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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and was adapted to film by director David Fincher. Button is born old and ages backwards toward youth. His "reverse life story" told throughout the 20th century, required sets and visual effects to create periods and places ranging from post-Armistice New Orleans, to New York of the 1930s-40s, to postwar Paris, and back to 21st-century New Orleans at the onset of Hurricane Katrina.

After effectively recreating 1970s-era San Francisco for Fincher's Zodiac in 2007, Matte World Digital was called upon to conjure up the past once more. "I have come to rely on you so heavily for all my time traveling needs," said Fincher towards the end of production on Benjamin Button. In 2009, MWD visual effects supervisor Craig Barron won an Academy Award for Achievement in Visual Effects, along with a team of experts who make the past "real."

Place your mouse over the images to see "before and after" comparisons for each shot.


The film starts with a parable about a clockmaker who builds a clock that runs backwards, as a symbolic attempt to bring home the son he lost in the First World War. The clock reappears several times in the film as a metaphor for Benjamin's own life. The physical clock was never built for set. We created it digitally and composited it into every shot where it appears. This had several benefits, including the ability to set the time after the scenes were edited, and the clock face could also be aged over the years.

The dedication of the clock takes place in a fictional train station in New Orleans. The foregrounds were shot on a sound stage with a few benches and partial walls. We created the station as a complete 3D environment for the scene. The station is seen from dozens of camera angles throughout the film. Physics-based lighting allowed us to match the plate photography very accurately for each shot.

We shot additional crowd elements on  bluescreen to add people to the scene. Fincher requested a lot of smoke building up from the flash pans of the newspaper photographers, which we added as a combination of practical, painted, and CGI elements.

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This sequence used about three-dozen different angles of our 3D train station.


The station is seen several more times in the film. Here our 3D station is relit on a grey day in the early 20's.


This shot of a stooped, wizened nine-year-old Benjamin Button, trying to catch a trolley, is set in New Orleans. The antique trolley was not operational so a truck pulled it down the street. We digitally removed the truck and replaced modern buildings with period ones, then added electric trolley lines, signs, a street-corner clock, some sky elements and finally the illusion of wind blowing through the trees.


For an establishing shot of New York, we created an entire computer-generated city. The virtual camera icon (seen on mouse rollover) allowed the filmmakers to pan around their 3D cityscape to select the angle that Fincher desired. In the final shot, Fincher chose to focus on the venerable Flatiron Building. The cityscape was then enhanced with smoke, moving cars and ambient light and shadow.

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Film Credits
Film Credits