Per­se­ver­ing, with Del­i­cacy

Animation Magazine - - Features -

Di­rec­tor Claude Bar­ras faced tech­ni­cal and emo­tional chal­lenges in adapt­ing a heart­felt and sen­si­tive tale into the award-win­ning fea­ture My Life as a Zuc­chini. By Karen Idel­son.

ry. The di­rec­tor knows his shots last an av­er­age of nine sec­onds, rather than the three-sec­ond av­er­age, and he be­lieves greater emo­tion can de­velop from tak­ing his time in each mo­ment rather than hur­ry­ing along to some­thing else. He’s also more in­ter­ested in emo­tion and ac­tion in most cases.

For the color choices, the di­rec­tor also fol­lowed his bent to­ward a re­al­is­tic look that would place the au­di­ence in the ex­pe­ri­ence with the char­ac­ters and re­flect the di­rect­ness and real­ism in the story and di­a­logue.

“I worked on the set col­ors with the head of paint­ing, Cé­cile Mi­lazzo, as well as with the DP, David Toutevoix, so that there could be a pro­gres­sive evo­lu­tion through­out the film. The more the film pro­gresses, the more color there is,” writes Bar­ras. “We feel this very strongly when Zuc­chini vis­its his old apart­ment which is a jump back­wards in the con­ti­nu­ity of the col­ors.”

Au­then­tic Voices Since the film is so care­fully cen­tered on the lives of the chil­dren in their foster home and the re­la­tion­ships they de­velop, voice cast­ing also be­came cru­cial to get­ting the emo­tion and tone of the project just right. And Bar­ras came to some in­ter­est­ing con­clu­sions about how to cre­ate that feel­ing in the cast­ing of the project.

“For the choice of chil­dren, Marie-Eve Hild­brand (who su­per­vised all the stages of voice work, from cast­ing to edit­ing and in­clud­ing di­rect­ing the ac­tors) con­vinced me that it wasn’t nec­es­sary to al­low my­self to be guided solely by their tonal­ity but by the co­he­sive­ness of the group,” Bar­ras writes. “We chose the chil­dren for their dif­fer­ences in age and for their per­son­al­ity; they were not sup­posed to play a role, but to be them­selves in­stead, at ease with the peo­ple around them.”

The film is ul­ti­mately de­signed to reach out to those chil­dren — or adults who were once chil­dren in a sim­i­lar cir­cum­stance — who are com­ing to terms with dif­fi­cult or tragic events in their lives. This story doesn’t pull away from any sad­ness or the real im­pact of what hap­pens to the char­ac­ters, and that’s by de­sign. Bar­ras aims to give those chil­dren some hope with his film: “For My Life as a Zuc­chini, I be­gan with the premise that we have all known one or more abused chil­dren, whether among our friends, our ac­quain­tances or our fam­ily — and that is just the tip of the ice­berg be­cause the sub­ject is taboo. Beyond be­ing just a trib­ute to these bro­ken child­hoods, to courage, re­siliency and friend­ship, I hope from the bot­tom of my heart that this film will make it pos­si­ble for those con­cerned to speak, to re­move, even slightly, some of the taboos, to help chil­dren de­tect dis­tress in their friends, to not be afraid of sol­i­dar­ity, and that they think about how to pull through and to help each other in avoid­ing vi­o­lence.” [

pe­teered on set along with the clay body of the mon­ster.

“There are also a few shots in the movie that are 1:1 with the il­lus­tra­tions. And we used them as a ba­sis not only in the mo­tion but also in the light­ing to get the look and essence,” says Domenech.

A Rig of Twigs The mon­ster was com­prised of a sin­gle rig, but the face and body were made of in­di­vid­ual pieces. The body was com­prised of mus­cle groups, branches and roots, and ev­ery­thing con­nect­ing it. “While the an­i­ma­tion was done, we would run a sim­u­la­tion to get move­ment on it. Also, the wind was con­stantly blow­ing, so the tiny ten­drils of the branches were mov­ing so ev­ery­thing has a bit of life in it,” says Domenech.

Nat­u­rally, there was a long process of R&D to find a new way of rig­ging the face of the mon­ster to al­low all of the pieces to slide. And en­sure when he would change ex­pres­sion, they would set­tle into the next po­si­tion and not col­lide with each other. How­ever, the eye­lids needed to be kept solid and fleshy (es­sen­tially younger and fresher wood) to gain the proper emo­tion for ex­treme close-ups, so MPC made an an­thro­po­mor­phic con­ces­sion for that.

MPC used ZBrush for mod­el­ing, Maya for an­i­ma­tion and Katana and Ren­derMan for light­ing and ren­der­ing.

