Computer Graphics World

Edition 2 2020

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54 cgw e d i t i o n 2 , 2 0 2 0 into the world. When the children make the choice to come back and stay at the house, the camera is locked again." To further implement the less-is-more approach of simple, graphic character de- signs, the crew coined a term related to The Willoughbys ' cinematography: variable frame exposure. Today, standard features are filmed at 24 frames per second, with every frame displaying a different image. With variable frame exposure, the filmmakers showed certain images for one, two, or three frames. "You might be giving them fewer images per second, but it never came at the cost of less information," maintains Aniket Natekar, one of the film's lead animators. Pearn explains this further. "Instead of splining the animation so that it's full-frame range, 24 fps, we would do it on twos for the characters, and then we would do our effects on threes and fours. The feeling that I was trying to achieve was similar to when [filmmakers] would use film and shoot their primary layer and roll it back, and do the ef- fects on a pass-through. I wanted things to feel like they had a little bit of an off-timing. Of course, the computer really likes it when things make sense. So, trying to figure out how to work with the soware and the pipe- line to give us the robustness of the textures that we were aer, and the timing we want- ed, was really a challenge. But, we had some really smart people working on the film. Russ Smith [VFX supervisor] was able to get in there and add scripts and break the widgets, and get [the soware] to do what we were creatively chasing. Plus, it was a small studio, which enabled us to be really collaborative." Bron Animation was already established as an Autodesk Maya-based studio, which the Willoughbys team used as well. The artists also used Pixologic's ZBrush for mod- eling. In addition, they used Maya's XGen geometry instancer for populating polyg- onal mesh surfaces with primitives, either randomly or uniformly placed, to generate the family's signature red hair as well as the cotton candy elements. "By controlling the movement as opposed to straight simulation, we could make the hair feel designed, and we could respond to what we were learning from the textures," explains Pearn. "Establishing this style of movement also gave us cost savings in various conditions, such as rain, snow, and wind. The graphic quality of the yarn and the rich texture added to the handmade feeling by not overreacting to the FX elements, which we wanted to feel comp'd over the movement, rather than embedded." Unique Effects While the imagery in the movie's foreground is 3D, the backgrounds were matte paint- ings, again supporting that homemade feel. "I loved the idea that behind a certain layer of depth, there's a painting," says Pearn. "Also, we had to commit to the locked camera idea so it felt like a sitcom. I found that soundstage feeling very attractive to the story." A good portion of the film takes place inside the house, where Pearn found the children's library to be an especially difficult environment due to the extreme detail and the difficulty in lighting it so the viewers' eyes knew where to look. "I wanted the room to feel rich. It's sort of a metaphor; it's full of all the ideas bubbling in the twins' heads," he says. Grading was also challenges to ensure the characters stood out among all the detail. The snow near the end of the film was also challenging in terms of establishing the right combination of 2D and 3D. It took a lot of trial and error, Pearn says, to get the snow to feel like it was applied to the scene, but also gave the audience the sense that the world is very cold. "We had this amazing artist, Helén Ahlberg, who was our effects lead. She was a 2D animator by training, but had that Cat's Tale Director Kris Pearn wanted The Wil- loughbys to be a fairy tale. To this end, he decided to have the cat (voiced by Ricky Gervais) narrate, enabling the director to push the animation a little further over the top. "The movie starts off from the point of view of this external charac- ter, the cat, who's looking through a window. It's the cat's tale, told from its point of view, so it might not be 100 percent real," Pearn explains. "That gave us a sense this could be a once-upon-a-time sort of world. That let us pivot into the world of metaphor. And because we had these heightened textures, we had permission to then push the choices we would make in terms of posing and pushing our characters toward that almost broad Cartoon 101/ Chuck Jones approach with simple silhouettes." Nevertheless, the animators always maintained gravity, the sense that the world was real. If a character fell, he or she would hit the ground and likely react accordingly. "We wanted to have that phys- icality," says Pearn. "I wanted it to seem like there's always bones in the characters, but there are bones that have a lot of loose joints when they hit big poses. And yet, they are not rubbery." The film contains a homespun aesthetic throughout.

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