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CGW.COM | EDITION - 4, 2018 | $8.00 US | $8.25 CAN
‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ finds many opportunities
to transform action beats into memorably beautiful visions.”
Visual Effects Supervisors
SFX Supervisor
Creature FX Creative Supervisor
on the cover
12 spoiler alert!
Illumination artists
transform the story of the
into a full-length CG feature
film, expanding the story
and using 3D to retell this
tale for a new audience.
Visit for Web-only features and news
Editor’s Note
The holiday season is here, and what better way to
celebrate than at the theater, as studios unwrap
video streaming via VR & visual computing • ILM TV to
target television and streaming services
See it in Post
Post’s Annual Outlook Issue, in which
Artists at MPC, with help from
Rodeo FX and Luma, create a
fantasy world to help move the
familiar Christmas story into
new territory.
Magic in the real world
Visual effects artists give
the Wizarding World’s latest
cinematic adventure a big dose
of digital magic.
Internet explorer
Artists create a vast digital
‘Net universe filled with
characters of all types for
Ralph Breaks the Internet.
red carpet worthy
today’s reality
News: Ryff brings dynamic product placement to OTT
Not Your Father’s
some amazing films filled with VFX and CGI?
Grinch who stole Christmas
Mixing the classic and the new:
Creating the visual effects for
the highly-anticipated Mary
Poppins Returns.
Awards season is upon us, and
the competition is heating up.
Here we look at films to watch..
Virtual is the next, next thing, so
designers beware!
industry pros look at the Strengths,
Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats
(SWOT) of the post market and at trends
coming in the months ahead.
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
c gw
is the season when children and adults alike need to escape the hustle and
bustle of the holidays, and what better way to do that than to enjoy a movie at
the theater? This year there are a lot to choose from: many highly anticipated
releases filled with jaw-dropping visual effects and heartwarming animations.
In each issue of CGW, I try to maintain a balance of topics, with the goal of focusing on
various cutting-edge applications of computer graphics. However, this edition is without
question weighted heavily toward feature films. I realized that when planning the issue,
but, I felt CGW would be remiss if it did not bring you these stories.
Let’s start out with some holiday spirit. And, what better way to get into the mood
than with The Nutcracker? Some of you may have seen the ballet, perhaps taking in a
yearly performance to kick off the season. Thanks to some Disney magic, the film takes
young Clara on a quest to the Land of Snowflakes, Flowers, and Sweets, all created in
wondrous CGI. And, to the ominous Fourth Realm, augmented with CGI. Of course, what
would The Nutcracker be without a ballet performance, here presented by the talented
Misty Copeland? Or without the Mouse King, crafted with computer graphics? (See
“Not Your Father’s Nutcracker” on page 6 for the spectacular details on the visual effects. But a note: In order to get the story into this issue, we had to forgo the VFX images,
which were unavailable at the time of this printing.)
Speaking of the holidays, Illumination extended the wacky world of Dr. Seuss’ Grinch
into a full-length feature animation. Fans old and new will be pleased with the transformation of the book’s drawings and even the traditionally animated Chuck Jones TV special
from the 1950s and ’60s, respectively, into today’s 3D CGI medium. There is an extended
story and new characters, but all of the things we have come to know and love are still
included. For an added treat, Pharrell narrates the story. (See “Spoiler Alert!” on page 12.)
In addition, Warner Bros. has rolled out the second film in the Fantastic Beasts series
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Karen Moltenbrey
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e: t: 516.376.1087
Jenny Donelan, Kathleen Maher, George Maestri,
Martin McEachern, Barbara Robertson
COP Communications
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620 West Elk Ave., Glendale, CA 91204 t: 800.280.6446
and the tenth in the Wizarding World franchise that started with the Harry Potter series:
The Crimes of Grindlewald. In it, we are introduced to some new fantastical creatures in
addition to those from the first film. And, the action moves from New York to London
and Paris, with some amazing digital sets. (See “Magic in the Real World” on page 18.)
Back to the animation genre, Disney has released a sequel to the Wreck-It Ralph movie, transporting video game characters Ralph and Vanellope to the wide, wide world of
the Internet. CG artists conceptualized and brought the massive Internet to life, creating
Disney Animation’s largest digital world and populating it with the most characters ever
in one of its films. A word of advice: Watch for Easter eggs throughout! (See “Internet
e: t: 800.280.6446, OPT. 3
Computer Graphics World does not verify any claims or other
Explorer” on page 24.)
And lastly, the beloved Mary Poppins has returned to the big screen, bringing with
her the same magic we fell in love with decades ago, only now the visuals have been
updated for a new audience but still retain elements of its original classical style. (See
“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” on page 30.)
Of course, there are still other blockbuster films that will be theaters before year’s
end, including Mortal Engines, Aquaman, and others. Look for coverage of the digital work
in those features in the next issue of CGW and on 
Karen Moltenbrey, Editor-in-Chief
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e d i t i o n 4, 2018
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Ryff Brings Dynamic Product Placement to
By Kathleen Maher
AI and visual computing to change the way we experience entertainment.” Thus, broadcast content can accommodate product placement for multiple brands. That content can be edited for multiple
markets. In addition, product placement can be updated to reflect
Want to put a can of diet coke in the hand of the president while
new products, branding, and so forth. Ryff also enables clickable
he’s giving a press conference? Ryff can do that, and more. Take a
screens for instant purchases.
little bit of AI, mix it with 3D awareness with marketing and adver-
At IBC in Amsterdam, the company announced its strategic
tising experience, and you might come up with something like Ryff,
partnership with Amsterdam’s content creation company Endemol
a new company that recently announced its new AI-driven product
Shine Group. Endemol Shine has produced blockbusters like Black
platform, Placer.
Mirror, Big Brother, Deal or No Deal, Humans, Hunted, Master Chef,
Ryff calls itself an “intelligent image platform” company, which
Peaky Blinders, The Island, The Brain, Tin Star, and Your Face Sounds
means the company does product placement in live or pre-recorded
Familiar. Ryff has also announced a partnership with India’s Tech
video broadcast content. What makes it unique is that content can
Mahindra as the company’s cloud provider, and has relationships
be placed dynamically, even changed. As a result, content can be
with Dell, Intel, and Cisco.
tailored to the audience.
Currently, product placement is a well-understood medium. Prod-
For an idea of scale, Ryff says product placement is currently a
$23 billion industry within the $2 trillion entertainment content in-
ucts can be placed seamlessly. Ryff CEO and co-founder Roy Taylor
dustry. According to Ryff, it can disrupt existing methods of screen-
compares the process to desktop publishing. The technology has
ing, editing, and updating content while offering new monetization
rendered the process fluid and endlessly editable right up to the point
opportunities for existing and new inventories of ad content.
of print, and then it’s done. Likewise, in video product placement,
As a platform, Ryff will also include a marketplace to match
changes can be made to the point of broadcast and then the content
Placer inventory markers with content from an approved product
is flattened. The only way to change content is to recall and redo.
image database. Ryff provides a yield-optimization tool that
Ryff’s COO and co-founder, Mark Turner, calls Ryff’s technology
enables the company to match inventory to brands and lets
“OTT” (over the top) streaming. It makes heavy use of cloud-based
participants bid on insertion where possible. Ryff expects to offer
machine vision and machine learning, and is able to identify assets,
brands and studios multiple resale opportunities for their prod-
log them, track them, and render them changeable. Ryff says it turns
ucts and content.
flattened media elements (MELs) into separate interchangeable entities, which can be seamlessly edited, deleted, and added as needed.
Owners of that content can decide permissions, rights, and
In a prepared quote, Turner says, “There’s so much untapped
potential in how creative industries and advertisers integrate product
into highly targeted and programmable intelligent images.” He adds,
monetization with trackability. The Ryff platform manages content,
“Our founding team is confident that we are at the first stage of a
placement, and accounting for its customers.
monumental shift in how we program content. The initial level of inter-
“Where previously a car company might put a single model into a
est has shown us that we are not alone in our aspirations.”
scene and that would be fixed forever, they can now offer different
models for different viewers in the same show at the same time. So,
a family might see a sedan, and a single person, a coupe,” says Taylor.