“As far as the need to be stretchy, we didn’t have to worry about that so much be­cause that was dic­tated by the model,” says Domenech. But there was a lot of de­tail tex­ture to be done in the face. It also had a layer of moss with dif­fer­ent col­ors — slightly red­der and slightly greener. And there were pieces of wood with a dif­fer­ent fin­ish to it, some were dryer and some were wet­ter.” Emo­tional Trans­for­ma­tion The trans­for­ma­tion, mean­while, from tree to mon­ster pro­vided another chal­lenge. This en­tailed two mod­els com­ing to­gether to be­come one — the tree and the mon­ster. Also dif­fi­cult were se­quences at the end when the mon­ster gets ag­i­tated with Conor about telling the truth con­cern­ing his in­ner­most de­sires.

“His fa­cial pro­por­tions changed into a more of a por­cu­pine-like fin­ish,” says Domenech. “So we had these grow­ing branch tech­nolo­gies to get the branches to come into the spa­ces in be­tween dif­fer­ent parts of wood on his face and grow into lit­tle spikes and make him more men­ac­ing in pro­file.”

The an­i­ma­tors not only stud­ied the video ref­er­ence of Nee­son, but also recorded them­selves do­ing ac­tion on top of a ta­ble lean­ing over to get a bet­ter sense of weight when the mon­ster finds him­self on a precipice.

In­spired by an English leg­end called “The Green Man,” the mon­ster per­son­i­fies the land­scape ris­ing up to tell us sto­ries as a big and pow­er­ful force of na­ture.

“The mon­ster also rep­re­sents that part of your per­son­al­ity which you haven’t yet come to terms with, so I be­lieve (visual ef­fects) en­gages au­di­ences more when you go back to how things were done in the first gen­er­a­tion of moviemak­ing,” says Bay­ona, who will next tackle the Juras­sic World se­quel. Bill De­sowitz is crafts ed­i­tor of IndieWire ( and the au­thor of James Bond Un­masked (www.james­bon­dun­

cer­tain scenes, such as Ethel’s death, in­house “be­cause they were so sen­si­tive and be­cause they had to be ab­so­lutely cor­rect.” Cre­at­ing a Wider World But the bio­graph­i­cal as­pect wasn’t the only chal­lenge. “When we started this film we thought, Ethel and Ernest, oh that’s good, just two char­ac­ters,” Main­wood says wryly as he flicks through a level-arch file fea­tur­ing 613 char­ac­ter de­signs of the two pro­tag­o­nists and their son ma­tur­ing over the course of 40 years. “Of course, they age and they have dif­fer­ent cloth­ing and all that. And there are ac­tu­ally quite a lot of in­ci­den­tal char­ac­ters as well.”

Aging the char­ac­ters was espe­cially dif­fi­cult in light of the cho­sen an­i­ma­tion style, which was si­mul­ta­ne­ously re­al­is­tic and sim­ple, for ex­am­ple us­ing dots for eyes and min­i­mal lines on the face. “You had to do it just in things like the chin get­ting a bit more jut­ting as they get older as the teeth wore down, or the nose get­ting a lit­tle bit longer, or the neck get­ting a bit more dipped in the shoul­der,” says an­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor Peter Dodd. “Grad­u­ally, they get a lit­tle bit smaller and a lit­tle bit more pinched.”

The crew also was con­scious of pre­serv­ing the book’s un­in­tended ap­pli­ca­tion as a his­tor­i­cal record, since it doc­u­ments the lives of an or­di­nary fam­ily dur­ing one of the most tur­bu­lent and pro­gres­sive epochs in hu­man his­tory, en­com- pass­ing World War II, the ar­rival of the atom bomb, and the sex­ual lib­er­a­tion of the 1960s. “I think it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to fol­low the lives of a cou­ple who were born when horses were on the streets of Lon­don — they were born at a time when there were no air­planes, no cars — and then they grew up and lived through to the point where they see man land­ing on the moon,” Deakin says. “I mean, [

and crew that we have here was ap­peal­ing to all of us,” he says. “It was re­ally just about find­ing the right, com­pelling project to do that with and when this lit­tle gem showed up, we jumped at the op­por­tu­nity.”

The Eisen­bergs worked on sev­eral drafts of the script, which was then re­vised fur­ther into its fi­nal form by Joe Still­man, a vet­eran of the Shrek movies as well as TV hits like Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill.

Fig­ur­ing out what style of an­i­ma­tion to use was a ma­jor de­ci­sion, Vis­cardi says. “We knew we could make a 2D movie, we knew we could make a CG movie, and we were also big fans of stop-mo­tion and those stop-mo­tion hol­i­day spe­cials from when we grow up,” he says. The fi­nal re­sult was choos­ing CG, but us­ing it in a way that brought the tex­tures and feel of stop­mo­tion into the project as well.

