Post Magazine

January/February 2020

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 28 of 43

DOOLITTLE 27 POST JAN/FEB 2020 "If we could talk to the animals, just imagine it Chatting to a chimp in chimpanzee Imagine talking to a tiger, chatting to a cheetah What a neat achievement that would be." That is the beginning stanza to the song "Talk to the Animals" from the 1967 film Doctor Dolittle, sung by the title character Rex Harrison. Now, more than five decades later, Robert Downey Jr. is doing just that, talking to the animals. This time, it really does seems as if the animals are talking too, thanks to the advancements in computer graphics technology. In Universal Pictures' Dolittle, Downey assumes the role of England's famous but eccentric vet who can converse with all types of creatures, big and small. After his beloved wife, Lily, dies, the doctor becomes a recluse at his manor house, in Victorian England, with only his patients (former and pres- ent) to keep him company. When the young Queen Victoria falls mysteriously ill, he is summoned to help. A rare fruit from a far-away land may provide a cure, so the doctor sets sail with his animal friends and a young, self-proclaimed assistant to locate the remedy, all the while dodging an old adversary. Dolittle is a reboot of the Doctor Dolittle films and is based on the books by author Hugh Lofting. It is not the first reboot of the 1967 release, but its animal cast has sure come a long way from that initial release containing live animals and some rather lackluster puppets by today's standards. In 1998, the property was revived with a modern twist, both in terms of story and technique, as the live animals were given the ability to speak via mouth replacements. The 2020 Dolittle, a reimagining of the classic tale, returns the narrative to its Victorian England roots. And this time, an extensive cast of photorealistic CG talking animals act alongside the live actors, making it appear as if they are truly conversing with the doctor. The film was directed by Stephen Gaghan (Syriana, Traffic). Heading up the visual effects team was two-time Academy Award-nominated visual effects supervisor Nicolas Aithadi (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Guardians of the Galaxy) and two-time Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor John Dykstra (Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2), as well as Academy Award-winning animation supervisor David Shirk (Ready Player One, Gravity) and visual effects producer Tim Keene (Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi, Spectre). DP was Guillermo Navarro, and editing was performed by Craig Alpert (Deadpool 2, Pitch Perfect 2 & 3) and Chris Lebenzon (Alice in Wonderland, Top Gun). CREATURE CREATION Nearly every animal in Dolittle is a photoreal CG creation, accounting for the majority of the 1,484 total VFX shots in the movie. MPC — which at press time was nominated for an Oscar for its work on The Lion King, which, again, featured photorealis- tic talking animals — was responsible for 1,082 of those shots. The remaining work was shared among Framestore (259 shots), Luma Pictures (22 shots) and Lola VFX (245 shots). Framestore was in charge of Mini, the adorable sugar glider, as well as the world of Monteverde, where the spiteful pirate king Rassouli (Antonio Banderas) lives and where Lily's journal, which holds an important clue, is hidden. In addition, Glassworks created the film's opening animated sequence. MPC, meanwhile, focused mainly on the hero animals (all of which have some ailment or injury), in addition to some complex environments and simulations. According to Aithadi, the biggest technical chal- lenge of the film was trying to bridge the real and the fantastical: making the animals photoreal while bringing them to life in a way that the audience could believe that they were able to talk. In all, there are 38 different animals in Dolittle, and all are computer-generated with the exception of horses. "I think we built every animal under the sun for this film," says Aithadi. "We have a polar bear, a squirrel, a dog, a parrot, a duck, a giraffe, an orangutan, whales, wolves, an elephant, capuchin monkeys, all manner of small insects all the way up to leaches. We have no snakes…I think." To create this virtual Noah's Ark collection, the MPC artists spent time in Oxford, UK, with a com- pany called Amazing Animals, where they scanned and photographed every animal present in the movie that they could get their hands on. They also intensely researched animal behavior and morphol- ogy, as well as spent time looking for the kinds of movement and expressions that the animals are capable of that, to the audience, look like human expression. Nevertheless, the actions that were performed by the CG animals were in keeping with the physical realities of the real-life versions. For in- MAIN MENAGERIE Polynesia, a wise and headstrong macaw and Dolittle's most trusted advisor. Chee-Chee, an anxious, self-conscious but noble gorilla. Yoshi, an upbeat but chill polar bear who detests the cold. Plimpton, a cynical, fussy, neurotic but well-meaning ostrich who quarrels with Yoshi. Dab-Dab, an enthusiastic but bird-brained duck with a wooden leg. Jip, an intelligent, loyal dog who wears glasses. Kevin, an injured, squirrel with attitude and a grudge. Barry, a ferocious tiger with gold-tipped fangs. Betsy, a friendly giraffe who is on the lam. Tutu, a cunning and courageous fox who is friends with Betsy. James, a wisecracking dragonfly who helps Dolittle escape from a prison cell. Ginko-Who-Soars, a fire-breathing dragon who guards a magical fruit. Mini, a precocious baby sugar glider. Audiences' familiarity with dogs made Jib a challenging character to pull off.

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Post Magazine - January/February 2020