Ferdinand’s Triumphant Journey
How director Carlos Saldanha and his team at Blue Sky delivered a lovely CG-animated movie with a powerful message inspired by the classic children’s book. By Ramin Zahed
danha and Forte point out that the deeply layered messages of the property allowed them to expand the storyline in a logical fashion. “The more research we did, the more it became obvious to us that people can interpret the story in so many different ways,” notes Saldanha. “Our story has a deeper meaning in the difficult world that we all live in today. The other characters that we added to the movie also share the same issues as Ferdinand.”
A Spanish Sojourn As both the book and the movie are set in colorful and historic places in Spain, Saldanha and his team made a special trip to the country to seek visual inspiration and authentic backdrops for their project. “We were inspired by the beauty of the landscapes and unique architecture of Spain,” says the director. “The color palette of the movie has a lot of earth tones to it, and is very different from the tropical colors that we used in the Rio movies. We took in the magnificent architecture of some of the cities and traveled south to the lovely region of Andalusia.”
The mountaintop city of Ronda in Spain’s Málaga province inspired the location for the farm where Ferdinand finds happiness with the young girl Mina and her father. “We wanted the art to reflect the beauty of this world,” explains Saldanha. “We wanted the locations to express the possibilities of an animated movie, but also be truthful to the art, history and culture of Spain.” A Marriage of Art and Technology Thanks to the latest advancements in CG technology, the artists and technical teams at Blue Sky were able to deliver animation that is meticulous in its attention to detail — from each blade of grass in the field, to the texture of a matador’s cape, to the play of light and shadow in the landscape of Andalusia.
“Every year, we develop new versions of the proprietary rendering software at Blue Sky [called CGI Studio],” explains Saldanha. “We made the best use of the technology to make a big artistic impression. Ferdinand is not a movie with huge special effects. Our goal was to best use the technology to create the right look that helps serve the art direction and the lighting. Everything has been ray-traced meticulously, and it looks beautiful. The team succeeded in solving complex challenges in the depiction of the crowd scenes as well. They were able to pull it off in a way in a very subtle way, so that the technology isn’t overtly obvious on the screen.”
Ferdinand is Blue Sky Studios’ 12th animated feature. It’s the studio’s seventh feature directed or co-directed by Carlos Saldanha. First published in 1936, The Story of Ferdinand written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson has been translated into more than 60 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide. Leaf wrote the story on a whim in an afternoon in 1935, mostly to provide his friend Lawson with a project to showcase his talents. A first-edition copy of the The Story of Ferdinand sold for $16,500 in 2014. The story was adapted by Walt Disney as a short animated film titled Ferdinand the Bull in 1938. Directed by Dick Rickard, Ferdinand the Bull won the 1938 Academy Award for Best Short Subject Cartoon.
A Boyhood Memory The idea for the story had been gestating a long time: As a boy, Renner visited family friends who had a farm near Montauban in southern France. “Once, I was sitting by an incubator and the chicks were about to hatch,” he recalls. “My father told me, ‘If you stay here, the chickens will see you when they hatch. They’ll think you’re their mother and you will have to take care of them.’ I went away immediately, because I was too scared to be a single mom at six.”
The idea that chicks might regard him or some other inappropriate creature as their mother puzzled Renner. “For years, I wondered how can this happen,” he continues. “What if they see a dog or a fox? When I was a teenager, I started to make some drawings about the fox with the chickens. I always told myself, I will tell this story some day. After I finished Ernest & Celestine,
where the stories unfold. “We really wanted the film to have a watercolor effect. Watercolor is a technique you often use when you sketch, so there’s a very spontaneous feeling to it, which is why I wanted to add it,” Renner says. “We cheated a little because we did it on computers, so it’s not as spontaneous, but it has a feeling of spontaneity. We tried to incorporate watercolor stains here and there we couldn’t control, and we’re pretty happy with the result. We were lucky to work with Zazyk (two artists who use that joint pseudonym when they collaborate), who were the lead background artists on Ernest and Celestine.”
“I think the watercolor also makes a film look warmer,” concludes Imbert. “The computer tends to make things look flat and the result can feel cold. Full HD resolution is so precise when you see it on TV; if you want a film to look like the good old days, you have to go inside the computer and ‘break’ something to give the art the correct feeling.” GKIDS will release The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales in U.S. theaters in February 2018.