• Ice Age - The Meltdown
    Carlos Saldanha of Blue Sky never had cold feet when he jumped into making “Ice Age: The Meltdown”. Four years after the release of the first “Ice Age”, he is back with the cast of characters plus a few new ones, with some great comic relief scenes from Scrat. Blue Sky’s goal was to create a heart-warming film while pushing the envelope. It was a labor of love every day, for the team that grew to roughly 300 people.
    Carlos’s focus was first on the story and script to get the look of the movie. “In the first year of preproduction, we were working with a smaller team, hashing out script writing, storyboarding and concept drawings, plus preparing sequences on the computer, models for the characters and environments, and character development.” He strived to give every character special qualities. Manny was a big guy with a big heart and principles to do the right thing. Ellie added a lot of strength to the plot with a soothing voice, but she knew who she was. “She was a mammoth on the outside and a possum on the inside. And she was very determined.”
    Possums
    Scrat
    “The possums were so much fun to animate, we just fell in love with them,” adds Carlos. “It was a challenge to animate the tail, for the riggers and animators alike. The possums had to hang upside-down, and the tail was required to roll out and whip around. The extreme poses required the fur team and the riggers to push for a highly physical performance. And Scrat with his quest for acorns would always steal the show. Blue Sky came up with key elements to give Scrat time to develop his own story arc. There is a lot of Scrat in everybody, in that we keep going after objectives. Not always succeeding, but never giving up.” Next was the layout, discovering the cameras, and finding the environments. “We did a lot of previs,” says Carlos, “I’m a huge previs fan. I love visualizing the sequences.”

    Carlos paid special attention to the storyboarding, and used After Effects to work out the timing. They animated a few of the 2D panels to make it feel real, and worked out the action sequences in 3D before committing to extensive decisions in modeling. “Instead of using NURBS, we used SubD’s, so even though we had the characters from the last movie, we had to remodel them for this one. The fur worked better with the SubD’s. It had to have its own characteristics, and we had to make sure the fur would react properly to the water and the wind”. They created various stages to the fur: dry, wet, and under-water wet, all in pre-production, preparing everything so that when it got to animation, all they had to do was animate.
    spacer
    Scrat
    Carlos found the most challenging sequences were the close-ups. He strove to make the characters eyes appear alive and not mechanical. “You want the facial expressions to work. I wanted it to be so that if you looked into their eyes, you would know what they were thinking.” He often focused more time on the eyes than on a scene where they had 60 animated characters. He found that by finessing a light shift here, or a half a squint there, or slightly dilating the pupil that the global impression delivered the information. He didn’t know if the audience would see the actual changes, but strove to deliver the warmth of the characters through a more instinctive level of perception.
    Eyes
    Scrat
    Scrat
    Horizontal Line
     
  • Ice Age - The Meltdown
    Blue Sky used a variety of fur techniques, such as letting the water level define the wetness of the fur. There is one scene Carlos is particularly proud of, where the possums wake up and fall from their perch into the water below, then pop their heads up, leaving them half wet and half underwater. The fur above the water level is wet and matted, but the part that is in the water flows every time the possums move. “We used Blue Sky’s proprietary software, CGI Studio, for the effect.

    Our geniuses came up with the techniques that gave the animators a lot of freedom. We could visualize it in Maya, and control the parameters such as wind and gravity. The fur was our biggest challenge; and our biggest joy.”
    Scrat
    Journey
    Scrat
    CGI Studio has evolved since the 1998 short, “Bunny”. The lighting capabilities are similar, but the software has been optimized it to make it better. “On “Bunny” it was a very slow software, and is still is a little slower than other renderers, but it’s very powerful. You have a lot of creative freedom to either stylize your look or make it realistic.” There have been improvements like the fur and the variety of water capabilities.

    “We had never done this much water in a movie. The first “Ice Age” had water, but only in a couple of sequences. We had to develop a whole new technique to make the water look good, and feel good.” Blue Sky did the froth on the top of the water in CGI Studio as well. “At one point we were questioning if we could have this much water in the movie, but little by little we pulled it off.”

    Both GI and direct lighting were used to achieve the look Carlos was going for. They took a bit of a live action approach, and added rim lighting and highlighting effects. There was a tremendous amount of information to render. “We were rendering until just a month before release. In the early stages, we had something like two million hairs per character and one test frame took 100 hours.” They reduced the render time to an estimate Carlos figured was an average of about 15 hours per frame. “CGI Studio is pretty realistic as far as reflections and refractions, so everything you add to the process increases the render time. We had to find ways to optimize it.”

    The focus was to keep the audience engaged on the message of the film, while creating effects that merely enhance the story. “I want film to be entertaining. I don’t want it to become like reality shows or all about technology. I want it to be about the basics, to cry, to laugh. I love to see beautiful work come out of technology, but I don’t want to loose the heart.”

    Carlos offered a great deal of praise for the Blue Sky team. “If people like what they are doing, it will come out in the work. That sums up the Blue Sky family. They are like great warriors, and they made it happen.“

    Related links:
    Blue Sky Studios
    Ice Age 2
    Trailer on Apple


    Horizontal Line

blog comments powered by Disqus