At the company’s introductory event in Los Angeles recently, Tay-
Kathleen Maher( is a contributing editor
to CGW, a senior analyst at Jon Peddie Research, a Tiburon, CA-based
lor told the audience, “We are on a new platform that makes images
consultancy specializing in graphics and multimedia, and editor in chief of
intelligent. Ryff is the world’s first image technology company using
JPR’s “TechWatch.”
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
DNeg’s television division. They won a BAFTA for “Special, Visual and
Graphic Effects” for their work on Black Mirror.
The business’s first projects will be Lucasfilm’s live-action series
Mandalorian, based in the Star Wars universe and developed by Jon
Favreau, and the Superman prequel series Krypton, which is now in
its second season, based on DC characters from Warner Horizon
Scripted Television for Syfy.
“It’s not often you get to create a new division at Industrial
Light & Magic,” explains Rob Bredow, executive creative director
and head of ILM. “We are seeing a real convergence in our creative
approach used on films and in our immersive entertainment division ILMxLAB, and now we’re proud to be able to offer these ILM
innovations in a way that’s suitable for streaming and television
work to creatives around the world.”
ILM TV to Target Television
and Streaming Services
ILM’s legacy in television dates back to the studio’s Emmy-winning work for The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
Adds VFX supervisor Hayden Jones, “The television and stream-
Industrial Light & Magic is extending is visual effects and
ing segments have grown exponentially in recent years, and we are
animation services to the streaming and episodic television
seeing substantial demand for high-caliber visual effects that can be
markets via a new division called ILM TV. Based out of ILM’s
delivered on schedule and within budget, all of which lie at the core
new 47,000-square-foot London studio, the business will be
of our team’s expertise and proven track record.” supported by the company’s global locations in San Francisco,
ILM TV will offer producers and showrunners access to Industrial
Light & Magic’s VFX talent, infrastructure, and technology, com-
Vancouver, and Singapore.
The ILM TV team will be led by visual effects supervisors Hayden
bined with a fresh approach to visual effects designed to suit the
Jones and Jonathan Privett, alongside executive producers Louise
condensed production schedules and rapid turnaround times that
Hussey and Stefan Drury. Previously, the team set up and oversaw
episodic series and online streaming programs demand.
“She’s currently a work in progress, but aren’t
we all?”
“DIGITAL KAY 1.0” is currently a work in
progress. Her textures and shaders are being
optimized for pre-render in VRay for Maya,
and in both pre-render and real time render
in UNREAL. The continuing development and
evolution of DIGITAL KAY, including a full body
likeness and hair, is planned for the near future.
The face of DIGITAL KAY is fully rigged in Joint
ONLY, Blend Shape, Hybrid, and Blend Shape
Combination formats, and ready for animation
in both pre-rendered, and real time applications.
Well versed in the CG Animation industry,
CounterPunch Studios founders Andrew
Egiziano and Kay Arutyunyan have singled
out what they consider to be the weakest link
in any project pipeline: the rigging process.
The fidelity of the rig is the foundation of any
animation pipeline, by which all movement
and motion is made possible.
This is true for all characters, in any style of
Since breaking ground in 2011, the talented
team at CounterPunch Studios have been
developing proprietary rigging tool-sets, specifically, building all levels of custom facial rigs for
every client need. These tool-sets, allow their
team to build high quality rigs quickly, efficiently,
and within budgetary constraints.
The proprietary tools are capable of creating
Joint Only Rigs, upgraded Joint Rigs with built
in FACS based expressions, Blend Shape Rigs,
Blend Shape Combination Rigs, Hybrid Rigs, and
any combination of the above to suit the specifications of each project.
The CPS pipeline is a collaboration with
the client, helping to ensure the delivered
asset will be primed for the artists who will be
animating them.
CounterPunch Studios dedicates time to
pushing technology, breaking new ground
through development, and is finally able to
share this progress with the world!
“DIGITIAL KAY 1.0” is the start of future
rollouts to demonstrate their rigging capabilities,
and an example of what the team at CounterPunch Studios can bring to the industry of CGI.
Scanned at 3D Scan LA, then built to simulate Co-Founder and VP of Operations, Kay
Arutyunyan, the demo represents the continuing evolution of their toolsets. Accompanied
with this release are illustrations of their “best
practices” suggestions; supervisor instructed
Tech Talks highlighting the constructive process.
All future updates of “DIGITAL KAY 1.0”can
be found on the CounterPunch Studios YouTube Page.
We invite you to follow along with progress at
CounterPunch Studios by visiting their website: , YouTube Page, and
Social Media. Contact them for a demonstration of their process.
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
c gw
Not Your Father’s
Images ©2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
n 1816, E.T.A. Hoffmann, a German
the on-set visual effects supervisor
author, wrote a children’s story in
throughout filming. MPC’s Richard Clegg
which a nutcracker, a young girl’s
supervised artists working at that stu-
favorite Christmas toy, comes
dio’s facilities in London, Montreal, and
alive. The nutcracker defeats an evil
Bangalore who created 95 percent of the
Mouse King in battle and whisks Marie
film’s visual effects – the fully CG realms,
Stahlbaum to a magical kingdom
a Mouse King made of 60,000 individual
populated by dolls. In 1892, the Russian
mice, 23 waterfalls and a waterwheel,
composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and
the giant Mother Ginger marionette,
choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev
and more. Rodeo FX artists contributed
Ivanov turned an adaptation of Hoff-
effects for shots in the real world, and
mann’s story by Alexandre Dumas into
Luma helped with shots, as well.
the much-loved and often-performed
ballet “The Nutcracker.”
This year, Walt Disney Pictures released
“We started with our previs team and
got MPC involved early on the environments in the fantasy world, working
the sumptuous live-action film The
from artwork from the art department,”
Nutcracker and the Four Realms using
Wood says. “We knew the Mouse King
the Hoffmann story as a starting point.
would be in the movie, so we also got
It begins at a holiday party, where a Mr.
MPC going on the look and shape of
Stahlbaum gives his youngest daughter,
him. And, we had Rodeo work on a
Clara, a locked, handcrafted, egg-shaped
fully-digital Victorian London.”
box and a note from her deceased mother, Marie. The box is locked. That night, at
her godfather Drosselmeyer’s Christmas
The story begins with the visual effects
ball, Clara follows a string supposedly
shots in 1879 Victorian London created by
leading to Drosselmeyer’s gift, but it takes
the artists at Rodeo FX. As the camera
her instead to a parallel world in which the
flies along the frozen river Thames, we
key to her mother’s box hangs from a tree.
see digital ice-skaters below. Animators
A mouse snatches it before she can reach
created the ice-skating performances
it and races across a frozen lake. Guarding
from data captured from roller-skaters.
the lake is a soldier named Phillip, who
Motion capture also provided data for
tells Clara that she is the daughter of
people in market stalls, horses and car-
Queen Marie Stahlbaum. He leads her
riages, and carriage drivers.
to a palace where she learns through a
Once Clara enters the fantasy world,
ballet performance about the land she
approximately 500 artists at MPC took
has entered and her mother’s role, which
on the visual effects work, creating envi-
she is expected to assume.
ronments, characters, and effects.
Lasse Hallström directed the
A huge palace dominates the fantasy
filming, with Joe Johnston stepping
world, and the fantasy world dominates
in as director during postproduction
the film. Surrounding the palace are four
and for re-shoots.
realms placed almost like points on a
Max Wood on the production side
worked on pre-production and was
compass: Lands of Sweets, Flowers, and
Snowflakes, and a mysterious Fourth
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
c gw
imported from Italy. Outside the forest was
position, so the set became fully digital,”
bluescreen that MPC artists replaced with a
Clegg says.