That de­ci­sion led to the pro­duc­tion hir­ing as di­rec­tor Max Lang, who di­rected The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom — both Os­car-nom­i­nated an­i­mated shorts — as well as episodes of The Amaz­ing World of Gum­ball.

Ex­e­cut­ing the de­sired look re­quired some re­search, with one of the leads on the show suggest­ing the GPU-based Red­shift ren­der en­gine as a way to save time. “The pro­cess­ing time is re­duced to a frac­tion of what we nor­mally have to deal with,” says Stein­berg. That al­lowed the project to be more it­er­a­tive, but also al­lowed it more band­width for ren­der­ing de­tailed im­ages and in­clud­ing tech­nol­ogy like global il­lu­mi­na­tion. The re­sult was to “cre­ate a whole at­mos­phere and a rich­ness to the pro­duc­tion value of the movie that’s closer to movies that are put out the­atri­cally than to some of the TV work we’ve done be­fore,” Stein­berg says.

It also al­lowed more of the work, in­clud­ing light­ing, ren­der­ing and com­posit­ing, to be brought in-house at Nick’s Burbank stu­dio, while char­ac­ter an­i­ma­tion was han­dled at Bardel in Van­cou­ver. The crew num­bered about 25 on the project.

“The light­ing in the movie is re­ally beau­ti­ful and there’s so many won­der­ful tex­tu­ral de­tails,” says Vis­cardi. Solv­ing for Lo­co­mo­tion One of the ma­jor chal­lenges in an­i­mat­ing Al­bert is that the char­ac­ters are all pot­ted plants.

“We have char­ac­ters that don’t have legs and arms, so to speak, so how do you lit­er­ally get them from point A to point B?” says Vis­cardi. “We had so many con­ver­sa­tions about the pots, how they should move, how they should hop, how they can slide, how they can turn. … And you have char­ac­ters that have in a way mul­ti­ple arms with all the branches. Do you ac­ti­vate them or do you just fo­cus on one or two each to be more tra­di­tion­ally arm-like?”

Ad­di­tion­ally, the story is a jour­ney that starts out on a small scale and builds to a con­clu­sion set in a huge city. “That posed cer­tain chal­lenges of how do you cap­ture New York and that kind of scale with all of the de­tail that we would want to have in it?” says Vis­cardi. “Those were chal­lenges, but I think we found the right way to ad­dress those chal­lenges and suc­ceed de­spite them.”

With the fi­nal touches be­ing put on the show in ad­vance of its Dec. 9 premiere, Vis­cardi says he hopes Al­bert scores well with au­di­ences and also shows the in­dus­try the qual­ity of an­i­ma­tion Nick­elodeon is pro­duc­ing. “We hope peo­ple get to see it and ad­mire it for the qual­ity we’re bring­ing to it,” he says. [

Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where to Find Them

A Mon­ster Calls Fo­cus Fea­tures Re­lease Date: Dec. 23 Di­rec­tor: J.A. Bay­ona VFX Su­per­vi­sor: Félix Bergés

mil­lion U.S.) Di­rec­tor: Dun­can Jones VFX Su­per­vi­sors: Bill Westen­hofer, White, Ja­son Smith Ef­fects Stu­dios: ILM, Hy­bride Tech­nolo­gies, Rodeo FX, Base FX, El Ran­chito, Volta, fx3x, Vir­tuos Awards Chances: This game-based movie made a huge splash over­seas, with its ef­fects tak­ing fine ad­van­tage of ex­ploit­ing the po­ten­tial this ex­tremely pop­u­lar game pre­sented. The visual thrills make this movie a bit of an out­lier, but its in­no­va­tive ap­proaches are just the kind of thing that could ap­peal to the more tech­ni­cal-minded mem­bers of the VFX branch.

