Disclosure: I attended an all expenses paid trip to Pixar. All opinions in Architecture, Design, Urban Planning and Action Scenes | Animating Incredibles 2 are mine.
Creating the Worlds of Incredibles 2
When I watch a movie, whether live action or animated, I don’t think about everything that goes into making it. I just enjoy the experience of watching the movie. I mean, I know there are lots of people working on different parts, but that isn’t what I’m focusing on while watching. That’s because everything comes together seamlessly. I appreciate all of the parts as a whole.
Attending an event like I did at Pixar made me appreciate the parts as parts more. You’ll see what I mean.
Architecture, Design, and Urban Planning in Animation
Part of what makes an animated film great is the amount of effort that goes into the architecture, design, and urban planning. All the little details are given a lot of thought.
Production Designer Ralph Eggleston and Shading Art Director Bryn Imagire
Before those little details can fall into place, though, there’s got to be a big picture. That big picture is set by the production designer. In the case of INCREDIBLES 2, the big picture was pretty much already in place because THE INCREDIBLES world already existed. That world exists in the late 1950s/early 1960s. It’s mid-century modern and is way cool!
Creating the world of a film is as important as creating the characters because the world is like a character. It’s got a life of its own. The INCREDIBLES 2 world took a lot of planning. The urban planners designed the environment and architecture; props, set dressing, plants, costumes, textures, and lighting studies had to be carefully thought out as well.
When it came to designing the world, Production Designer Ralph Eggleston and Shading Art Director Bryn Imagire (whom we got to know during the Wardrobe and Costuming Presentation) got their inspiration from the mid-century mundane. What daily life looked like during this time period was really important to the film, so they used a lot of sources to get it right.
If you’ve seen the official trailer for INCREDIBLES 2, you know that there is a scene where the Parr family is eating Chinese food. Ralph and Bryn talked about how they made sure they got the packaging for the food right by using some of those sources.
During this presentation we found out that the original house that the Parr family was going to live in for this film was scrapped after it was completely done! Well, not totally scrapped because it does show up in the film, and the furnishings and things were still used. The original house, which took 6 months to complete, was a 2300 square foot house…the new one was over 20,000 square feet, and it had to be finished in 3 weeks’ time!
Eggleston and Imagire got a lot of their inspiration for the home and furnishings from Palm Springs. They toured over 30 houses, took lots of pictures, and talked to the owners. They picked ideas that told the story of that particular time period. When you watch INCREDIBLES 2, take time to look around the set. Think about how much work went into choosing a particular fabric for a sofa or pattern for wallpaper. All of those little details tell the story.
Visual Designer Philip Metschan
Another person who is part of the “big picture” in INCREDIBLES 2 is Visual Designer Philip Metschan. His job as visual designer is to give the entire production team a rough sketch, so they can all work from the same idea and vision of their world. From that rough sketch, a 3D scale model is made. This gives them a scale which helps each team know exactly how much space they’ve got to work with. It helps the animators know where the action can take place. The set designers can see where they’ll place the furniture and how big each piece can be.
Let’s go back to the scene at the table where the Parr family is eating dinner. Is that table going to fit into the space the visual designer has given them? Are the family members going to be too close or too far apart? Using the 3D model allows the designers to “move” throughout the space which, in turn, makes the film work better.
Sets Supervisor Nathan Fariss
Sets Supervisor Nathan Fariss has about 55 people on team, and these people make up five groups within the set department. These groups took all the concept art and reference and turned it into the environment and sets.
- Modeling: The modeling team consists of sculptors, upholsterers, urban planners, and architects who build 3D shapes of everything! They make everything by hand, and they start from scratch. There are no freebies in INCREDIBLES 2. These 10 modelers made everything from bikes and banisters to toasters and towels. They end up with a warehouse full of props which go to set dressing.
- Set Dressing: This team puts the props in place. They take menus, silverware and placemats and turn those into a restaurant ready for people. They take the empty spaces and fill them with props. Spaces look lived in because of the messy laundry and dirty dishes. This would be the job I’d want at Pixar. It reminds me of playing with a dollhouse….a world of dollhouses!
- Shading: The shading team adds color and texture to the world. They inform the surfaces how to react to light and take the raw 3D shapes and start adding all the things that make them feel real. A lot of the floor in the Parr home is terrazzo, so the shading team takes the different stones, and they mix them together. They choose colors to layer in and then add reflections to break them up. Different stones get different light. And since floors aren’t always clean, they add dirt to make it look like a real floor.
- Set extensions and skies: The set extensions team is in charge of urban planning. In INCREDIBLES 2, they made a 3D city to place in the background, so they could see exactly where things take place. This city consists of suburbs, downtown, warehouses, etc. This team is also in charge of making clouds for the skies. They work hand in hand with lighting to make the skies look realistic. Adding vegetation to the world is another important part of their jobs. Sometimes they just add a few tiny details to that make a big difference like adding dead leaves to a swimming pool. It’s the little details that make a movie so realistic.
- Sets tech: Sets tech members are the unsung heroes. They spend a lot of time removing stuff that the others put in because it’s usually far too much for a computer to handle. They trim off stuff that isn’t needed in the scenes.
Isn’t it amazing how all of these little things make such a huge difference? I loved seeing this presentation because it gave me such an appreciation of all the work that went into creating the worlds of INCREDIBLES 2.
Anatomy of an Action Scene
Just by looking at the INCREDIBLES 2 poster and reading the synopsis, you can tell this is an action movie!