CG forest stretching into infinity.
As for the other three realms, “We laid out
and planned where everything would be,”
Wood says. “With Ncam, we could move
a giant waterwheel, all CG, that power the
another. Then we could pass that along to
engine room and the giant toy machine.
MPC, showing them the new position of the
Effects artists at MPC used Side Effects’
palace from the camera view.”
Houdini and Autodesk’s Maya Bifrost to
create the waterfalls – Houdini to send the
water flowing down and Bifrost to create
At MPC, artists started with the basic ge-
volumetric atmospherics at the base. The
ometry and a 3D map created in pre-pro-
waterwheels were trickier.
duction, and began designing a workflow for
building the final environments.
Realm. Separating each realm is a CG river
Outside the palace are 23 waterfalls and
the world farther away, or to one side or
“We took the 3D geometry, rendered it
“The waterwheel designs were very much
fantasy,” Clegg says. “They look like a Victorian train station mixed with a giant factory
complete with waterfalls. All the realms but
from key angles, and sent it to the art depart-
that has a network of pipes and aqueducts.
the fourth are 100 percent CG. The fourth
ment,” Clegg says. “They painted-in correct
They have pipes shooting water from the
realm was a set extended with CG.
perspective and scale so we could flesh out
top that spins the wheel. There was no
the environments when everyone signed
way our waterwheels would work in the
the realms were digital, the filmmakers uti-
off. We broke everything into quadrants and
real world. Any reference we could find had
lized Ncam Technologies’ system for virtual
tiles, even the water. We never wanted to box
waterwheels driven from the bottom, from
production on set. Actors had props, but all
ourselves in. So, we built the environments in
a river. So, it was tricky to sell the speed and
the backgrounds, including the ground they
almost a watercolor way. We’d lay down the
weight. We ran Houdini simulations, but it
walked on, would be CG.
base and build the world layer by layer. When
took a lot of art direction, too. We spent a lot
shots were signed off by everyone, we’d finish
of time worried about how they’d look, but
[Hallström, director] had actors point
areas that needed to hold up to the camera,
also how we would render them.”
to the palace, but all they could see was
and sometimes do custom set dressing for
bluescreen,” Wood explains. “So we would
close shots. In the end, we could put the
environments was in rendering them. MPC
do an overlay of the palace and place
camera wherever we wanted.”
uses Pixar’s RenderMan RIS.
Because the environments for three of
“There were moments where Lasse
Indeed, the biggest challenge for all the
“We had all these trees, buildings, lolli-
a marker on the bluescreen where the
For the palace exterior, the team ref-
palace would be. The camera operator
erenced the ornate onion domes of the
pops, flowers, chimney steam, smoke from
only saw the bluescreen, but the director
Kremlin. Inside the palace, the modelers
the different towns, water, reflections,”
could see a monitor with the background
worked from a limited set to create the
Clegg says. “It was definitely a challenge.
filled in. We’d feed that onto an iPad as
“engine room,” and within that room, the toy
We could put each kingdom, the palace,
well, so the actors could see what the
machine that turned toys into people.
and the water on layers. But we also fit
background would look like in the movie.”
For the fourth realm, the filmmakers
created a forest on the stage with trees
“Even though there was a plate and a
practical set that looked fine, sometimes
for continuity reasons the camera changed
quite a lot into memory.”
Adds Wood: “We made sure we cached
as much geometry as possible to render as
one big pass, all one render, so it looked like
it all held together. Obviously, we had deep
Land of
passes to tweak, but we learned how to
optimize and render as one thing rather than
piece it together.”
The biggest challenge and, except for
The winter wonderland north of the palace is an alpine setting with castles
Mother Ginger’s marionette, the biggest
and villages arranged amid snow-capped mountains in a cool palette of white,
CG character in the film is the Mouse King,
turquoise, and blue. Shiver (Richard E. Grant) is the regent of this realm.
which appears in two main scenes: one in
“Land of Snowflakes has buildings made from ice blocks, with live-action
the film. He’s made of 60,000 mice. He lurks
says Max Wood, visual effects supervisor.
in the forested Fourth Realm.
As an enormous glacier in this realm melts, a lake and enormous CG waterfalls form behind the palace.
the forest and another toward the end of
actors interacting with a CG snow-covered ground and a CG elk pulling a sled,”
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
“His design evolved through the whole
movie,” Wood says. “We started with one
Land of
Land of
More than two million individual CG flowers and foliage adorn
Dancing CG gingerbread men live in this delicious,
everything in this agrarian realm – fields, windmills, and houses.
boldly-colored realm with gumdrop décor, candy
Artists at MPC created the digital fantasy world with CG windmills,
cane trees, and chocolate ground.
“It’s a vibrant CG land that we see from land and
cobbled streets, and fairy-tale buildings. Like the Lands of Snowflakes and Sweets, this realm is 100 percent digital. Captain Phillip
air,” says Max Wood, visual effects supervisor. “It is
(Jayden Fowora-Knight), the only nutcracker in the four realms,
full of oversized candy and houses made of ginger-
is the regent of the Land of Flowers and also guards the border
bread, Victorian sweets, and caster sugar roofs.”
The Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley) rules the
between the real world and the realms.
Land of Sweets.
idea of what he would look like but realized
for the character through the scene. In one
looked chaotic,” Clegg says. “The mice all
he’s more of a concept than a character.
shot, he engulfs the tin soldiers. In another,
had different levels of detail depending on
He’s not a stable being: He continuously
he picks up Clara.”
how close they are to camera.”
changes. He’s different in every shot. He
For motion, the animators referenced the
The team used Maya for animation,
could be whatever he liked. He can walk
dancer Lil Buck (Charles Riley), who performs
rigging, and cloth simulation, then fed the
through a tree, so we had to work out how
a street-dance style called “Memphis jookin”
mesh into Houdini for the crowd simulation
the volume would stay. In some scenes, his
that originated 30 years ago. The film’s
using mice instanced onto the surface.
ears disappear and reappear. His shoulders
production notes quote Riley describing
become part of his neck.”
the dance thusly: “It used to be called the
crowd format and rendered with RIS
gangster walk. It was really simple, but it has
through [Foundry’s] Katana,” Clegg says.
His default was a bipedal character with
“We then exported the result into our
a tail, but his shape changed as required.
evolved into complex movement with intri-
At first, modelers built a detailed creature
cate footwork. It’s like Michael Jackson times
with thin legs like a mouse, an inner core
10: There are slides and glides and fun toe
filled with mice, and mice on the surface.
spins, ticking and pushing of the feet, and the
trols the 60,000 mice tumbling along in the
The team simplified that model and made
shoulder bounce. It’s all about the bounce.”
Mouse King. He works for Mother Ginger,
his legs feel like they were strong enough to
support his weight.
“Animators had a base mesh and a base
rig they could use to animate him,” Clegg
In the film, the character Mouserinks con-
As Mouse King glides along, mice contin-
and he’s the mouse that stole Clara’s key. Is
uously run up his legs to his head, fall off, and
he a villain? That remains to be seen. On set,
climb back on.
he was sometimes a gray, 3D-printed mouse
“He isn’t a solid object,” Clegg says. “He’s
and sometimes a stuffy. In the film, he’s CG.
says. “It was flexible and stretchy, so they
an amorphous turbulent thing, a pile of mice
could build different shapes. They’d focus
moving around. Animators used Lil Buck’s
actual mouse,” Clegg says. “He spends a lot
on the shape and form, on action points
performance as inspiration to create a base
of time on shoulders and hands. We treated
action, and they would apply simulations to
him as a standard digital character. The
make him more fluid.”
challenge was in figuring out how mouse-like
First, they ran a cloth simulation on the
mesh driven by animation parameters that
gave him what Clegg describes as a thick,
syrupy movement.
“It’s like a custard that managed to stand
up,” he says.
Then, they applied a crowd simulation
“He’s a mischievous mouse, bigger than an
he should be. The directors wanted him to be
cute and fun, but not overly done.”
