We all have monsters. Monsters in our conscience, in our memories, in ourselves; and all of
them explain a little story about what we are. In “A Monster Calls” the monster tells Conor
(Lewis MacDougall) three stories. Two of these stories have been created by Glassworks,
together with Headless.


Headless, an animation studio located in Barcelona, was already working with J. A. Bayona
in the creative direction of the tales, when Glassworks joined the project. “This was a very
special order, with non-standard premises. The director wanted an animation never seen
before, his aim was to create something visually new and outstanding. Which meant a
technical and creative challenge for us” explains Javier Verdugo, head of 3D at Glassworks
Barcelona. In addition, these animated tales should be linked with the paintings made by
Conor. Both pieces should be integrated in the artistic universe of the main character, who
invokes the monster and its fables through his drawings. “The means were not the essential,
the essential was the end. And the end was the tales to look like paintings” adds Verdugo.
The art connects Conor and his mother, and the tales wanted to remind the outline and the
colors of their paintings.


Both tales started from the concepts designed by Headless. More than 250 concepts, one for
each shot, that became the foundations of Glassworks’ job. Test shots, techniques research
and a tenacious work of trial and error, were necessary to translate the visual ideas drawn up
in paper into moving images. This way, based on extremely pictorial drawings, a 3D animated
world was raised, to provide afterwards a finishing touch that looked like illustration. With the
aim that any of the frames which formed these pieces could have been one of Headless’
concepts.


The tales are metaphors of recurring subjects in the film: the fear of loss, the thin line between
good and evil or, simply, that things are not always how they look like. Animated interludes,
but not independent parts of the main plot. For this reason, it was important that both
universes, the real world and he animated story, lived together. In this sense, it was essential
to do a proper integration not only narratively speaking, but also in an aesthetic sense. So, for
example, “Tale 1” uses a technique close to watercolor, has a less realistic design, is flatter
and has no textures. However, “Tale 2” is closer to stop motion or miniature; and despite it
preserves some craftwork feeling in the painting, some elements have more volume, so their
transition to the real world is more organic. Actually, the end of the second tale coexists with
Conor during the house destruction scene –whose VFX were also made by Glassworks–.
“We wanted the transitions from one shot to the other to be a continuum, to be linked as an
animated sequence shot” says Javier Verdugo. To the challenge of generating transitions that
worked as a new shot, tricky and incessant camera movements were added. Rotations, spins,
travellings and pannings that provide dynamism to the tales, and keep the interest of the
audience. The job was done 24fps, but occasionally frames were repeated or its speed was
slowed down in order to create visual effects; delicate details that maybe are not noticed at
first sight, but enrich the pieces.


A team composed by more than 30 artists from different disciplines worked tirelessly during
one year and a half. All the work was done in 3D ?modelling, texturizing, rigging, illumination,
animation? with realistic quality and, from there, it was transferred to a 2D look. Very different
showers were used, and after all the work was done each frame was painted again, so the
tales were unified and the feeling of drawing was magnified. Huge amounts of data were
managed, massive render hours were needed and tons of compo layers were used in order
to harmonize the different techniques.


“A Monster Calls” fables help understanding episodes of reality that are difficult to explain
through traditional narrative. And this is also the mission of the making-of that Glassworks has
prepared about these two animated oasis. A route through the most intimate parts of these
tales, that unveils the magic of the VFX and the art of creating fantastic realities.