Remaking any film is risky, but remaking a classic is doubly so. For that reason, there was an enormous amount of pressure on last year's Beauty and the Beast to get it right and live up to the beloved Disney classic. A big part of that was nailing the look for the Beast. In what is becoming a trend at the Mouse House, the Beast was initially going to be created practically with animatronics or makeup or some combination of effects, but ultimately the Beast wound up being a digital creation. The VFX Supervisor for the film, Kyle McCulloch explained why the switch was made, saying:
When push came to shove, the flexibility of the visual effects approach won out, and the fidelity of the performance, being able to take all of the subtleties of what Dan Stevens was going to give us as the performer, and seeing all of that reflected in the Beast. If you were trying to do it under a thousand pounds of makeup, it was never going to give us the clarity of performance that Digital Domain ultimately achieved in the Beast.
This new practical approach some films and franchises are taking is an admirable one. Practical effects can sometimes make a film feel real in a way that digital effects cannot. But in situations like this, where one of the main characters is a fantastical creature, it becomes more tricky. In a romance like Beauty and the Beast, the filmmakers wanted Dan Stevens' performance and emotion to shine through in a way that it might not have under a lot of prosthetics and makeup. What's cool is that, as Kyle McCulloch explained to Deadline, both options were considered. The merits of the practical and digital approaches were weighed and tested, and ultimately it was decided that the latter approach would work best for this particular film. No tool is right all of the time. It's hard to imagine Andy Serkis' Caesar in War for the Planet of the Apes could have been done practically, and clearly the practical approach to Doug Jones' Amphibian Man was the right choice for The Shape of Water.
Of course, just because the Beast was a digital creation doesn't mean that Dan Stevens got to sit back and relax. The actor still performed motion capture on set while in a big muscle suit on stilts. He then had to go back and have his facial expressions captured later in a machine. This allowed him to both be on set to interact with Emma Watson and to have the nuances of his facial expressions add up to a complete Beast performance.
Ultimately, despite turning his horns around and creating him digitally, it looks like Disney made the right choice with the Beast. Fans of such a beloved property could have rejected this film for any number of reasons, most of all disliking the look of one of the leads. Instead they turned out in droves and rewarded the faithful adaptation, making it the highest grossing film in the world last year and number two domestically, keeping the box office crown comfortably on Disney's head. That said, hopefully the studio will continue to champion practical effects while always making the right choice for each individual project. Check out our guide for all of Disney's upcoming live-action remakes.