Computer Graphics World

November / December 2017

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n o v e m b e r . d e c e m b e r 2 0 1 7 c g w 1 5 t's one of the oldest holiday stories every told: the birth of Jesus. While gospel accounts vary somewhat, the story the world has come to know has a very pregnant Mary and her husband, Joseph, traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem during the time of Herod the Great to comply with a world census. With accommodations diffi- cult to find, the pair find shelter in a stable, where Mary gives birth. Meanwhile, a bright star appears in the sky to mark this historic event, attracting three wise men from the East bearing gis for the newborn. Two millennia later, the event is cele- brated by millions of Christians around the globe. So, how does a person tell one of the most famous stories ever recorded and bring it to the big screen in a fresh, new way? That was the challenge facing the filmmakers behind Sony Pictures Animation's (SPA's) The Star, an animated family feature about the events leading up to the very first Christmas. "It's the Nativity story from the point of view of the animals," says Director Timothy Reckart. Here, the animals take center stage and are the stars, while the many humans are more background characters – for example, more attention is placed on the wise men's camels than on the wise men themselves. The movie follows Bo the donkey, who yearns for a life beyond the daily grind at the village mill. One day he breaks free and embarks on a journey, teaming up with Ruth, a lovable sheep who has lost her flock, and Dave the dove. Along the way, they are joined by a trio of wisecracking camels and some eccentric stable ani- mals. While following an unusually bright star in the sky, they become accidental heroes in this animated tale. In fact, the animals are oblivious to the history-making events occurring around them. Rather, The Star focuses on the choices the animals make. And by helping these two random people, Mary and Joseph, Bo ends up achieving the most important thing possible. Executive Producer DeVon Franklin calls this version of the greatest story ever told, "the greatest story never told." "We have a classic three-act movie structure, with characters, comedy, adven- ture, and tension, without stepping on the original story. We wanted to do a classic 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead' approach, where most of the story would belong to these side characters who usually do not get the spotlight and only occasion- ally would their story intersect with the story we are most familiar with," says Reckart, re- ferring to Tom Stoppard's play that expands the role of the two courtiers from "Hamlet' and whose action takes place in the wings of Shakespeare's plot. Franklin emphasizes that the film- makers found opportunities in the movie for fun and invention. "Audiences are not coming for the documentary or the historical exposition," he says. Despite the religious overtone of The Star, Reckart sees this movie as a film for everyone. CONCEPT TO SCREEN The theme of new and old are reoccurring in The Star, from story to staff, starting with the director. Reckart is experienced in animation, albeit stop motion as opposed to CG. He has even directed some short-form projects, but The Star marks his feature-film directorial debut and his first foray into CGI. "This was my first CG project, and that meant a big learning curve for me in terms of the pipeline and things falling into place," Reckart acknowledges. "As far as the director's role, it is pretty close [to what it is with stop motion]. My goal was to get a result I am happy with, though I do not know how to tinker with splines or curves or anything like that. But I do know what kind of performance I am looking for and what I am looking for in the final as- sets, even if I do not know what the tech- nical limitations are. And maybe in some ways that meant we pushed the team at Cinesite a little harder because I did not necessarily know the consequences and difficulty of what I was asking for." What Reckart did want was a very tactile feel to the world in the film. In stop motion, that is achieved for free by virtue of the ma- terials used (silk, corduroy, and so forth). Similarly, Reckart pushed The Star's light- ing scheme for one based on real physics and real cinematic live-action, with contrast between "bright areas that are blowing out and dark areas that go quite dark." The learning curve on this film did not pertain to Reckart alone. This is the first time SPA has worked with a group outside I

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