In INCREDIBLES 2 Helen is called on to lead a campaign to bring Supers back, while Bob navigates the day-to-day heroics of “normal” life at home with Violet, Dash and baby Jack-Jack—whose super powers are about to be discovered. Their mission is derailed, however, when a new villain emerges with a brilliant and dangerous plot that threatens everything. But the Parrs don’t shy away from a challenge, especially with Frozone by their side. That’s what makes this family so Incredible.
As you can imagine, animating an action scene is intense! In the trailer for INCREDIBLES 2, you see a small snippet of the runaway train scene. We were able to see this scene in it entirety during this event, and this is the scene the action animation team broke down for us.
The action animation team
Story Supervisor Ted Mathot
Just like creating the world of INCREDIBLES 2 started with a rough sketch, so does animating an action scene. The runaway train sequence starts out with drawings and roughed in voices, music and sound effects.
We know Pixar, right? They strive for perfection in each movie, so even though a rough beginning might be great, they always want it to be better. Adding more active participants to a scene is one way the team made this sequence even better than it was in the beginning.
Since Helen was the only active participant in the runaway train sequence, the team felt like adding police cars would be a great way to do that. Not only does it add to the scene, it adds to the story. Helen is the only one who can get through the tangle of traffic to get to the train. The police cars just can’t fit. This helps prove the case that Supers should be legal again.
Another way they added to the scene was Helen getting a phone call from home. Here she is, chasing after a runaway train, when a “problem” arises at home. Pixar loves to balance the super with the mundane, and this phone call does that.
Finally, Helen stopping the train was changed to include her stopping the train by using a super power only she possesses. Again, that helps prove the case that supers need to be legal.
Layout Supervisor Mahyar Abousaeedi
Another part of animating an action scene is making sure that the action can take place in the space available.
It’s the layout team’s job to make sure that these characters doing the stunts actually look like they’re doing the stunt and not looking like a flea jumping around. That’s what Helen looked like before layout decided that the buildings were going to have to be further apart for Helen to stretch and use her super powers to jump from building to building. The urban planning and design folks had to change the space in order for Helen to move naturally. With the buildings moved further apart, her movements looked more fluid than frantic.
Everything that layout changed from this scene was again adding to the story. They were making the action specific to Helen which in turn supports the fact that Supers should be legal.
Animator Kureha Yokoo
Since Kureha Yokoo’s supervisor knew she used to ride motorcycles, he asked her to be involved in the design of the Elasticycle. The only real input she was given was that it should be cool, its form should follow its function, and it should be an extension of Helen and showcase her strengths.
Once they figured out the idea that the bike should reveal itself to the audience, they had to get into the real design issues. All these design issues and the way they worked through them, again, make this film so realistic. They think about where Helen will put her knees and elbows on the bike. They look at the structure of the bike and figure out if what they’re making it do could actually work.
A big part of animating this sequence with Helen on the Elasticycle was making sure that the audience knows Helen is in peril at times. Yes, she has super powers, but she isn’t infalible. When she’s using the Elasticycle, there are times when she’s got to wobble and almost miss a jump. That keeps us involved….it makes us care about Helen’s safety. If we knew she couldn’t fail, why would we care?
Effects Artist Amit Baadkar
This was my favorite part of this presentation, and I’ll tell you why in a bit. And, no, it’s not because I want to blow stuff up…
An effects artist’s job is creating and animating fire, water, smoke, and other dynamic phenomenon. They want them to look as real as possible. One effect can take anywhere from seconds to several hours depending on how complex the effect is.
During the runaway train sequence, six animators worked on glass destruction, sparks, smoke, and explosions.
- Glass destruction: In the train sequence, Helen has a moment where she breaks through warehouse windows on her Elasticycle. The team worked really hard on making sure the audience could feel that impact of Helen breaking the glass. They worked hand in hand with lighting to be sure the glass was visible on screen.
- Smoke: When the Elasticycle is skidding on different surfaces, the effects team wants that smoke to look like it would “in real life.” Tire smoke is a supporting effect. They want the audience to “feel” the effect but not draw attention away from the action of Helen actually skidding on the Elasticycle.
- Sparks: When the train falls onto the track, a lot of sparks are generated. This helps tell the story by conveying danger and a loss of control. The people on the train are in peril! They’re in big trouble if Helen doesn’t get to them. Are the sparks the main element in the scene? No. But they support the action.
- Explosions: There’s a big explosion in the runaway train sequence. I won’t tell you what it is just yet, but it is very cool. This isn’t a supporting effect. It’s a hero effect. This effect takes center stage during the scene. The goal of this explosion was to convey intense heat and near-miss danger.
Why was this my favorite part? When it was time for questions, I asked Amit what was the hardest element to animate (fire, water, earth, air)? He answered water. He went on to explain a little bit about how difficult it is to make water effects which was very cool, but that’s not my favorite thing. As we were walking out I asked him what his favorite effect to work on was, and again his answer was water. Even though it is the hardest effect to create, it’s his favorite to do.
What a lesson we can learn from this. Do the hard thing. Don’t just take the easy job. You never know how much joy you will get from doing the hard thing unless you try it.
Progression of a Scene
Finally, the animation team showed us these photos which represent the progression of a scene. Each department is important. There’s another lesson right there. Just because the draft artists aren’t animating explosions doesn’t mean they’re not essential to the film. And how flat would INCREDIBLES 2 look without lighting? You’re important. It doesn’t matter if you’re the big explosion during a runaway train sequence or the soft lighting during a bedtime story. You are essential. Don’t ever forget that.
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INCREDIBLES 2 opens in theatres everywhere on June 15th!
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