Post Magazine

November 2013

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 9 of 51

cover story Reel FX completes first feature: Free Birds D By MARC LOFTUS Senior Editor/ Director of Web Content Dallas & Santa Monica locations come together. Turkeys celebrate! Scott Peterson served as co-digital supe on the feature. 8 ALLAS — Reel FX Animation Studios ( recently teamed up with Relativity Media to create their first fully-CG feature film, Free Birds, which hit theaters this month, coinciding with Thanksgiving. The film centers around a turkey named Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson), who's been pardoned by the President, and is living a relatively carefree life. That is, until fellow turkey Jake appears and recruits him to join the Turkey Freedom Front. Jake (voiced by Woody Harrelson) hopes to use secret government technology to go back in time and change the holiday's dark tradition. Amy Poehler voices Jenny, a turkey from the Plymouth Colony era, and George Takei is the voice of S.T.E.V.E., the time machine that transports the turkeys to and from the 1600s. Reel FX's digital supervisor Scott Peterson took time out to chat with Post just before the film's release. Here, in an exclusive interview, he details the challenges of creating the studio's first full-length animated feature. Post: Pre-production started as far back as 2009? Can you tell us how the film developed? Scott Peterson: "I started in the second year as the digital supe. Our first director [was] Ash Brannon, from Surf 's Up. We were kind of going down this more cartoony sort of approach, and the studio decided to take a new approach to the film. That's when we got Jimmy Hayward. The style changed. It's still a simpler approach to a turkey. We wanted the colors, of course, to be vibrant and pleasing and engaging, but we didn't want the anatomy of the turkey to be the star of the show. We really wanted the performance, so we simplified the look. We wanted some of the behavior, like the feathers for instance, to be very realistic. We did a lot of storyboards, spent a lot of time developing the characters, and towards the last 18 months, we really kicked it into gear and did a very formal pre-production, and then launched a full-on production. I think, all in all, the production part was about a year." Post: Is the talent involved in voice recording early on? Peterson: "They are not involved. That happens much later. Generally, we bring in some local talent and leverage people from within the studio, just to get started and get scratch audio. Jimmy is very talented as a director and has many voices in the final movie as well. He did a lot of it himself, which was great because it moved us along really efficiently." Post • November 2013 Post: How many characters did Reel FX have to develop? Peterson: "I don't have numbers in front of me but I'll tell you a trick that we did that was really successful: We made a family tree, and basically came up with a minimal list of people, and spawned all of our characters from that minimal list. Basically, there were seven turkeys, but we ended up having hundreds and hundreds in terms of variety. We used a lot of techniques, like color changes and grooming changes. We had our modelers the technology and workflow. He spent the majority of his time making sure everything looked beautiful." Post: Did the work get broken up between your Dallas and Santa Monica locations? Peterson: "The Santa Monica office is great. It's basically an extension, like an arm. I believe we had 12 to 13 animators there in our pipeline. We did a lot of our storyboarding in Santa Monica, because there is a large talent pool there, and the animation. As far as the other departments, they were all here in Reggie, voiced by Owen Wilson, was created using a combination of Maya, Houdini and Mari. spend a little more time up front and kept point compatibility, which means that even though the shape of the face looks different, it's actually the same mesh, basically with the points pulled around. The topology doesn't change, which is great. We were able to cut and paste, for lack of a better description, all of our data from one turkey to another. It sped up the feather-grooming process, the fur-grooming process, the texturing process, the rigging process." Post: How did you scale up for this film? Peterson: "We actually do a self reflection and look at the needs of the show and leverage talent. Either they are talent we have in the studio, or, if we feel that we need to bring in outside talent to leverage their strengths, we hire them. In this particular case we brought in Rich McKain as our animation supe. He had a lot of experience working with the director. And then we brought in another digital supe, David Esneault of Blue Sky in New York. He was instrumental in helping us reach our look. He and I co-digital supe'd, and it freed me up to concentrate on Dallas. We really only had eight modelers and seven or eight riggers, and 30 or so lighters, but the animation department grew significantly for our first feature." Post: What tools did you rely on? Peterson: "We do a hybrid approach. We rendered in RenderMan. We did all of our animation in Maya. Our texturing is a combination of Maya, Houdini and Mari. As far as asset construction, it's whatever works best. Some of the guys model in Maya. Some of the guys model in Modo. It really doesn't matter because the pipeline is robust enough to pass the data forward. We only support Maya for animation. Our rigs are created specifically for Maya. There are a lot of proprietary rig plugins that are part of our modular rigging system, but it all works within Maya." Post: Did you have an adequate render farm in place? Peterson: "We look at our show and try to figure out shot count, how many layers, and how many iterations, and we try to come up with an educated approximation of what our render times need to be. If we are

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Post Magazine - November 2013