Although inspired by a character from the
ballet, Mother Ginger is quite different from
the ballet character whose little ginger-
on top that was driven by the performance
bread children emerge from a giant ginger-
speed and directed by guide passes and
bread-house skirt, and dance. In this film,
curves on the cloth-simulated surface.
Mother Ginger has been banished from the
Falling mice became rigid bodies, and rag-
realms and become regent of the Fourth
doll physical simulations took over. Once
Realm. She appears as a terrifying 40-foot-
a mouse landed, it jumped back onto the
tall giant with a 30-foot-wide circus-tent
Mouse King and ran back up as if it were on
skirt. But appearances are deceiving: The
a conveyor belt.
giant is a marionette. Mother Ginger (Helen
“We had paths with offsets so the motion
Mirren) is actually the puppeteer inside.
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
c gw
by a toy machine. The key Clara searches
film at MPC. “She’s bashing them on the
for not only opens the egg-shaped box, it
head with a tree. It’s like whack-a-mole. It
turns on this toy machine. So, of course,
was tricky because the soldiers are climbing
the villain in this film uses the toy machine
over a cloth surface and are pretty limited in
to quickly create an army from toy tin sol-
their range of motion.”
diers. The soldiers are CG. To create them,
marionette and with hand animation for
antique toys.
several hero soldiers on top of the skirt. Then,
“We tried to make something that
tion of the moving tent, popped the soldiers
foot-tall character and still have details like
on top, and ran crowd simulations for close to
scraped-off paint,” Wood says.
100 soldiers climbing up the skirt.
“Where there were intersections, we
movement of the six-inch toys without
ran a secondary cloth simulation on top
compromising the actions of the seven-foot
of the cache with a weighted input,”
soldiers they’d become.
Clegg says. “We simulated-in regions
“The toy tin soldiers have simple joints
and applied restrictions, and those finer
that rotate on only one axis,” Clegg says.
details fixed most collisions. When we
torso, and head were on set during filming,
“We tried to give our seven-foot tin soldiers
needed to do manual cleanup, we’d raise
in most of the feature the marionette is
enough flexibility to do things the toys
the cloth up or lower it down to avoid any
fully CG, and when practical, enhanced
couldn’t do, but not so much it looked obvi-
visual problems. It was painstaking work
with CG. CG steam leaks from the steam-
ous. The gag is that they don’t quite convert
to make it look like the soldiers weren’t
punk pistons and chimney stacks of the
into people yet because there’s such a huge
intersecting with the skirt.”
practical marionette, and CG arms and
volume. They’re almost like a robot army.
Creating a fantasy is not easy. But, al-
mouth enliven the giant prop. Rather than
They don’t change as they grow. They just
though some movie critics haven’t appreci-
children dancing from under the skirt,
scale up to be seven feet tall.”
ated this new take on the Nutcracker story,
Although a practical marionette skirt,
polichinelles tumble out.
“They’re like Russian dolls,” Wood says.
“They can split in half, open up, and jump
the film’s visuals have been highly praised.
“There was a lot of subjectivity in the
work on this film, a lot of artistic free-
In one fully CG scene, the Tin Soldiers at-
dom,” Clegg says. “Every shot is different.
ers play polichinelles in the film, but in some
tack Mother Ginger’s marionette, thinking
We’d give the moviemakers things and
shots, they’re fully CG. We motion-captured
she’s inside. In fact, another character
feed off their reactions to bring alive their
acrobatic clowns bending and doing flips
is driving the huge marionette through a
imaginations.” 
and turns.”
small forest; the marionette towers above
out of each other. They had stunt perform-
the trees.
“We have tin soldiers climbing up the
Barbara Robertson (
Everyone in the realms was once a toy that
circus-tent skirt like the zombies in World
is an award-winning writer and a contributing
someone transformed into a living being
War Z,” says Clegg, who had worked on that
editor for CGW.
The Fourth
working in Houdini, they did a cloth simula-
changed from a six-inch toy into a seven-
They also tried to preserve the toy-like
The team started with animation for the
MPC artists referenced concept art and
Mouse King by the
Spooky forests created on set at Pinewood
Height: Nine feet more or less
Studios populate the dark, ominous Fourth
Shape: Indeterminate, changing
Realm island. Once a Land of Amuse-
Composition: 60,000 CG mice
ment settled by traveling circus folk, it has
Types of mice: Three shapes with multiple variations
become a forgotten fairground. Artists at
Motion reference: Jookin by Lil Buck (Charles Riley)
MPC extended the forest into infinity at the
Time to develop: Six months
bluescreen edges of the set. Mother Ginger
Number of artists: 30-plus
(Helen Mirren) rules this grim land with her
Simulations utilized: Cloth, crowd, rigid body
army of mice.
Number of shots: 40
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
Spoiler Alert!
hen Chris Meledandri
ry,” says Yarrow Cheney, who co-directed
set out to create the CG
The Grinch along with Scott Mosier.
animated feature The
Grinch based on the popular
holiday tale, his artists and
animators at Illumination went by the book
– Dr. Seuss’ children’s book “How the Grinch
Stole Christmas!,” that is.
Meledandri and his longtime co-producer,
Illumination expanded on the Dr. Seuss
design language for the characters, loca-
Janet Healy, along with his talented crew at
tions, and main story points: The people
Illumination, were heading into familiar ter-
of Whoville embrace and celebrate the
ritory for this project. First, they have found
spirit, joy, and togetherness of the holiday
great success with endearing antisocial-like
season, but Grinch, who lives atop Mt.
characters via their Despicable Me franchise.
Crumpet outside of the town, detests
Second, they were breathing new life into a
the holiday and everything associated
well-known story that started with a book
with it, and enlists the help of his loyal
in the late ’50s, followed by a traditionally
dog, Max, to steal the Whos’ presents and
animated TV special that still airs yearly
decorations, and quell the holiday spirit in
during the Christmas season, and, later, by
Whoville once and for all.
a live-action film. In addition, this project
For the feature-length Grinch, the
marks Illumination founder/CEO Mele-
filmmakers extended what was essentially
dandri’s third go at adapting the uniquely
a one-act play into a three-act structure,
styled Seuss books into CG features (2008’s
delving deeper into some characters,
Horton Hears a Who! while at Fox and 2012’s
especially Grinch and his backstory, while
The Lorax at Illumination).
retaining the book’s timeless elements. In
On the other hand, they would have the
Images ©2018 Universal Studios.
Every Who Down in Whoville Liked
Christmas a lot...But the Grinch, Who
lived just north of Whoville, Did NOT!
the film, Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch)
daunting task of expanding a 69-page
is a complex character, more mischievous
book filled with unique visuals and rhym-
and cranky than cruel. He lives in isolation
ing verse. “I grew up with the wonderful
with his best friend, a dog named Max, but
Chuck Jones [TV special]. That design was
he does see the townsfolk time to time
so wonderful. We didn’t want to just do an
when he has to venture into Whoville for
iteration of that. So, we went back to the
supplies. Like every year, Christmastime
book and used that as the starting point,
strikes a nerve with him, and when he
the DNA, of how we would expand the sto-
learns that the Whos are planning a bigger,
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
c gw
brighter, and louder celebration this year,
have loved it for years and years,” Mosier
well, he reaches his breaking point and
says. “I was excited and terrified all at the
the artists avoided using straight lines,
hatches a plan to steal Christmas.
same time, though. This is the kind
according to Meledandri. “Everywhere we
of thing you cannot screw up.”
could replace a straight line with a curve, we
Of course, an expanded story means
more characters and environments that
In a nutshell, they had to keep the tale
did, because these were motifs from [Dr.
are new to the tale while seamlessly
relevant for a new, modern audience, while
fitting within the original world. “We set
maintaining the essence of what made it
out to create the most spectacular sort
a beloved classic. That involved translat-
ed in reality, enabling a full range of emotion
of Seuss-like world,” says Mosier. We visit
ing the visual style of the book’s drawings
for the characters. “Our goal isn’t to simulate
inside Grinch’s expansive cave, complete
using cutting-edge computer graphics –
real life; it is to make things feel real while also
with its Seussian-like inventions. We
no simple task. However, Illumination em-
supporting the stylization and performance
are introduced to Bricklebaum (Kenan
braced the challenge, immersing viewers in
aspects in the scenes,” explains Cheney. “We
Thompson), Grinch’s perpetually cheery
this unique world while giving it an Illumi-
try to capture emotion and subtlety when
neighbor who resides at the bottom of the
nationesque-Seussian aesthetic.
the scene calls for it, but we don’t hold back
Seuss’] work,” he adds.
