Computer Graphics World

September / October 2017

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s e p t e m b e r . o c t o b e r 2 0 1 7 c g w 2 3 Vancouver and Culver City, California. Carlos Zaragoza was production designer, and David Alexander Smith was visual effects supervisor. CAST OF CHARACTERS The Emoji Movie features the biggest cast of characters to ever appear in an SPA feature. There are 322 characters between the humans and the emojis. Nearly 280 of those are emojis that live in Textopolis alone, where special lighting requirements taxed resources. And then there are the human characters from Alex's world, which had their own stylized look for the film but posed no unusual challenges for the studio. Conversely, CG Supervisor Michael Muir describes the emoji characters as "decep- tively simplistic." "The sheer number of them required the animation team to adopt a different ap- proach. Also, they were hard to animate due to their shapes and simplicity," says Muir. First off, emojis have a slightly different appearance on an Android phone versus an iPhone. Also, audiences are used to seeing the shapes in 2D. But in the film, they appear as 3D characters, and even pop into their 2D representations in certain instances. The film crew had to consider all these states when designing the movie cast. Zaragoza says that while a movie about emojis would seem to be drawn from the current moment, the animators found inspiration for them in some of the oldest animation references. "Ultimately, we are giving life to objects, goods, musical notes – so for me, it was going back to the animated shorts of the 1930s, where everything was animated; objects had life," he says. Most of the emojis, Muir points out, are simple shapes, many spherical, modeled in Autodesk's Maya; textured and lit within Foundry's Mari and Katana, respectively; and composited with Foundry's Nuke. "Emojis are graphic designs, icons, picto- grams," says Zaragoza. "We use them to represent a concept, but they aren't very complex. But for our story, we needed a complex character that could convey many different emotions. It's important to show how a character feels. So, we had to keep the graphic look while making them very versatile." Smith boasts that the animation team can bring just about anything to life, and indeed they did for this film: toasters, fire hydrants, stop signs…and brought a unique characteristic to each. "But the hardest thing was that most of the lead characters are spheres. How do you animate spheres? It was quite a challenge," he says. Moreover, these shapes made it difficult for the riggers and animators to get a unique personality and performance out of each of them. In addition, the varied shapes called for a multitude of rigs. The artists built three types of rigs: a simplistic rig for basic animation, a middle rig for background characters, and a full rig for the hero characters. "We also had to keep consistency across all of the rigs so the animation remained the same in all of them," says Muir. To significantly lessen the rigging time- frame – from 15 to 30 days, to just one or two days – the group used a proprietary custom tool called AutoRig to automate some of the process. Then, they finessed each one by hand. In addition, a re-usable 2.5D facial decal system was also developed to reduce the total number of full facial rigs that were needed. This system was used for many secondary characters. Of the many characters that appear in the film, Hi-5, Muir believes, is the most complicated: He is an open-hand emoji whose thumb and pinkie serve as "arms." The other fingers also function as an arm or leg as needed when it performs a wide range of motions: running, jumping, dancing, acrobatics. And getting a range of emotions from the shape – a main charac- ter – added further complexity. EXPLORING ENVIRONMENTS With so many different characters, it's no surprise that the movie contains equally diverse environments. First, there is the human world and the emoji world – two contrasting settings, with the latter being more graphic in style. The concept design of the human world, on the other hand, is more reminiscent of other SPA features. To build the expansive phone world of Textopolis – a surreal cityscape – the artists used instancing for variation while reducing the footprint and enabling them to retain the visual complexity without the excessive toll on rendering. Also within the emoji world, there are many unique locales, at least 20, which are reflective of various apps, as Gene's journey takes him through several of the most pop- ular ones used by teens, including: Candy Crush, Dropbox, Instagram, Just Dance, Spotify, Twitter, WeChat, and YouTube. Each app has its own distinct world, as the "three emojis" (Gene, Hi-5, and Jailbreak) make their way to the Cloud to find Code. Popular apps Crackle, Facebook, Shazam, Snapchat, and Twitch also appear in the movie. Selecting the apps for the film was diffi- cult, says Muir, and they were chosen based on their ability to challenge Gene and move him forward on his quest – as well as for their popularity and recognition factor. The designers also had fun playing with visuals in these locations, engulfing Firewall in flames, for instance, and streaming music in Spotify. Simulations, such as those used for Firewall and in Spotify, were accom- plished with Side Effects' Houdini. "The firewall was one of the most mesmerizing environments we did. It's just a big wall of GENE (LEFT) AND HI-5 (RIGHT) PRESENTED UNIQUE CHALLENGES. IMAGES COURTESY SONY PICTURES ANIMATION. © CTMG, INC.

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