Animation Guild

Fall 2019

Animation Guild | We are 839 Digital Magazine

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 42 of 47

FALL 2019 43 KOI CLOUDS & VOLUMETRICS The magic was a key element in the movie that required thoughtful planning, ingenious technological solutions and effects while maintaining a sense of jeopardy in the story. "Magic is always tricky because it's so subjective. In general, there are very typical magic tropes with different visual cues that folks know and use, and we wanted to try and stay away from some of the fairy dust," says Edwards. They needed to create a logical foundation for the magic. Culton's solution: The yeti's magic is based in nature. "He can't influence animals, he can only influence flora, clouds, water, wind… it gives you a foundation to start with that feels like it's real." The team of artists and technicians came together to brainstorm new technology and new looks to create something that was beautiful, artistic and impressionistic. They didn't want a superhero effect with magical strands shooting out from the character's wrists. Instead, they looked to the aurora borealis for inspiration and began to determine how the magic travelled. Head of Effects, Jeff Budsberg, started testing out different solutions so the team could react to what was and wasn't working. "We were really fortunate to be invited to a lot of the early meetings with story [to discuss] how we could interlace the magic to hit these key moments and what those might look like," says Edwards. Rather than having mystical threads of magic that travelled from the yeti, they settled on an internal glow—almost like fiber optic light emanating from the fur— to imitate aurora borealis elements that triggers the environment to react around him. For example, blueberries that grow bigger and bigger until they explode. Another challenging sequence involved the characters travelling across the sky on koi-shaped clouds. "That was a really tricky visual problem from a lot of different angles," notes Edwards. The team worked with a mostly white palette—white clouds, white yeti, white mountain landscape—to model koi out of clouds, which have this distinct orange pattern, and creating a fluid movement so that it didn't look like the characters were riding a carousel fish in the sky. Solutions included using light from the sunset to pierce through the volumetrics of the clouds to mimic the patterning of koi fish. "We looked at a lot of time lapse footage of clouds filling into valleys and mountain spaces, which really feels like water," says Edwards. "Domin Lee was the [effects] lead on that and he did a great job in terms of developing a 'river' for them to go through so that they weren't all just flying in empty space. You want it to be tangible enough that they could ride it but [also] feel like a cloud." The team conducted a lot of early prototyping to determine how ephemeral they could make the clouds, how much motion would work before it got distracting, how many wisps they could have, what those shapes would look like, and how they would trail off –"it's easy for it to look smoky," says Edwards. The collaboration of all the different departments heightened the natural settings, capturing the enchantment of the Chinese landscape and pulling off this magical journey. "I feel like film is such a powerful medium, and in animation…we get to create characters that don't exist and make them believable," says Culton. "That is a huge challenge but a privilege as an artist to be able to have all of that [talent] at our fingertips to use." Images courtesy of DreamWorks Animation/NBCUniversal THE SOUND OF MAGIC Early on in the story process, the team behind Abominable decided to use an audible cue to serve as a catalyst for the yeti's magic. It starts with a humming sound. This concept allowed co-director Jill Culton to infuse the movie with music, creating in essence another character. Yi, the 16-year-old girl that finds the yeti, plays the violin to soothe him and draws out an ancient hum from him. We find out that yetis have a melodic side that makes them glow a bluish light that affects nature. "You have this beautiful combination of hearing melody and then seeing nature overtake you and overwhelm you," says Culton. "The violin is Yi's voice and becomes her power as well." Integrating this musical element became its own challenge. Usually soundtracks are crafted near the end of a film, but in the case of Abominable, composer Rupert Gregson-Williams came onto the project early to craft Yi's themes that she plays onscreen ahead of time so they could be animated accurately. " We had classes where I had a professional violinist play. We filmed her fingers and she taught every animator how to bow the violin," says Culton. " We were trying to get those authentic details down so that no one is taken out of the movie because it looks like she's not really playing."

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Animation Guild - Fall 2019