Illumination’s films are stylized but ground-
mountain, and Fred, a portly, lackadaisi-
“Stylistically, we tried to honor the
when there is opportunity for fun and humor.
cal reindeer that Grinch needs to pull his
source material and take all of that won-
When the Grinch tries to steal Christmas, the
getaway sleigh. Meanwhile, the tiny hamlet
derful stylization and apply it to a three-
team went more broad, a bit more cartoony
of Whoville has been turned into a bustling
dimensional world where you really feel
with his motions and physics.”
city filled with shops and restaurants, a
immersed,” says Cheney. “We wanted you
town square, and so forth – a place view-
to almost feel the snow crunch under your
ers would want to visit, Mosier adds.
feet and smell the waffles at the waffle
And, we learn more about the Whos –
stand. We wanted to evoke all the good
inhabitants with real-life struggles. Take
things about the holidays that we can all
Cindy-Lou (Cameron Seely), whose role has
relate to.”
been extended far beyond her previous few
Then he slid down the chimney. A rather
tight pinch. But, if Santa could do it,
then so could the Grinch.
The characters have rather basic
shapes, but their rigs are more complex in
minutes on Christmas Eve. In this version,
Characters Big and Small
she is still a child, but now older than a
The artists used a combination of
through an entire physical performance,
toddler “not more than two.” She and her
commercial and proprietary software to
not just with facial expressions. According
friends plan to corner Santa as he makes his
create the film’s CG characters, including
to Bruno Chauffard, CG supervisor, the
rounds and ask him not for more toys, but to
Autodesk’s Maya along with Pixologic’s
animators started with a generic rig that
help her overworked, single mother, Donna.
ZBrush for modeling, Maya for animation,
is already fairly extensive, then pushed
“It was time to bring this story back
in-house software for rendering and light-
it rather strongly in terms of elasticity to
for a new generation and for people who
ing, and Foundry’s Nuke for compositing.
meet the animation director’s requests.
When designing the unique characters,
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
order to achieve a wide range of emotion
but the Santa-disguised Grinch required
look natural, but the tuft at the top of his
emote and support an emotional idea
some complex simulations to make sure his
head… it has a very iconic shape; it points
from any pose we put them in,” adds
beard behaved realistically through extreme
up and out. And, it had to look and react
Cheney. “At the same time, we are doing
deformations. In addition, his telescopic
naturally in the wind and snow.”
a Seuss film with a very elegant, stylized
shoes had to expand to huge proportions,
feel that permeates everything. To do that,
deform extensively, and then fit back into
for Grinch and the other characters, it
you cannot take control away from the
his shoes within a single shot.
became a matter of defining the details,
“[The characters] should be able to
animator. You actually have to give them
Moreover, Grinch has the biggest role,
Once the artists captured the silhouette
which are a little bit different in CGI, especially the fur, Mosier points out.
more control over the silhouette. Some-
experiences just about every emotion,
times you need to bend things that don’t
and is covered head to toe in fur that had
According to Chauffard, the group used
naturally bend in order to have a line on a
to feel like a Dr. Seuss drawing. “There’s a
numerous texture maps to precisely drive
silhouette be elegant.”
style Dr. Seuss used in his illustrations that
every attribute of the studio’s hair systems
we tried to incorporate into the shapes
(length, density, clumping, noise, curli-
the same as it is in the book and the TV
of the fur as well as his overall design and
ness). For Grinch, they mixed as many as a
special. In traditional animation, this is
his face,” Cheney says. “The artists had to
dozen types of hair for the final result.
easy to do by drawing lines and poses that
make the fur on his face fall downward to
To make it Seuss-like, the artists
The silhouette of Grinch in the movie is
aren’t necessarily realistic in order to convey a certain attitude or emotion. But in
3D, that’s more difficult, since CGI follows
certain rules.
“For this film, more than others, we
need the artistry that goes into the poses,” adds Cheney.
AWFUL IDEA! I know just what to do!”
The Grinch laughed in his throat.
And he made a quick Santy Claus hat
and a coat.
In Cheney’s opinion, Grinch was the most
technically challenging character in the film.
Moreover, he has a number of costumes,
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
c gw
formed the hair to accentuate the lines
transformed from line drawings of a
says. Nevertheless, the crew managed to
and poses used in the drawings, and that
handful of snow-covered houses into
build a library of elements that they could
had to be incorporated into the char-
a brightly-colored, three-dimensional
slightly reshape and adapt to dress the
acter rigs. A studio-developed system
city with teetering, swerving buildings of
different buildings. Once the buildings were
enabled the animators to preview the hair
Seussian style. The Whos are welcoming
assembled, the artists could procedural-
behavior interactively when manipulating
and warm, so their town needed to reflect
ly regenerate the textures to fit the new
Grinch so they could anticipate any hair
this in the shapes and textures of their
shapes they had created.
behavioral issues early in the process.
homes, shops, and vehicles, says Mosier.
“We also developed a way to dynamically
Thus, the artists embraced a warm, satu-
instance and animate objects within the
rated, bright, happy color palette. In fact,
fur systems, allowing us to simulate snow
Whoville is in direct contrast aesthetically
getting mixed with the characters’ hair
to the Grinch’s icy cave on the very angular
and fur,” says Chauffard.
and lonely Mt. Crumpit.
In addition to the main characters, there
Using Maya, ZBrush, Foundry’s Mari, and
Whoville is not solely a Christmas town;
it is a village that just happens to do
are crowds of Whos created with a mix-
Allegorithmic’s Substance Painter, the art-
Christmas in a big way. As for the artists,
and-match modeling system to generate
ists built an entire 3D model of the city that
they, too, had to decorate the virtual city
a wide variety of looks. Then, once the
the camera could move through without
and embrace the season. For this, they
crowd was distributed and the animation
limitation, making sure the layout followed
developed a tool that enabled them to
cycles randomized, the group focused on
real-world logic. “We know every location
grab geometry from a prebuilt library and
specific areas of the crowd and updated
— where Cindy-Lou’s house is compared to
snap it automatically on the houses and
those with specific keyframe animation to
the town square, compared to the entrance
shops, before tweaking it by hand.
create secondary story lines occurring in
to the city and the Who Foods Market,”
the background.
Cheney says. “If you wanted to, you could
were procedurally generated along curves
actually build a real-life Whoville and it
and volumes. Every bulb carried specific
would make sense as a town.”
attributes that enabled the artists to drive
Extreme Environments
As Chauffard notes, the garland bulbs
There are essentially two big locations
Within the city lies the imaginative world
in the film: Mt. Crumpet-Grinch’s cave
of Dr. Seuss, which is very specific, organic,
art-direct their look until late in the process
and Whoville, but within those locales,
and uneven, making the fabrication of the
and feed them with complex animation
particularly Whoville, are many smaller
designs rather difficult to standardize, says
if necessary. “We carefully fine-tuned the
but more intricate indoor and outdoor
Chauffard. “Each house and store has a
rendering and animation of those lights, as
sets. So, it comes as no surprise that the
specific shape, which was never straight,
they were essential in the evocation of the
most ambitious part of the film involved
and that influenced every sub-element
Christmas spirit through the film,” he adds.
the creation of Whoville, which the artists
such as windows, balconies, and doors,” he
For he knew every Who down in Whoville
beneath, Was busy now, hanging a mistletoe wreath.
