Behind the scenes: How animators brought Fawkes to life

The film version of Fawkes in flight is a digital creation, but when he appears in Dumbledore’s offices, he is completely animatronic.

Fawkes heals Harry
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Extracted from Harry Potter Page to Screen: The Complete Filmmaking Journey.

Creature effects supervisor Nick Dudman explains why the filmmakers took this approach: ‘Computer generated effects do the things that we physically can’t, but what we do with practical effects is create a sense of interaction that sometimes might be lost with CG.’

To create the sophisticated Fawkes model, Adam Brockbank provided Dudman’s department with drawings of the phoenix in a number of settings and interacting with various characters.

An illustration of Fawkes attacking the Basilisk.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

‘Although we don’t see Fawkes on screen in some of the positions I drew,’ says Brockbank, ‘seeing him with his wings folded conveys practical information needed to construct both digital and animatronic models.’

With these references in mind, Dudman and his crew built a bird that could stretch its wings, move in response to other characters, and actually slide along its perch. Ten controllers were needed to drive this complex creature, which could even cry ‘real’ tears.

Dudman recalls the highest compliment he and his department received for their model of Fawkes. ‘Richard Harris came over to me and my chief Fawkes operator, Chris Barton, at one point, and told us how amazed he was by how well the bird was trained.

‘I told Richard that Fawkes was, in essence, a puppet, but he wouldn’t believe me. So I pressed a control button, bringing Fawkes to life. Richard was absolutely gobsmacked. I don’t think I could have received higher praise.’

Page to Screen
Harry Potter: Page to Screen Harry Potter: Page to Screen

Extracted from
‘Harry Potter: Page to Screen'