An­i­mals and Plants — In Space!

Frame­store and MPC each faced dis­tinct chal­lenges in an­i­mat­ing Rocket and Groot for the cos­mic Marvel movie. By Bill De­sowitz.

Animation Magazine - - Visual Effects -

Marvel Stu­dios’ Guardians of the Galaxy is like a low-rent ver­sion of The Avengers, only with a 1970s sci-fi vibe ap­plied by direc­tor James Gunn ( Slither). It’s about a rag-tag quar­tet band­ing to­gether to save the uni­verse. But it’s not sur­pris­ing that the two an­i­mated char­ac­ters — the ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered rac­coon, Rocket, and the tree-like hu­manoid, Groot, steal the movie.

Voiced by Bradley Cooper with a thick New York ac­cent, Rocket was an­i­mated by Frame­store, while Groot — his sin­gle line, “I am Groot!” voiced by Vin Diesel — was an­i­mated by MPC.

“We had a def­i­nite look for Groot but Rocket was more in flux,” says pro­duc­tion vis­ual-ef­fects su­per­vi­sor Stephane Ceretti. “We pretty much let the ven­dors do their own ver­sions of the char­ac­ters, look­ing at the con­cept art and the comics. Also, we wanted to know more about rac­coons, so we had a real one come in (cour­tesy of the U.K. an­i­mal en­coun­ters com­pany Oreo and Friends). We learned how they look, how they live, how they move.”

Both Rocket and Groot were an­i­mated in Maya with Frame­store and MPC ap­ply­ing their own in-house cus­tomiza­tions. How­ever, Rocket was ren­dered in Arnold, which pro­vided a photo-real look and han­dles fur well. By con­trast, Groot was ren­dered in Ren­derMan, and that’s where the two stu­dios had to ne- go­ti­ate the han­dling of shared as­sets to make them match.

He’s an An­i­mal!

“The thing that we wanted to keep was that Rocket had an­i­mal­is­tic qual­i­ties,” says Ceretti. “They are very tac­tile and use their fingers while do­ing some­thing else. And so we have Rocket as­sem­ble things in the movie — he’s

art and the comics.’ a range of emo­tions. He’s go­ing from be­ing that badass rac­coon, su­per-ex­cited, shoot­ing guns ev­ery­where, to (be­ing much more vul­ner­a­ble). So we had to ex­press that on his face and in his eyes. James was very adamant that we could get all of that in what we were build­ing.

“We did a lot of eye tests: the size of the eyes, in­clud­ing iris and pupils. We tried to stay true to the re­al­ity but what we found that was re­ally im­por­tant was get­ting the level of mois­ture in

‘We pretty much let the ven­dors do their own

ver­sions of the char­ac­ters, look­ing at the con­cept

work­ing as a char­ac­ter an­i­ma­tor at Sun­nyBoy En­ter­tain­ment and Fisher-Price. “They asked me to check out their sys­tem, and see what I could do in Mo­tionBuilder. In about four days, we made a moon game that worked well.”

YouTube clips of E3 demos show grown men jump­ing around a vir­tual moon­scape while wear­ing the Con­trol VR sen­sors and the Rift head-mounted dis­plays.

Bran­don Laatsch

As the na­tion’s up­com­ing gen­er­a­tions get more and more tech-savvy, clas­si­cists worry about the death of the printed page. One com­pany us­ing an in­no­va­tive ap­proach and pro­pri­etary an­i­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy has found a cre­ative way to blend kid-friendly in­ter­ac­tiv­ity with new sto­ry­telling tech­niques to en­cour­age literacy in kids ages 3 to 8.

En­ter Auryn Tech­nol­ogy, led by CEO Umesh Shukla and chief tech­nol­o­gist Rob Kalnins, the brains be­hind the Sto­riesAlive app for iPad and An­droid. The sto­ry­book app uses pro­pri­etary tech­nol­ogy called “Auryniza­tion” to trans­late any illustrative style into 2D or 3D an­i­ma­tion, pre­serv­ing its unique looks. The story apps, which draw on clas­sics like Nancy Till­man’s On the Night You Were Born as well as orig­i­nals, in­cor­po­rate in­ter­ac­tive fea­tures like word high­light­ing, dic­tionary, per­son­al­iza­tion op­tions and themed games, puz­zles and more to en­gage young read­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to Shukla, a vet­eran vis­ual-ef­fects artist who has worked at Dis­ney and DreamWorks, the tech­nol­ogy es­sen­tially re­places a 3D cam­era with a “vir­tual artist,” which learns what the cre­ators want the char­ac­ters and back­ground to look like and flu­idly tracks brush­strokes from frame to frame.