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
their color and intensity so they could
The other main environment is Grinch’s
cave, no longer a dark, lonely space, but
Those objects were detailed with several
rather a multi-level lair with big, inviting
displacement maps (from low frequency
make it difficult for Grinch to pull off his
rooms and packed with hi-tech gadgets
to really fine grains) so the surface would
ambitious plan. “We deliberately made
and gizmos.
catch the light properly when rendered
Whoville so big that it seemed impossible
with Mglr, the studio’s proprietary path-
to steal Christmas there in just one night,”
tain and valley is snow – a difficult effect
tracer. Then the compositors layered glints
Cheney says.
anyway, but in this movie, it is every-
and light effects on top of the rendered
where, covering every surface, including
snow to give it a slight magical touch.
Scattered throughout the alpine moun-
the furred characters, who are often seen
wearing fuzzy sweaters.
“The Whos all have fur, and their furry
The Heist
In fact, the town was designed to
Well, nearly impossible. Grinch had to
get creative and use his crazy machines
and contraptions, including a customized
sleigh and a giant Swiss Army Knife candy
For the theft sequence, the town’s real-
cane. “We wanted it to be something
sweaters have a fuzzy texture. There are all
world layout logic gave way to stylization.
people haven’t seen before, to give them
these different technical aspects that are
“We composed the shots in this sequence
a fresh take on how Grinch stole Christ-
difficult, and then you throw snow on top
to support what [Grinch] was stealing,
mas,” Cheney says. “The sequence was
of everything outdoors, and there’s a huge
rather than be beholden to where things
difficult to figure out and shoot, but it was
leap in technical difficulty,” says Cheney.
were in town,” says Cheney. The thievery
a lot of fun.”
“The 3D surfaces are not typical; with even
plays out in a large sequence where prac-
the hard surfaces, everything is displaced.
tically every shot takes place in a different
The End
All the shop fronts and signs… everything
location – on rooftops, in living rooms,
Of course, we all know how this story ends:
you see is not just a typical texture on
within chimneys – becoming more and
The Grinch is moved by the selflessness and
a plane. Everything has an extra level of
more stylized as Grinch progresses.
forgiveness of the Whos. “I think now, more
complexity, and it’s all complexity that has
to interact with one another.”
The studio developed specific tool kits
“We’re getting into his head,” he adds.
Mosier points out. Agreed. And, no doubt
it’s going off without a hitch. He’s euphoric.”
the film will make all of our hearts grow a
based on Houdini’s Grains Solver that enabled the artists to fine-tune the different
aspects of the snow – icy, slushy, crusty
– depending on the context. They also
developed procedures to automatically
generate secondary animation involving the snow. On the rendering side, the
snow objects were partially transparent
geometries filled with volumetric shaders.
than ever, it has a really great message,”
“He’s been living for this the entire movie, and
little, too. 
All the Whos were all dreaming sweet
dreams without care. When he came to
the ffiirst little house on the square.
This is stop number one,” the old Grinchy
Claus hissed, And he climbed to the
roof, empty bags in his ffiist.“
And what happened then?
Whoville they say, That the Grinch’s
small heart Grew three sizes that day!
Karen Moltenbrey is the chief editor of CGW.
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
c gw
in the
Real World
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
Five studios did the bulk of the visual
he year is 1926. Newt Sca-
mander. Katherine Waterston is Tina
mander, a self-proclaimed
Goldstein, a law-enforcement auror who
effects work: Framestore, Double Negative,
magizoologist, has returned to
hunts dark wizards. Ezra Miller is Cre-
Method, Rodeo FX, and Image Engine. Burke
London after helping stop the
dence Barebone, a disturbed child who
and Manz split the action, with Manz largely
dark wizard Grindelwald’s violent attack
apparently now has complete control over
handling the action sequences and Burke
in New York City. But, the wizard is not so
his Obscurus, a dark parasite that, when
supervising those with CG characters. Art-
easily stopped, and Newt is about to face
unleashed, can wreak havoc. Zoë Kravitz is
ists from Nvizage, Proof, and The Third Floor
a new challenge. Grindelwald has escaped
Leta Lestrange, a confused young woman
previs’d and postvis’d the film, which had
his confinement and is gathering followers.
who Newt once loved. Claudia Kim is Nag-
2,500 visual effects shots.
His goal is to have wizards and witches
ini, who can transform into a snake and
rule over all non-magical beings. Professor
is well known in the Potter series as the
ing on previs and postvis in the studio with
Dumbledore, headmaster of the wizarding
companion of Lord Voldemort. Jude Law
me and Tim,” Manz says. “It was a creative
school Hogwarts, asks Newt to thwart
is Albus Dumbledore, the influential and
process. Like the first film, we wanted to let
Grindelwald’s plans.
powerful British wizard. And, Johnny Depp
vendors do real work, not temps. We wanted
is the villain Grindelwald, as he was in the
to make the shots work [in previs and
Crimes of Grindelwald is the 10th film in the
previous film, the 2016 Fantastic Beasts
postvis] before they spent time and money
wizarding series that began in 2001 with
and Where to Find Them.
doing it all properly in postproduction. By the
Warner Bros.’ Fantastic Beasts: The
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Many of the filmmakers have worked on
“We had a 40- to 50-person team work-
time the vendors got going, they had a solid
base to start from.”
(aka The Sorcerer’s Stone in the US). It is
the previous Fantastic Beasts and Harry
the second film in the subsequent Fan-
Potter films. David Yates, who directed
tastic Beasts series, which in the wizarding
the final four Harry Potter films and the
Beast stories take place in the real world for
world, takes place before that first Harry
previous Fantastic Beasts film, directed
the most part – New York City in the last
Potter book and film.
The Crimes of Grindelwald. J.K. Rowling,
film; New York, London, and Paris, plus Hog-
who wrote the Harry Potter series, wrote
warts, in this film. The feature opens with
the screenplay. Tim Burke, who has been a
Grindelwald’s escape in New York.
Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Sca-
visual effects supervisor on all Harry Potter
and Fantastic Beasts features except the
Escape from New York
first Harry Potter, and overall supervisor
Grindelwald escapes his confinement one
on all but the second, was visual effects
rainy night with help from Abernathy (Kevin
supervisor for this movie along with Chris-
Guthrie), a former MACUSA supervisor.
tian Manz, creative director at Framestore.
They shoot out from a building in a black
Manz had also supervised effects on
aerial carriage pulled by thestrals, huge,
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
black, winged horses with faces like dragons
and supervised effects at Framestore on
and skeletal bodies visible only to people
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part
who have witnessed death. Broom riders
1. Stuart Craig, who has been production
traveling alongside escort the carriage out
designer on all the films, returned for The
of New York airspace. Everything except the
Crimes of Grindelwald.
actors in the carriage is CG; the broom riders
“One of the interesting things about this
Images ©2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.
Unlike the Harry Potter films, the Fantastic
are digital doubles. To build the New York
film compared to the previous films has less
City beneath, the crew used assets from the
to do with technology and more to do with
previous film, referencing images of New
our creative involvement in the process,”
York at night in the rain.
Burke says. “We’ve had some [early participation] on each film, but on this one, the
The Third Floor previs’d the sequence.
“We didn’t do any motion-control moves
visual effects department had even more
or anything that looked too controlled,”
so. There are between 40 and 50 designed
Manz says. “We shot free-form. We wanted
creatures in this film. We’d work with simple
it to feel real. So, we had a camera on a gim-
descriptions in the script for creatures we
bal motion base and a rig based on a float-
had to design. And, we had action sequenc-
ing chair used on the first film that’s driven
es that were briefly, minimally described.
by the weight of the actor. We did a lot of
We were involved in the creative storytelling
work with effects rain – [we] hosed Johnny
and the development of the story. It was
[Depp] and Kevin [Guthrie] down and blew
very collaborative between David [Yates],
them with wind. We had a physical carriage
J.K. [Rowling], Christian, and me. They were
on set but we replaced it with CG.”
open to suggestions on how to develop a
During the escape sequence, we realize
that Abernathy and Grindelwald have
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
c gw
“The Leucrocotta is a mythical creature
based on a stag,” Burke says. “We designed
it in the visual effects department and
thought it would be amusing if it had a large
jaw that it could open like a shark. We went
straight into animation studies once we
had a rough sketch. A team of animators,
modelers, and riggers gave it basic controls
so we could design the movement, weight,
and some facial expressions.”
