s meticulous crafting of special effects and its sheer attention to detail, which remains evident in everything from the textured folds of Paddington’s blue duffel coat to each ruffled strand of his fur. It’s living proof that creating a film with a CGI lead surrounded by live actors isn’t just a feat of pure technical wizardry — it can also result in a vividly warm, lifelike, and wholly enchanting work of art.
Watch the video below for a more detailed dissection of Paddington 2’s visual effects.