Alice Through the Look­ing Glass Dis­ney Re­lease Date: May 27 Box Of­fice: $299 mil­lion world­wide ($77 mil­lion U.S.) Di­rec­tor: James Bobin VFX Su­per­vi­sors: Ken Ralston and Jay Redd Ef­fects Stu­dio: Sony Pic­tures Image­works Para­mount Re­lease Date: Nov. 11 Box Of­fice: $56 mil­lion world­wide ($45 mil­lion U.S) as of Nov. 22. Di­rec­tor: De­nis Vil­leneuve VFX Su­per­vi­sor: Meg­gie Cabral Ef­fects Stu­dios: Frame­store, Rodeo FX, Oblique FX, Hy­bride Tech­nolo­gies, Rey­nault FX, Alchemy 24, MELS Visual Ef­fects, Folks, Fly Stu­dio Dis­ney Re­lease Date: July 1 Box Of­fice: $178 mil­lion world­wide ($55 mil­lion U.S.) Di­rec­tor: Steven Spiel­berg VFX Su­per­vi­sor: Joe Let­teri, Guy Wil­liams Ef­fects Stu­dio: Weta Dig­i­tal

Ghost­busters Sony/Columbia Re­lease Date: July 15 Box Of­fice: $229 mil­lion world­wide ($128 mil­lion U.S.) Di­rec­tor: Paul Feig VFX Su­per­vi­sor: Peter G. Travers Ef­fects Stu­dio: Sony Pic­tures Image­works Dis­ney Dis­trib­u­tor: Buena Vista Re­lease Date: Aug. 12 Box Of­fice: $142 mil­lion world­wide ($76 mil­lion U.S.) Di­rec­tor: David Low­ery VFX Su­per­vi­sor: Eric Sain­don Ef­fects Stu­dios: Weta Dig­i­tal, Dou­ble Neg­a­tive, Crafty Apes, Ex­cep­tional Minds, Peer­less Dig­i­tal Imag­ing Warner Bros. Re­lease Date: Aug. 5 Box Of­fice: $745 mil­lion world­wide ($420 mil­lion U.S.) Di­rec­tor: David Ay­ers VFX Su­per­vi­sor: Jerome Chen Ef­fects Stu­dios: Dig­i­tal Do­main, Lola Visual Ef­fects, Mam­mal Stu­dios, Mist VFX Stu­dio, MPC, Scan­lineVFX, Sony Pic­tures Image­works, Ap­plied Arts FX Stu­dio IMAX Re­lease Date: Oct. 7 Box Of­fice: $55,000 world­wide Di­rec­tor: Ter­rence Mal­ick VFX Su­per­vi­sor: Dan Glass Ef­fects Stu­dios: Method Stu­dios, Dou­ble Neg­a­tive, One of Us, Lock­tix

X-Men: Apoc­a­lypse 20th Cen­tury Fox Re­lease Date: May 27 Box Of­fice: $544 mil­lion world­wide ($155 mil­lion U.S.) Di­rec­tor: Bryan Singer VFX Su­per­vi­sor: John Dyk­stra Ef­fects Stu­dios: Ci­ne­site, Dig­i­tal Do­main, Ex­cep­tional Minds, Hy­draulx, Le­gacy Ef­fects, Lola Visual Ef­fects, MELS, MPC, Ris­ing Sun Pic­tures, Solid FX [

TA­cademy to weigh a record num­ber of qual­i­fy­ing movies in de­cid­ing who to an­nounce as the nom­i­nees on Jan. 24.

he Acad­emy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences an­nounced Nov. 11 a record 27 fea­tures have been sub­mit­ted for con­sid­er­a­tion in the An­i­mated Fea­ture Film cat­e­gory for the 89th Acad­emy Awards. That’s a sharp uptick over last year’s 16 nom­i­nated fea­tures. The sub­mit­ted fea­tures, listed in al­pha­bet­i­cal or­der, are: The An­gry Birds Movie April and the Ex­tra­or­di­nary World Bi­lal Find­ing Dory Ice Age: Col­li­sion Course Kings­glaive: Fi­nal Fan­tasy XV Kubo and the Two Strings Kung Fu Panda 3 The Lit­tle Prince Long Way North Miss Hoku­sai Moana Mon­key King: Hero Is Back Mune Mustafa & the Ma­gi­cian My Life as a Zuc­chini Phan­tom Boy The Red Tur­tle Sausage Party The Se­cret Life of Pets Sing Snow­time! Storks Trolls 25 April Your Name Zootopia

TList will be win­nowed down to five nom­i­nees after De­cem­ber screen­ings for mem­bers of the Short Films and Fea­ture An­i­ma­tion Branch.

he Acad­emy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences an­nounced Nov. 23 that 10 an­i­mated short films will ad­vance in the vot­ing process for the 89th Acad­emy Awards. Sixty-nine pic­tures had orig­i­nally qual­i­fied in the cat­e­gory.

Mem­bers of the Short Films and Fea­ture An­i­ma­tion Branch viewed all the el­i­gi­ble en­tries for the pre­lim­i­nary round of vot­ing. Branch mem­bers will now se­lect five nom­i­nees from among the 10 ti­tles on the short­list. Branch screen­ings will be held in Los An­ge­les, Lon­don, New York and San Fran­cisco in De­cem­ber.

