Rigging was accomplished using Pixar’s propriety software, Geppetto. Clocking in at around a thousand controls, WALL•E sported options that would allow for an endless range of expressive animation, but most of those controls were in the complicated tread mechanism. The treads were designed similar to a stretchy metal watch-band and had to change as his wheels changed configuration. To maintain the integrity of a robot, the treads were modeled and rigged with rotation bits in between the tread lengths, allowing the overall tread belt length to stretch without actually deforming any pieces. The treads could also be rotated out of place when they needed to accrue additional damage.
|There were controls to help keep the treads locked to the ground and conform to the ground contour, or for when WALL•E was traveling over uneven terrain, rocks and bumps. This required a proprietary type of collision detection, allowing the Pixar team to take a sampling of the ground immediately around WALL•E and figure out how the tread needed to tilt or angle. Lee and the other riggers spent roughly three months rigging the tread alone. Almost all of the rigging is modeled after real-world limitations, with the only deformations a few extension rods that extent beyond their actual capability, some hoses that extend from the back of WALL•E’s head, a few cheats to the treads early in the film that allows them to stretch slightly in order to wrap nicely around the wheels, and a clever little in-house program called the “plane repulsor”.|
|WALL•E had to show an array of emotions through body language and binocular eyes with metal flaps that doubled as eyebrows, portraying happiness, sadness, and some anger, though the temper most often belonged to Eve. “The modelers were very smart in the way they built just enough in there so you actually feel like you are seeing an entire face. It’s an amazing trick because the face isn’t there, but you feel it. It’s almost all in the eyes and the brows and the tilt of the head or the stretch in the neck.”|
|With so many utility tools folding in and out of WALL•E, coupled with the need to keep his body a hollow cavity into which he can load and compact garbage, geometry intersection became a concern. To solve this, Lee made full use of the plane repulsor, a simple but handy program designed for ‘Ratatouille’ to keep the rat’s giant eyeballs from poking through the roofs of their mouths. The program works by forcing points to collapse against a plane as it comes into his body. As WALL•E boxes and unboxes, the geometry collapses and uncollapses, stacking in planes inside and expanding to full geometry on the outside. By using this feature, WALL•E was able to convincingly carry all his handy gizmos inside without them poking through to his hollow center. |
|As the design for WALL•E was working its way to its final stages, the animators were busy greasing the gears to give the character life. Animator Doug Frankel worked closely with Directing Animator Angus MacLane, whom Frankel credits as a genius when it comes to animating robots. Frankel was grateful for the guidance. “Be careful what you wish for! A lot of us always wish for pure pantomime and not so much wisecracking dialogue. In this case that pretty much landed on us full force. We had to pull off a movie with close to no dialogue with these robots. That mean pantomime became super important and it really tested us as animators because we had to make everything read and communicate purely with body motion.”|
|By tilting the outside corners of the eyes downward, WALL•E could look painfully sad. Straight across and he reads as stern. Clear silhouettes were key. The team worked hard to portray what WALL•E was thinking. One rigger created a fake refraction to add a sort of depth to the eyes, a window to the soul, instead of appearing lifeless and mechanical. |
The end result was a thinking, feeling character who communicated through binoculars and camera lenses only using posture and mechanical rotations and brilliant odd little sounds that hinted at words or emotions, created by the same artist who did the sounds for R2D2.
|“It comes down to clear staging and clear beats,” said Frankel. “One of the main things that animators do is to plan out their shots so that they just introduce one idea at a time. That way your audience can follow what the character is thinking or trying to do in each moment. You see the interaction between the two characters is handed off to each other and they don’t step on each other’s moments. It doesn’t mean there can’t be frenetic action, but every single shot is planned so carefully that you only get one idea as you are watching it. That’s a critical thing in terms of understanding.”||The love interest, Eve, is a highly advanced robot whose head and arms do not connect to her torso. A little bit of bounciness between the parts really brought her to life. Frankel’s first scene was Eve and WALL•E together, trying to escape as they are chased through a space ship. He turned in what he thought was a perfectly choreographed animation before leaving on vacation, but on return, discovered it looked much better than before.|
The Eve character, finely honed.
|In his absence, his Animation Supervisor, Alan Barillaro, made Eve slightly bouncier, which completely brought her to life. “It’s a lesson as to how far to push these characters to give them the punch they need. I realized they can be really cartooney and it still look very believable in the context of this movie. It sounds weird, but when she moves, it can look really beautiful. She never feels like separate parts. That was a challenge for everybody to learn off the bat, how cartooney and how realistic are we going to be? Ultimately, if you don’t get the right balance, it looks too stiff or looks too goofy. It’s this magical combination of so alive and yet so mechanical at the same time.”|