“We ac­tu­ally have tech­nol­ogy to draw things that look like wa­ter­color, that are lit­er­ally do­ing one layer at a time, so it looks re­ally re­al­is­tic be­cause the sim­u­la­tion is re­ally close to how the ac­tual things works,” Kalnins says.

“You just train this thing by ex­am­ple of what you want it to look like and the ma­chine fig­ures out what your style means and then trans­mits that style to an­other im­age. But, this is im­por­tant to us be­cause when you’re work­ing in the story devel­op­ment space you need to stay as true as pos­si­ble to the orig­i­nal il­lus­trated style as you can,” says Kalnins. This is es­pe­cially im­por­tant when work­ing with eas­ily rec­og­niz­able au­thor-il­lus­tra­tors like Till­man.

Sto­riesAlive of­fers about 160 apps, in­clud­ing sto­ry­books and tie-in dig­i­tal paint­ing and story writ­ing apps. The sto­ries come in a range from stan­dard types with ba­sic lev­els of in­ter­ac­tive con­tent to pre­mium apps with more bells and whis­tles. “Each one of our apps has per­son­al­iza­tion. They’re de­signed to en­cour­age par­ents to spend time with chil­dren … qual­ity time and ed­u­ca­tion at the same time,” says Shukla, “In th­ese apps, we en­cour­age dis­cov­ery. In some of them, you press a but­ton, and in oth­ers we let the kids find it for them­selves, so each page is full of func­tion­al­ity.”

For now, Auryn is keep­ing its tech­nol­ogy to it­self, al­though it has shared its cre­ator apps with the out­side world to see what peo­ple come up with.

Kalnins points out that this type of sys­tem that pre­serves illustrative qual­i­ties in an­i­ma­tion is a hot new ticket in the biz, with ma­jors like Pixar work­ing on sim­i­lar tech­nolo­gies. For Shukla, the most im­por­tant thing is en­cour­ag­ing kids to learn and cre­ate. “Spend­ing time to­gether with chil­dren, that’s kind of the core think­ing be­hind what we have done, which is al­low­ing par­ents to ex­pe­ri­ence the same thing in a dif­fer­ent for­mat — with added per­son­al­iza­tion,” he says. Sto­riesAlive is avail­able for iPad and An­droid de­vices through li­brary sub­scrip­tion plans. Visit sto­ to learn more or view the avail­able ti­tles.

could pos­si­bly be fo­cused enough while pro­vid­ing a large enough client base to keep you flush with cash.

In a mat­ter of min­utes, you could jump on­line and find out how many ve­teri­nary clin­ics, zoos and other an­i­mal-cen­tric busi­nesses there are in the coun­try or even around the world. Next, you would need to find out if they have a need for your ser­vices. Lastly, you would need to find out if they would be will­ing to pay well for your ser­vices. This takes a lit­tle re­search and more than likely some phone calls and email cor­re­spon­dence, but in as lit­tle as a few hours


To work, it also had to be fast-paced, witty and more adult in tone than typ­i­cally seen in pre­vi­ous DC Uni­verse fea­tures.

“It’s not an adap­ta­tion, so I had a lit­tle bit of a freer hand to (pace it) as fast as I could,” says Cor­son. “Also, be­cause we’re do­ing a heist movie, those things are breath­less. They gotta move so quickly that you’re just keep­ing up. So that sort of was baked into the con­cept that it needed to move as fast as it pos­si­bly could.”

Vil­lains Say the Darnedest


Us­ing vil­lains as the main char­ac­ters made this task eas­ier than deal­ing with heroic char­ac­ters that tend to be stoic and con­cerned about say­ing and do­ing the right thing. “(Vil­lains) don’t have any sort of im­pulse con­trol,” says Cor­son. “They want what they want now, and they don’t care who knows it and they don’t care who they have to hurt in get­ting it.”

Jay Oliva, a vet­eran sto­ry­board artist and direc­tor of sev­eral DC Uni­verse fea­tures who co-di­rected As­sault on Arkham with Ethan Spauld­ing, says he was sur­prised by the script the first time he read it, but got the Guy Ritchie-style vibe Cor­son was shoot­ing for.

“I re­al­ized this is a heist film and I then pitched an idea to the pro­ducer, James Tucker, and I said, ‘Hey, James, if I di­rected this the way I would nor­mally do one of our DC An­i­mated Uni­verse fea­tures, I don’t think it would work out too well.’ And he said, ‘Well, what are you think­ing?” I said, ‘What if I di­rected this like a Guy Ritchie film?’ ... And he liked that idea.”