It’s in London where Newt meets Dumbledore, and the wizardly professor sends him
searching for Grindelwald. The sequence
takes place in the city of London, in Albert
Square and near St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“We added soot and dirt to all the buildings to create the look of 1920s London
exchanged identities, a trick made possible
says. “David wanted a semi-comedic Chap-
in the street scene,” Manz says. “Then we
by artists at Image Engine who created full
lin-esque shot. Newt has to use his skill and
filmed on greenscreen for foggy London and
CG doubles for each actor and morphed
some kitchen implements to catch them in
put the world in afterwards, digitally scan-
between them.
a comedic way.”
ning St. Paul’s Cathedral and Albert Square,
“We do a transition where the camera is
We discover that although Newt’s
and creating mist and fog. We created
very close up and doesn’t move,” Manz says.
apartment looks simple, he has a menag-
shapes in the fog through light. Framestore
“We see the transformation with all the hair
erie of magical creatures downstairs in
created all that. Lots of locations, lots of
moving on the CG character.”
the basement.
scans, lots of reference photos.”
“In the last film, he used his suitcase to
Newt’s London Apartment
capture and house creatures,” Burke says.
Paris Circus
It looks conventional at first, but something
“This is the bricks-and-mortar version. It’s
Grindelwald, Newt learns, is in Paris. Since
is happening in the living room. Lights flash
like a rescue hospital. Newt has been away
Paris today looks similar enough to Paris in
and reveal baby Nifflers scurrying around.
and come back. He wants to see his animals
the 1920s, the filmmakers had Clear Angle
The rodent-like creatures with a long snout
and get on with it.”
Studios spend a month in that city scanning
and fluffy hair love sparkly objects, and
The basement was one of the first things
buildings and capturing textures.
these babies were trying to steal things in
Craig designed, according to Burke. It has
“They scanned and textured whole
Newt’s apartment.
interwoven Escher-esque staircases and
streets,” Manz says. “We could show low-
multiple alcoves for Newt’s CG animals.
res versions to Stuart Craig in postvis and
they have a cute quality, so we referenced
Among the digital beasts are an Augurey,
introduced him even more to what we can
young chicks as a starting place and guinea
a thin, green and black, mournful-looking
do digitally. We’d say, ‘Well, we can slide that
pigs for the different color designs,” Burke
vulture-like creature, and a Leucrocotta.
building there. It’s easier than moving a large
“The brief for all baby creatures is that
chunk of set.’”
In digital Paris, Framestore artists built
a pretend square, and within it, a magical
circus. There are crowds of people, fire-eaters, and children tumbling inside bubbles
outside a large circus tent.
“When you go to a fun fair, you see children running after a guy making big bubbles,
so we thought, What if the child could jump
into the bubble?” Manz says. “David liked
the idea, and it made it into the film.”
To create the effect, they spun a sevenyear-old boy into the air, and then a digital
double took over. Framestore created the bubbles and digital doubles in Autodesk’s Maya.
Inside the tent are Credence and Nagini,
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
and, as is her wont, Nagini transforms into
a snake.
“She’s a big Harry Potter character, so
we knew we had a lot of responsibility in
bringing her back to life and making her
look better than before,” Manz says. “We
did two things. We didn’t want to use cuts
– we wanted to show what would actually
happen. And, we wanted the idea of Nagini
being consumed by the snake.”
The idea was that she would wrap her
arms around herself and coil herself into a
python. As they considered what that might
look like and how they would create the effect, their thoughts turned to contortionists.
“The costume department designed a
snakeskin dress that would work nicely,”
Manz says. “We did motion-control passes of
a contortionist and of Claudia Kim, the actor.”
To help animators and lighting artists who
would create the effect in postproduction,
the filmmakers brought in a reticulated
ical creature, catlike with a long tail, the
a full-sized, lightweight mock-up to give
size of an elephant.
Redmayne something to interact with. Once
“David [Yates] asked that we try to
Newt captures Zouwu, he puts the creature
python that was on set for lighting reference,
push the creatures, to create extraordinary
into his suitcase, unlocks Zouwu’s shackles,
scanning, and video reference.
beasts,” Burke says. “We had crazy, out-
restores the creature’s power, and the two
there designs for Zouwu. He was lizard-like
beings bond.
“I’m terrified of snakes,” Manz says.
“When they brought in the python, I locked
but with the body of a large tiger. His
myself in the car. Fortunately, I had a really
tail is as long as his body. Our animators
On the Move
good team of people there.”
gave him an almost serpentine lizard-like
As is typical in Harry Potter and now the
movement that took it away from the cat.
Fantastic Beasts films, the action moves
double for Kim, a digital snake, and the tran-
But, he still has the facial features of a cat.
from one spectacular setting to another. In
sitions between in postproduction.
We gave it bulging, expressive eyes and
addition to new locations in this film, the
based the facial performance on Chinese
characters visit several locations familiar to
dragons. David loved it.”
Harry Potter fans.
Artists at Framestore created a digital
“It was only one shot, but it was a massive
amount of work,” Manz says.
The sequence inside the circus tent ends
In Paris, Zouwu runs amok, crashing into
“Framestore re-created the great hall
with a fire and a chaotic escape scene. The
buildings and cars as Newt chases him.
at Hogwarts with all the candles,” Manz
camera travels inside and we see circus
He catches him on a bridge over the river
points out. “It was a huge digital build. With
stuff inside folding up into itself. The circus
Seine using a little toy on the end of a stick
only one shot there, there was no appetite
ringmaster says, “Paris is done for us,” waves
that mesmerizes the creature, much like
to rebuild the set, so we scanned the set
his wand, and everything in the tent ends up
a house cat becoming fascinated by a toy
on the Warner Bros. tour and used that to
as a smoking rag on the floor that he pops
on a string. On set, puppeteers performed
re-create the hall digitally, referencing the
into his pocket.
“We previs’d the scene, then created it
using footage from steadicam moves on
set,” Manz says. “We joined that with digital creatures blending through elements
of people running. We had a full-digital
version of the circus set and its contents.
As we go inside the tent, it feels like everything is reducing in scale. We lose depth of
field and things get smaller. We discovered
a lot of that with Proof in postvis, and then
Framestore made it look fantastic.”
One of the creatures escaping the circus
fire is the biggest hero creature in the film,
Zouwu. To create Zouwu, the team referenced a fast-moving Chinese mytholog-
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
c gw
“We took a lot of photographs on a twoday helicopter shoot in Switzerland for a
shot in which Credence casts a spell and
smashes a mountain,” Manz says. “We also
had Dominic Ridley from Clear Angle, who
took between 10,000 and 20,000 photos.
By using photogrammetry, we created 12
kilometers of the valley digitally. Framestore
used that digital scan from Clear Angle as a
basis for creating a full-digital environment.”
Framestore also created a phoenix that
bursts into fire.
“You can see glimpses of the old animatronic phoenix in the Harry Potter films,
but we referenced real birds and built one
more anatomically correct,” Manz says.
“Framestore created the fire burst with
look from previous Harry Potter films.”
The filmmakers also shot scenes in Lacock Village, which Potter fans will recognize
from the second film, Harry Potter and the
Chamber of Secrets.
