Computer Graphics World

Edition 2 2020

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 56 of 67

e d i t i o n 2 , 2 0 2 0 c g w 5 5 Inspiration The Willoughbys is a CG-animated film, though it looks as if it is a hybrid production of 3D, 2D, and stop motion. Also, it uses techniques from dual mediums, infusing the camera style and more used on various tele- vision sitcoms within this feature-film production. "Visually, one of the things early on I really wanted to achieve was the collision of filmmaking styles. I wanted the time that the kids spend in the house to feel like a sitcom, where we really lock the camera and have three-camera setups and long takes. And, I wanted the rat-tat-tat of the dialog to remind people of that Chuck Lorre kind of time," explains Kris Pearn, director. "And then when they leave the house, the camera unpins and the colors change; the idea is that outside of the gate is a movie. That kind of collision between those two worlds was something we really got excited about early on in the process." Pearn was particularly influenced by TV shows he grew up watching, such as Three's Company, Cheers, and All in the Family, whereby the char- acters might be wrong about their opinions of the world, but there's an underpinning of optimism. As for the mixed aesthetic, Pearn was also influenced by his stop- motion background, but also by his 2D animation experience. "I still love the choices that come from pose-to- pose animation, like when you watch Chuck Jones or the old Disney hand- drawn films like 101 Dalmatians or The Jungle Book, that feeling that there's a hand behind the pencil," he says. Despite the stop-motion and 2D influences, Pearn never considered creating The Willoughbys as anything but a CGI film. In this vein, practicality reigned, as Bron Animation already had a 3D pipeline in place and was able to draw on the abundance of 3D talent in the Vancouver area to create this film. superpower where she could step between the 2D and 3D worlds," Pearn adds. According to Ahlberg, effects are usually accurate calculations and simulations, but for this feature, the filmmakers wanted the effects to feel homemade, to fit with the overall aesthetic. "That was definitely a big and extreme challenge for our team," she says. "We would use the 2D mind-set of building them by hand, but we would do it in the computer." The production designer wanted fire to look like cutout paper and snow to feel like 2D confetti flying around. To this end, Ahlberg and the visual effects artists drew inspiration from a number of places for the work, from stop motion, to paper cutouts, to children's illustrations, focusing on the crasmanship and then mimicking that in the computer using Maya and SideFX's Houdini. For rendering the FX, the group used Mantra within Houdini. (The lighting/ comp team used RenderMan within Found- ry's Katana for rendering and Foundry's Nuke for compositing.) Their approach varied somewhat depending on what was needed, but it all started by first sketching out the effects by hand for timing. "We had to really think creatively and go outside the box a bit," says Ahlberg. "We didn't come up with any new groundbreaking technology. It was a matter of taking a unique approach that would give us very strong silhouettes and graphic shapes on all the effects." For instance, when craing fire, Ahlberg wanted something iconic that felt like fire but didn't have big, fluid movement like the element usually does. "We played around with triangular shapes and would hand- sculpt them to look like they were made out of paper. And then we put a light that flickers inside to symbolize the chaos that comes from fire," she adds. "But when you look at it, you know it's fire. We'd even have some things that were on twos or threes or fours, instead of the normal ones for effects, so they wouldn't stand out too much." In addition to fire, the group tackled other elements. For smoke or dust or clouds, they tried to make them look like cotton or even spun cotton candy. And for water, Ahlberg didn't feel like fluids would really fit the style of this film. "So, we thought more about the material and played around with reflec- tive Mylar strips, just deforming them and breaking them apart," she says. "Splashes would break into little pieces of paper instead of droplets." There is also a rainbow made out of cotton candy. The effects department also handled some of the cloth, such as a carpet or flag. And, the group was in charge of paper electricity, bubbling soda acid fields, and lava. Unique Ending In most coming-of-age stories like this, there would be a fairy-tale ending. The parents would see the error of their ways, and the family would reunite and live hap- pily ever aer. Well, that was not the case here, obviously. Still, the kids do get a happy ending, but not the one the audience expects. And the parents, well, that's another story with… and abrupt ending. Likewise, viewers probably did not expect the unique aesthetic of this film. "We really have tried to create a hybrid world that looks like a cross between CG and stop motion. This is a movie that looks like nothing else out there," Natekar says. Adds McQueen: "So much love and care went into this film, and I really hope that au- diences find it and love it as much as we do. It's such a weird, funny, emotional film, and I think it's very unique in the animation space." We couldn't agree more. Karen Moltenbrey is the chief editor of CGW. The animated film was craed at Bron Animation.

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Computer Graphics World - Edition 2 2020