The 10 films are listed be­low in al­pha­bet­i­cal or­der by ti­tle, with their pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies: Theodore Ushev, di­rec­tor (Na­tional Film Board of Canada) An­drew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj, di­rec­tors (Quo­rum Films) Jan Saska, di­rec­tor (FAMU — Film and TV School of the Acad­emy of Per­form­ing Arts in Prague) Franck Dion, di­rec­tor (Papy3D Pro­duc­tions, Na­tional Film Board of Canada and ARTE France Cin­ema Depart­ment) Leo Mat­suda, di­rec­tor, and Sean Lurie, pro­ducer (Walt Dis­ney An­i­ma­tion Stu­dios) Alicja Jasina, di­rec­tor (Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia) Robert Val­ley, di­rec­tor, and Cara Speller, pro­ducer (Mas­sive Swerve Stu­dios and Pas­sion Pic­tures An­i­ma­tion) Patrick Os­borne, di­rec­tor (Google Spot­light Sto­ries/ Evil Eye Pic­tures) Alan Bar­il­laro, di­rec­tor, and Marc Sond­heimer, pro­ducer (Pixar An­i­ma­tion Stu­dios) Marie-Chris­tine Courtès, di­rec­tor, and Lu­di­vine Berthouloux, art di­rec­tor (Vive­ment Lundi! and No­van­ima)

The sum­mer of 1987 is no­table for many rea­sons, not least of which is the pub­li­ca­tion of the first is­sue of An­i­ma­tion Magazine! Thirty years later, those of us who work at the magazine are thrilled to cel­e­brate this mile­stone with our part­ners, read­ers, ad­ver­tis­ers and the rest of the an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try.

The big party will oc­cur this sum­mer in the June is­sue — plan­ning is al­ready un­der­way — but with this be­ing the first is­sue dated 2017, we’re go­ing to get things started now and carry it all through the year, start­ing with a ret­ro­spec­tive of back is­sues that pro­vide an amaz­ing time cap­sule of both the magazine and the an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try it cov­ers.

We en­cour­age you to share in the fun. Old is­sues will be avail­able for read­ing on­line and, for those of you who still love pa­per the way we still love pa­per, printed mag­a­zines are still avail­able for pur­chase in lim­ited quan­ti­ties on­line at our web shop.

Let’s start, ap­pro­pri­ately, at the be­gin­ning. The premiere is­sue of An­i­ma­tion Magazine was pub­lished in Au­gust 1987 along with the pro­gram for the sec­ond Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional An­i­ma­tion Cel­e­bra­tion.

The fes­ti­val, which ran from 1986-2001, was the first ma­jor an­i­ma­tion fes­ti­val in the United States. The magazine was in­spired by the over­whelm­ing re­sponse to An­i­ma­tion News, a news­pa­per that was dis­trib­uted to the an­i­ma­tion com­mu­nity for six months prior to the launch of the first is­sue of the magazine, to pro­mote the Tournées of An­i­ma­tion, the short-film com­pi­la­tions pro­duced by the magazine’s founder, Terry Thoren.

For those of you who weren’t around, the 1980s was a time be­fore the in­ter­net. When an­i­ma­tion fans were lucky to get one ma­jor stu­dio fea­ture a year, TV an­i­ma­tion mostly still aired only on Satur­day morn­ings, and CG an­i­ma­tion was in its in­fancy.

A good ex­am­ple of the way things were oc­curs on page eight of the premiere is­sue, which fea­tures a re­port on ru­mors that the $7 bil­lion CG-an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try was dy­ing, in spite of pre­dic­tions that it would grow to be a

A young boy nick­named “Zuc­chini” is sent to live at a foster home with other or­phans after the deaths of his par­ents in Claude Bar­ras’

Lu­pus Films’ an­i­mated adap­ta­tion of Ethel & Ernest fol­lows the true story of a cou­ple’s re­la­tion­ship through four decades in which mod­ern tech­nol­ogy trans­formed the way peo­ple live.

Di­rec­tor Roger Main­wood and pro­ducer Camilla Deakin (above) pro­duced much of Ethel & Ernest in house at Lu­pus Films.

In Nick’s an­i­mated movie Al­bert, a Dou­glas fir tree as­pires to be a big-city Christ­mas tree, a dream he pur­sues with his friends Maisie the palm tree and Gene the weed.

Pan­elists Larry Cut­ler, Ed Lantz, Marco Marenghi, Matt Sil­ver­man and mod­er­a­tor David Klee­man dis­cuss vir­tual re­al­ity at the World An­i­ma­tion & VFX Sum­mit.

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