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January 17, 2007

The Spider and The Rat

"Tippett Studio's animated dogs, cats, bears, bunnies and other animals have starred in many films and TV commercials, so creating yet another furry creature wasn't the challenge; the studio's "furocious" software, which works with Autodesk's Maya and is rendered through Pixar's RenderMan, would be up to the task. The challenge for the studio was in making the rat believable in scenes with the live action animals, even though Templeton talked and behaved in ways a real rat wouldn't."

"Because filming took place in Melbourne, visual effects supervisor Blair Clark worked on set with Berton and director Gary Winick while Co-VFX Supervisor Joel Friesch managed the crew in Berkeley who built Templeton. Once the show moved into production, the two vfx supes shared the challenges."

"For reference, they bought a real rat from a snake vivarium, which they named Master Splinter. "The rat looked like Templeton," says Friesch. "But Paramount wanted a white rat. We explained that white rats are lab rats." Eventually, they compromised by giving Templeton a warm gray coat. Meanwhile, the real rat helped animators develop Templeton’s performance. In the film, Templeton scurries through the barn, drops down into his rat hole, runs across a net, through a tunnel, drinks from a wax soda bottle, wallows in buttermilk, and covers himself with caramel corn and mustard."

Crawl on over to CGSociety.org for the good looking article:

At the studio, because the Tippett crew wanted to see real rat behavior, they didn’t attempt to tame Master Splinter. Sometimes to a painful degree: “We fed him through the cage to see how he tried to grab with his mouth and front legs,” says Friesch. “I got bitten six times and infected once. He bit everyone.”

But, by filming and observing the real rat, the crew developed a sense of a rat’s heart rate and breathing, how a rat ran and crawled, and how he moved his muzzle and cleaned himself. Todd Labonte, Tippett animation supervisor, twice bitten by Master Splinter, also used video reference of New York City rats to develop Templeton’s gross body movements.

“Todd and the animators were always walking a fine line,” says Clark. “Templeton is anthropomorphic - he interacts with props in a humanistic way. But he had to read as a real rat. They didn’t want him to act like Stuart Little, and yet he looks at mirrors and plops on beds.”

Labonte drew that fine line by attending to tiny details, from the tail to the ears. “His tail was tricky,” he says. “A rat’s tail is extremely stiff and unappealing. A rat holds its tail off the ground and it looks fake, like a tree branch. We wanted it to be pleasing to the eye, to add follow-through. So, sometimes we stuck his tail in the ground or obscured it with straw and put on another next to it.”

To control Templeton, animators working in Autodesk’s Maya used multiple rigs. With these rigs, they could, for example, move the rodent’s rear without affecting the front of his body and could give his tail inverse kinematics for ground contact, but forward kinematics for flopping.

Labonte springs out of his chair to demonstrate some rat behavior. “Like all animals and babies, the rat leads from the head,” he says, looking left and right, his shoulders following. “The eyes lead everything with a slight delay.”

Then, he continued describing how they animated Templeton. “When he decides to stop, his back legs pull up and he becomes a furry ball,” Labonte says. “He never stands; he pushes back on his haunches and sits. And when he’s walking on four legs, he has a particular waddle. He has a ton of butt motion - lots of junk in the trunk.”

To create the waddle, the animators pushed Templeton’s pelvis up with each step. The rat would scoot, his pelvis would roll, and then the animators would pop his back legs quickly. “There’s a scene when he’s walking along the trough with that big butt that’s fantastic,” Labonte says. “His tail is there just for leverage, he couldn’t wag it like a dog or cat.”

Templeton didn’t express emotion with his ears, either. “They’re just listening devices,” says Labonte. And, unlike Stuart Little, he didn’t gesture with his hands. “The finger work on Stuart Little was really cool,” Labonte says, “but it doesn’t work in the barnyard. We kept his hands like little mittens in front of his body.”

For Templeton’s face, the animators used a series of small, incremental blend shapes. “There aren’t any brows, so we used a lot of sliding flesh on the forehead,” Labonte says. And, to keep him from looking too rat like and scary, the animators played him nose down - no teeth.

“He has to do a lot with his nose,” says Labonte. “He has extremely small whites in his eyes. We didn’t make him wide-eyed, so we couldn’t do any eye rolls. And, his facial performance was often deadened by fur. It’s like if you cover your face in three-inch thick paste. It doesn’t telegraph subtlety.”

When animators blocked out Templeton’s actions in low res, they could toggle a shell that gave them a sense of how much the fur would affect the silhouette. “We’d have him do his rat thing,” Labonte says. “He’d sniff, talk, move his nose back and forth. We’d make sure his metabolism matched the [voice track], and then we’d nail the lip synch. Steve Buscemi’s performance was so juicy that we never had to overplay the performance.”

Although Templeton often appears in shots with other animals, usually the camera switches from one to the other because the scale is so different - particularly, when Templeton talks to Charlotte the spider. Sometimes though, characters created in various studios shared shots. Berton managed the compositing chaos at Paramount.

“Everyone played ball,” Berton says. “Everybody understood that it was necessary to share images. We were very clear about what we wanted from the vendors so that everyone was sending the same file sizes.” Berton used iChat and CineSync, developed by Rising Sun Research, which allowed the studios to view dailies using QuickTime over the Internet - a particular advantage once Berton moved back to California while work on Charlotte and other characters continued in Australia.

-care of CGSociety.org


Posted by dschnee at January 17, 2007 7:24 AM