Computer Graphics World

November / December 2017

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16 cgw n o v e m b e r . d e c e m b e r 2 0 1 7 of Imageworks on a theatrical release, turn- ing to Cinesite Studios to handle all the ani- mation. According to Reckart, this outsourc- ing model enables the studio to work at a lower price point, but ideally at the same quality as a more expensive production, with a slightly lower box-office requirement in order to be deemed a success. CAST OF CHARACTERS According to Reckart, the movie's charac- ters are fairly realistic in terms of their design and the way they move – to an extent. To this end, the artists spent a lot of time studying the way these animals move, par- ticularly donkeys and camels. "We wanted to do anatomically realistic animals, but the story line has comedy, action, and suspense, so they needed to play like human charac- ters, and that is where the expressivity of our cartoony style comes in," he says. The characters, especially Bo the donkey, show a great deal of emotion. The same holds true for the sidekick Dave. Having a somewhat cartoony style for the animation at times provided the expressiveness neces- sary for these leading characters. "The movie has so many gags where you need that cartoony-ness. We struck a really good balance between occasionally cartoony physics of what I call expressive squash and stretch, with what I consider heartfelt and human nuance performance style," Reckart says. "I didn't want the physics of the world to feel cartoony, but I wanted to be able to use that style for clarity of expression in movement." The challenge, as Animation Supervisor Ryan Yee points out, was to not pull the animation too far from reality or do it too oen, for risk of pulling the audience out of the film. "Once that happens, it's too diffi- cult to bring them back into it," he says. The characters were modeled and animated in Autodesk's Maya, which was supplemented with other third-party and proprietary tools. Because of the short schedule (11 months of production), the group did not have time to iterate. So, they came up with an alternative process to push the animation style. "Many times, I asked for a performance in the animation, and it turned out the rig didn't have a certain muscle for that partic- ular facial expression. So, in some cases, the animators had to use a sculpt tool to push the model beyond where it had originally been designed to go," says Reckart. As Yee explains, the animators treat each frame as a drawing when creating poses, to bring in a greater sense of design to the film. To this end, they used in-house tools to draw or sculpt poses, to push the silhouettes and expressions. "We used the same method for all the characters, but they all have a different set of rules. The animation process begins with notes in the form of draw-overs to communicate an expression or idea, as it is faster than working within the CG environment. From there, the animators would use every tool in the box at Cinesite to help push their creative expression further," Yee continues. "A huge credit goes to the artists for being immense- ly patient and resilient in tackling the creative challenges we placed on them in such a short time frame. We really pushed the rigs to their limits to get the appeal and performance Tim was looking for in the characters." Animation had just six months to com- plete their work. A Herculean task, without question, but made possible with support from Cinesite London and Vancouver. FOCUS ON FUR AND FEATHERS All the character grooms were done using both Peregrine Labs' Yeti running within Maya and Cinesite's own fur sys- tem, CS Fur, depending on the character. For instance, the artists used the full fur simulation within Yeti for the horse Leah's mane and the top of her head. For characters with short body hair, CS Fur – a quick procedural system without dynamics – proved more efficient. For the hero characters, artists often used a combination of CS Fur and Yeti, while secondary characters, like the tiny desert mouse, were textured in CS Fur only. HAIR AND FUR WERE BIG OBSTACLES FOR THE ARTISTS.

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