Computer Graphics World

Edition 1 2020

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 23 of 35

22 cgw e d i t i o n i , 2 0 2 0 J ack London's "Call of the Wild" is a classic read for many middle schoolers. It is a story of adventure and hardship in the wilds of the Canadian Yukon during the Gold Rush of the 1890s. It is also a tale of survival and eventual friendship between man and dog. In this story, "man" is John Thornton (played by Harrison Ford), who rescues the canine from a harsh master. "Dog" is Buck (a photorealistic CG creation), a large but gentle St. Bernard/Scotch Collie mix that is snatched from his happy do- mestic life and forced to become a sled dog in the northern wilderness before he finds happiness once again with John. Until he hears the wild beckoning to him. Based on the American classic novel, Call of the Wild is from 20 th Century Fox. It is directed by Chris Sanders, with Erik Nash (Iron Man 3) as visual effects supervisor and Ryan Stafford as visual effects producer. MPC Montreal handled the CGI, including the star, Buck. Adapting the story from book to film was an adventure in itself. Consider a large part of the cast: Buck and the other dogs on the sled team, as well the wild animals including a grizzly bear, a herd of caribou, rabbits, birds, and a wolf pack, among others. All are pho- toreal and craed in CGI by Moving Picture Company. And they are always CGI in the film. Then there were the extensive outdoor environments. Certain sets were constructed for the film, but many others were built or extended in CGI, too. In all, the film contains approximately 1,250 visual effects shots, most of which are animation shots. Initially, filmmakers considered making the film mostly CGI-driven but opted for the hybrid approach, incorporating more photography with the computer-generated animals. Still, Nash estimates that as much as a third of the film is computer-generated. Casting Buck Buck carries the emotional arc of the entire movie. And from the amazing work, it is nearly impossible to tell that the dog is not real. To keep him planted in reality, the dog does not speak. And he is never anthropomorphic. "Buck is the star of the movie, and the audience has to connect with him and feel his emotions and understand what's going through his head. And I believe Buck deliv- ered in that regard," says Nash. The reason for always using a CG dog was twofold, according to Nash. It gave the filmmakers full control over Buck's perfor- mance throughout the film, especially since there was a lot of acting required of him. The animals, particularly Buck, needed to be fun and playful, as well as empathetic and emotional – and at times extend beyond the limitations of real-world animals. "We wanted to have the flexibility and freedom to art direct Buck because he was our star," he says. Also, the filmmakers wanted to have full control over Buck's look, down to the finest detail, and not be bound by matching a real- life dog to the description from the book. According to Giles Davies, MPC Film Char- acter Lab asset supervisor, Buck underwent two design phases, with two distinct direc- tions for his look. The initial intention was that Buck's look would be based on key art from the studio, with supporting references of a practical dog close in breed and built to the art. No actual dog was cast as the CG dog, he emphasizes, resulting in a process of translating and validating the 2D key art references in 3D. "At this time, Buck was intended to be black and white, and more closely resembling a Bernese mountain dog," Davies adds. However, while shooting night scenes, the Canine Companionship CALL OF THE WILD CASTS A COMPUTER-GENERATED DOG IN THE LEAD ROLE BY KAREN MOLTENBREY Buck the dog is always CG in the film. Images ©2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Computer Graphics World - Edition 1 2020