With so many dif­fer­ent in­flu­ences, Oliva says they went for a tone in the vi­su­als and with the mu­sic that is dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent from the clas­sic Bruce Timm look or the re­cent New 52 fea­tures.

Fac­ing the Com­pe­ti­tion

“I don’t try to make th­ese films to com­pete with other an­i­mated films out there; I’m think­ing of what’s the last great comic-book film that I’ve seen,” says Oliva. “For ex­am­ple, I just saw Cap­tain Amer­ica: The Win­ter Sol­dier a cou­ple months ago and I thought it was fan­tas­tic. So when­ever I ap­proach th­ese an­i­mated films for DC, I’m always think­ing to my­self, ‘This is my com­pe­ti­tion.’”

Oliva also took a cue from Zack Sny­der — Oliva drew sto­ry­boards for Sny­der’s Man of Steel and its up­com­ing se­quel Bat­man v. Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice — who in­ten­tion­ally changed his style to one in­flu­enced by Ter­rence Mal­ick for Man of Steel.

“Most peo­ple think that Zack is a one-trick pony, and this is how he does it; but the fact is that he ac­tu­ally likes to try dif­fer­ent things if it fits the story,” he says. “And off of his cue, when I was do­ing this, I was like, ‘Let’s try di­rect­ing out­side my style.’”

This movie called for an ap­proach that used more hu­mor and had a more adult level of vi­o­lence and even a bit of sex. For the for­mer, Oliva says Tucker’s in­stincts were the strong­est in­flu­ence. “James is a mas­ter of know­ing when to put a joke in or when to add some lev­ity (from having worked on) Brave and the Bold,” he says. “I learned a lot from work­ing with him.”

Mak­ing it for the Fans

“I was told to make this as adult as you can, make it some­thing you want to see, so I re­ally wrote for a fan like my­self,” says Cor­son. “I tried to throw in as much as I could and make the world as dark and as vi­cious and as vi­o­lent as Gotham re­ally is.”

There also was a chance to have a lot of fun. “I knew I wanted to see the prop­erty room at Arkham, which I can’t be­lieve no­body has ever done be­fore,” says Cor­son. “I love the idea of th­ese guys play­ing with other vil­lains’ weapons, which is su­per fun.”

Fig­ur­ing out char­ac­ter de­signs — a task han­dled by Jon Suzuki — that worked in an­i­ma­tion but still evoked the game was an­other chal­lenge. “The videogames are CGI and it’s re­ally hard for us to try to repli­cate that, so we tried to find a styl­ized ver­sion of the videogames and what we did is we looked at Bat­man,” says Oliva. “When­ever we de­sign a show, we always base it on our main char­ac­ter.”

Map­ping the pro­por­tions of the video game ver­sion of Bat­man over to an­i­ma­tion al­lowed the crew to fig­ure out pro­por­tions that would work for the other char­ac­ters.

Oliva says his fa­vorite de­sign was the one he came up with for Har­ley Quinn, where nei­ther the cos­tume she wears in the game or in the cur­rent comics seemed right. “I ba­si­cally took Bruce Timm’s clas­sic de­sign and, on my desk I have the Adam Hughes Girls of the DC Uni­verse Har­ley statue, that I love, and so I was look­ing at that and it was like that’s what I want,” he says. “I want her to pull off her hat and her pig­tails ba­si­cally fit into where those lit­tle ear things are on her Har­ley out­fit. And then what I did is I took that clas­sic look and I gave it kind of a punk, Tank Girl feel.”

An­other el­e­ment bor­rowed from the video game are the ac­tion se­quences, par­tic­u­larly the fight scenes. “It’s bal­let for men, be­cause it’s just re­ally a highly chore­ographed dance,” says Oliva, cit­ing as in­flu­ences 1980s ac­tion films, Hong Kong fight chore­og­ra­phy and Bruce Lee. “I’m just like, I’m go­ing to put all things that I love into my ac­tion se­quences, whether it’s a hand-to-hand fight or a big chase se­quence ...

“The nice thing about an­i­ma­tion is I don’t have to worry about the stunt man com­plain­ing that he can’t do this par­tic­u­lar move that I’ve told him to do. If I can draw it, Bat­man is gonna do it!”

Chou ( Ap­ple­seed: Ex Machina, Halo Le­gends), the DVD and Blu­ray ($30.99) were pre­vi­ously an­nounced to con­tain direc­tor’s com­men­tary and 11 makingof fea­turettes, plus a 12-song sound­track from artists like Skrillex, nishi-ken and RAM RIDER. [Re­lease date: July 22]

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