NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Lots of people read “Harry Potter” books and envision what the characters and settings and events would look like on the movie screen. Jim Mitchell does that too.
The difference is, while millions of readers try to imagine what a real, live Voldemort would look like, Mr. Mitchell tries to figure out how he is going to bring Hogwarts’ darkest villain to life.
The 45-year-old Newport News native was in charge of all visual effects in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” which opened across the nation Nov.18.
When he read J.K. Rowling’s novel 2 years ago, he was thinking in technical terms — not just what the novel would look like on the big screen, but what he was going to have to do to make it look that way.
“I can’t help it; that’s what I do,” Mr. Mitchell said by phone from London, where he has settled temporarily after spending the past two years there working on the film.
“For better or for worse, when I read a book I’m thinking, ‘How would I make this into a movie? How am I going to tell this story?’”
Mr. Mitchell, a 1978 graduate of Denbigh High School, has worked on the cutting edge of the special-effects industry for more than a decade. He was part of the team that revolutionized the industry with “Jurassic Park” in 1993, and he earned an Academy Award nomination for his work on “Mighty Joe Young” in 1998.
He spent a decade working for George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic before leaving to create his own company, Door 44 Film.
After spending more than a year working as visual-effects supervisor for “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” in 2002, he wanted to slow the pace.
When he was asked to work on “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” — which began preproduction almost as soon as “Chamber of Secrets” was wrapped up — he declined.
Instead, he returned home to San Francisco and did some work on a short film he is directing, fitting in some effects work on “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
But in the summer of 2003, producer David Heyman called and asked Mr. Mitchell if he wanted to work on “Goblet of Fire.” The director, Mike Newell, was well-known from such films as “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Mona Lisa Smile,” but he had never made a big-budget movie with a lot of special effects.
For “Goblet of Fire,” Mr. Newell wanted an experienced visual-effects supervisor who could take a more active role than usual in the production. It would be different from previous productions in which Mr. Mitchell had worked with highly visual filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton.
“Usually, it’s in the director’s head what this sequence is going to be like, what that sequence is going to be like,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Knowing that Mike was going to give me that opportunity to contribute beyond just doing the labor of it, that’s what attracted me to this job.”
As Mr. Mitchell read the novel, he began to think about how he would create the look and feel of the Quidditch World Cup and the Tri-Wizard Tournament, where Harry must battle a dragon and compete beneath the surface of a Scottish loch.