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UC alumnae bring visual effects, costumes to new Oz movie

A hot-air ballon trapped in a tornado

'Oz: The Great and Powerful' from Debbie Denise (CCM), Jessica Peel-Scott (DAAP)

by Deborah Rieselman

These days, thousands of flying baboons have a fiercer wickedness than simple flying monkeys ever had. And the one flying monkey in the movie actually has a cuddly cuteness about him.

Furthermore, distinguishing a good witch from bad witches can be really tricky anymore. And because bad witches rarely cry over anything, movie-goers are surprised when tears burn rivets into one witch's face. (Tears, after all, are made of water.)

Two UC alumni are part of the reason that "Oz: The Great and Powerful" so magically and completely pulls audiences right into the pages of a genuine fairytale — Debbie Denise, CCM '73, visual effects executive producer, and Jessica Peel-Scott, DAAP '93, assistant costume designer. The movie is based on selections of L. Frank Baum's 14 original Oz novels written between 1900 and 1920.

Still in first-run theaters the week of April 14, the film was the highest grossing film of 2013, bringing in nearly $219.5 million between its March 8 opening and April 14.

This prequel to the 1939’s "The Wizard of Oz" stars James Franco and contains 1,500 visual-effects shots among the film's total of 1,800 shots. Computer-generated components, seven months of blue-screen shooting on Michigan soundstages and enhancements for the 3-D cinematography were all used extensively. A sampling of the visual effects follows:

  • a hot-air balloon tossed about in a tornado
  • Finley the Flying Monkey's enormously expressive face
  • people floating in Glinda’s magic bubbles
  • scenes highlighted with massive fog and smoke
  • a nasty fight between two of the witches
  • ruins of a Chinatown, made of china not from China, where we find an animated china doll living among broken teapots and dishes
  • a dazzling Emerald City, from its gates and throne room to an alley and aerial views

Debbie Denise is executive vice president of production at the Academy Award-winning visual effects and animation studio Sony Pictures Imageworks, which Disney hired for the film. Considered one of the country's most experienced visual-effects production executives, Denise oversees production of all the company's films, which have included  "Harry Potter," "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "Men In Black 3." She is particularly an expert on 3-D Stereoscopic Production.

Jessica Peel-Scott, who landed in L.A. from Kansas without a tornado, was one of two assistant designers considered "key collaborators" for two head costume designers. The small group spent weeks researching fashion trends from various periods to develop the movie's designs.

Overall, the team oversaw a staff of 60 costumers, seamstresses and textile artists to clothe Emerald City citizens, workers and attendees at a traveling circus, 36 Munchkins (who averaged 3 foot-6) and 48 Winkies (Emerald City guards, who averaged 7-feet tall and wore feathered hats to add another 20 inches).

Peel-Scott has also worked on "Spider-Man 2" and "Second Hand Lions."

The entertainment trade publication Variety announced that Disney had approved plans for a sequel film.



The video depicts a variety of visual effects and costumes
from the movie 'Oz: The Great and Powerful.'

Visual-effects photo gallery

Click on first photo to enlarge it and enter a slideshow of all photos.
Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.

A black and white sketch of Glinda's castle and the final castle.

A black and white sketch of Glinda's castle and the final castle.

Costume-design photos

Click on first photo to enlarge it and enter a slideshow of all photos.
Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.