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September/October 2022

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Page 15 of 39

t's a familiar tale - a skilled woodcarver looks to fill the void of loneliness by creating a small pup- pet that he treats as his own child. One night, before retiring to bed, he catches a glimpse of a fabled star through his win- dow and makes a wish for a real boy that will bring him the happiness he longs for. Academy Award winner Robert Zemeckis directed this latest telling of Pinocchio, which combines live-action elements with CG characters and envi- ronments. Tom Hanks plays craftsman Geppetto, who interacts with a range of digital characters, including his pet cat Figaro and goldfish Cleo. Cynthia Erivo is the Blue Fairy, who visits the workshop late that night upon receiving Geppetto's wish, and turns Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) into a walking, talking puppet — though still in need of some direction. Enter Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who was simply trying to escape the elements when he came upon the workshop. After slipping under its door and settling in for the night, he witnesses what takes place and offers to act as Pinocchio's conscience, helping to teach him wrong from right. When Pinocchio heads to school one morning — like all the 'real' children — he is intercepted by 'Honest' John (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), who convinces the young puppet to skip school and instead enter into show business, where he's destined to become a star. This sets off a string of events that lead Pinocchio further from home and the only people who truly care for him. Lorraine Bracco voices Sofia the Seagull and Luke Evans is The Coachman, who rounds up children and takes them to Pleasure Island, a place where children are told they are free from adult supervision, but are instead turned into donkeys and made to work. The film's story differs only slightly from Disney's 1940 release, and songs such as "When You Wish Upon a Star," "I've Got No Strings" and "Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor's Life for Me)" all find their place. MPC served as the sole visual effects and animation studio on the project, de- livering more than 920 shots and calling on a team of 1,200 artists across studios in Montreal, Bangalore and London. Production stretched two years and was impacted by the COVID pandemic, lim- iting how many actors could appear on- set during production, as well as those in MPC's offices. According to MPC VFX su- pervisor Ben Jones, the film called on the studio to create approximately 10 hero characters, including Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, Cleo, Figaro, Sofia and Honest John, along with 20 environments. Live action footage of Tom Hanks was shot on large stages set within former WWII airship hangars in Cardington, UK. Geppetto's workshop was a practical set, though a digital version was also created. This allowed for previs, where director Robert Zemeckis could plan his camera moves. "We didn't do any in-camera LEDs. This was all, simul-cam," Jones explains. "We sort of built all the sets in Unreal, which we were using for previz and post- vis. And then we had camera tracks on- set so that, in the monitors, they [could] see all the sets with the blue-screen live. The only time we actually used LED pan- els was for interactive lighting." Characters were modeled using Audodesk Maya and were based on physical models built by the prop de- partment. A Pinocchio puppet, complete with clothing, was built and used as a reference for the modelers. This allowed MPC artists to really get into detail, rec- reating elements such as the wool gloves that cover Pinocchio's hands. Similarly, costumes were created for other charac- ters too. Honest John's cape, for exam- ple, exists as real fabric, and Jiminy's jacket and umbrella were also created with real materials. "There's a realism from copying something that's real like that," Jones explains. "Pinocchio was one example of that. But even Jiminy, Honest John and Gideon, who are full-CG charac- ters in the whole movie, the costume department actually built real costumes for them…Real things were built that we then copied. I think that really added a level of handmade, naturalistic design to those characters." Pinocchio, himself, presented a unique challenge, unlike the film's other characters. As a figure made of wood, the team had to decide how expressive he could be, while respecting his rigid wooden structure. "Bob [wanted] him to be really expressive," says Jones of Zemeckis's di- rective. "So to achieve that in a way that isn't a rubbery wood kind of look was a sort of technical and artistic challenge. But having said that, once we sort of got it to a particular stage, it was never actually a problem. We sort of got it into place where Bob and everyone were happy, and then the animators were able to achieve the performance that Bob wanted." Cleo, the goldfish, is fully CG, but her bowl goes back and forth from CG to live action. "We had some live-action water in there, inside the shot," Jones recalls. "But for the most part, the water was CG as well. It was tricky. The simulation teams did a great job on that. With an actor like Tom Hanks doing his performance, he would be carrying a prop bowl in some of those scenes, and the effects team had a real challenge to kind of get an artistically-directed kind of simulation of water inside that bowl as he's moving around. Nice little splashes and things like that." 'Scale' was a challenge that MPC faced throughout the film. There are large en- vironments, such as the Pleasure Island theme park and the wide-open ocean with Geppetto's tiny rowboat, and then there are macro shots, with close-ups of Jiminy Cricket. "For a lot of the movie, we had this same sort of challenge," says Jones. "There'd be huge shots, and then Jiminy on like a tiny little thing in the middle of the environment. So, having to build the whole environment and also the small (detailed) sections of it." Performance was yet another chal- lenge. The musical numbers, particularly "I've Got No Strings" and "Hi-Diddle-Dee- Dee (An Actor's Life for Me)," are quite theatrical. Pinocchio, in fact, performs on a stage among a cast of marionettes, to show off his unique skills. "I guess the word would be, it's 'enthu- siastic,' but it's sort of a realistic style," says Jones of the motion. "Bob really wanted the animators to go to town and sort of have fun. The animators really enjoyed that aspect of it." Animation was all hand keyframed. PINOCCHIO BY MARC LOFTUS MPC HELPS RE-CREATE THIS WOODEN PUPPET'S CLASSIC STORY I VISUAL EFFECTS 14 POST SEPT/OCT 2022

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