As for the Ministry of Magic…
“It was a large practical set originally, and
an apartment. Credence wants to discover
fluid simulations. You see a feathered
who his mother is and asks his former nurse,
bird born out of the simulated fire. It was
Irma Dugard (Danièle Hugues).
quite complicated. That was a tough thing
“We gave this four-foot-tall French ac-
about this film. You have to make effects
tress big house-elf hands with three fingers,”
that look amazing, but you only see them
Manz says. “Just that. No funny ears.”
for a few shots. In a way, though, that’s
A hidden assassin called Grimmson (Ing-
what I like. It makes you believe them more
than if you focus on them.”
we found photos and plans of the original
var Eggert Sigurðsson) pulls Nagini into the
drawings used in Potter five [Goblet of Fire]
walls. She turns into a snake and acciden-
and seven [Deathly Hallows: Part 1],” Manz
tally kills Irma. That causes Credence to turn
Moving On
says. “And, we scanned set pieces on the
into an Obscuris.
To move between environments, Newt is
Harry Potter tour that Rodeo used to build
“He explodes,” Manz says. “We filmed on a
sometimes on the back of Zouwu, which has
complete set, and then when it came to the
the ability to bend and warp time and travel
destruction, removed half the set and all the
great distances quickly. To create this effect,
quence for Leta Lestrange with a capsizing
dressing and had the actors on greenscreen.
artists at Framestore used a fluid system.
lifeboat in a fully simulated ocean during a
Rodeo rebuilt the set, all the layers of walls,
storm. For that, the filmmakers shot people
the tiles, the set dressing. They did an amaz-
unmap all the structures and turn them into
in a water tank and then the artists replaced
ing job.”
a fluid,” Burke says. “It’s almost like a viscous
the digital environment.”
The artists also created a flashback se-
that real water with simulated water.
Another sequence with effects by Rodeo
artists begins with Nagini and Credence in
Another spectacular environment and
“They rebuilt sets digitally so we could
liquid that encases Newt on the back of
explosion, this created at Framestore, takes
Zouwu and they become weightless in the
place in Grindelwald’s Alpine castle.
midst of this fluid. We liken it to a mind thing
that Zouwu could control. He has an amazing mane with long tendrils around the neck
that are like synapses from his brain that
warp and distort the environment. That’s
how he apparates [teleports] through time
and space.”
In one of the most visually dramatic sequences in the film, Newt travels on Zouwu
through a time tunnel into a cemetery where
Grindelwald is holding a rally. The setting
is beneath, in a huge underground circular
amphitheater designed by Craig, of which
approximately 20 percent was built on set.
Double Negative extended the amphitheater and filled it.
“They didn’t create digital doubles,” Burke
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
says. “They created 4,000 extras by using
sprites – cards with re-projected filmed
footage. We felt the projections would
be better than a CG crowd because it’s
It’s a trap. Grindelwald creates blue fire
and uses it to attack Newt. Then, Grindelwald attempts to convince the wizards and
witches attending the rally that they should
follow him. He creates a vision of what the
humans are about to do. What they are
about to do is start World War II.
“We created the vision with fluid effects
using live-action footage and filled the
whole underground,” Burke says. “It culminates with the atomic bomb going off.”
Newt and his friends escape into the
cemetery exterior, and we see the whole of
Paris beyond. But, Grindelwald turns blue
fire into huge, winged, demonic creatures
Chris Columbus [director] animation,”
with skeletal bodies.
Burke says. “I was so limited by how many
“They’re about to be unleashed to attack
playblasts I could put in front of them. We
This speed is also important to meet
today’s compressed schedules.
“Tim and I started on the film in January
Paris,” Burke says. “Our remaining wizards
were trying to get the spiders rendered,
2017, working with David and other key
have to stop them. So, we discussed how we
lit, and into the film, and we could show
production team members, then helped
did sequences with the Inferians in the sixth
only one or two hits. That compared to
design creatures and the action sequences
Harry Potter [The Half-Blood Prince] and
the speed we can do things now – the
through preproduction and through the
decided to fight fire with fire.” (In that film,
complex stuff, fire and water effects....
shoot,” Manz says. “Postproduction was
Dumbledore surrounds himself with a ring of
Some of the water work that Method did
five or six months, although we had built
fire to fight the Inferi.)
in this film is among the most sophisticat-
assets before that. But, we had a plan, and
In this film, the wizards slam down their
ed interactive work I’ve been involved with.
the postvis helped the studios know what
wands and create a circle of fire 100 meters
DNeg’s fire – for such huge renders, to get
to do. Plus, the industry as a whole has
in diameter that entraps the blue fire.
those on that scale – we wouldn’t have
more experience. Work that five or 10 years
been able to complete them before. But
ago would have been tough isn’t. Having
creatures, almost like herding, back under-
now, we can give the director iterations.
great artists and a plan makes it possible.”
ground where they originated,” Burke says.
So, when we’re designing a creature made
“It’s an epic sequence. We have orange fire
of fire and the director doesn’t like the way
around blue fire creatures. DNeg built all
it moves, we have been able to go back,
the set extensions, all the fire effects, and
modify, and render simulations that adjust
Barbara Robertson (
the creatures. The creatures are predom-
based on new animation. That kind of
is an award-winning writer and a contributing
inately fire simulations created in [Side
turnaround was restricted in the past.”
editor for CGW.
“They use their magic to drive the
And, perhaps, a touch of magic. 
Effects’] Houdini, with subtle skeletal
forms underneath. The fluid runs off wing
shapes. The head has minimal amounts
of fire attached to it. There’s a charred,
blackened skull underneath. It took a lot of
R&D work to get the right volume of fire,
to get the right movement of the creature,
and to get the right amount of fluid emitting at the correct speed.”
Although the team referenced the fire
effects from the sixth Potter film, which
aired in 2009, effects such as those created for this feature would not have been
possible then – or at least not possible
within the same time frame.
“When I was working as a supervisor at
The Mill on Chamber of Secrets, I’d try to
show Jim Mitchell [VFX supervisor] and
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e d i t i o n 4, 2018
t’s hard to visualize the expansive digital world we call the Internet, a
global system of interconnected computer networks that link people,
places, and all things. But for the CG animated feature film Ralph
Breaks the Internet, that is exactly what the artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios had to do. Then, they had to build it and bring this massive
“invisible” world to life.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is a sequel to the 2012 film Wreck-It Ralph;
in that film, the perpetual video-game antagonist Wreck-It Ralph sheds
his villainous reputation by redeeming himself among his fellow game
characters, who socialize outside their game roles when Litwak’s arcade
closes at night. During that quest, he befriends Princess Vanellope von
Schweetz, a little girl with a big penchant for high-octane racing in Sugar
Rush, a candy-themed kart racing game. Ralph Breaks the Internet picks up
six years later in the arcade, as Vanellope finds herself on the verge of losing
her game unless a difficult-to-find part for Sugar Rush can be located.
Where can a person find such an item? On the Internet, of course. So
Ralph and Vanellope travel to this mysterious place via a newly installed
Wi-Fi router in the arcade to locate the obsolete steering wheel and
prevent Sugar Rush from becoming permanently unplugged.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is Disney’s 57th animated feature, directed
by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, who shares writing credit with Pamela
Ribon. Moore directed the original Ralph as well as the Oscar-winning
Zootopia (2016), with Johnston also serving as a writer on those films.
“We wondered if there was more to the story [of Wreck-It Ralph],” says
Moore, who, along with the rest of the team, transported the lumbering
Ralph (John C. Reilly) and feisty Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) from the
arcade to the Internet. Joining the pair are some characters from the previous film as well as many new ones, including Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), an
entrepreneur and head of the media site BuzzzTube, and Shank (Gal Gadot), a tough-as-nails avatar from the online racing game Slaughter Race.
Throughout the film, Ralph and Vanellope are put to the test. The
same can be said of the entire production team on this film.
Building the Internet
Where does one even begin when it comes to conceptualizing and
bringing the Internet to life on the big screen? After all, it is a gigantic,
complex world – one that creates awe when Ralph and Vanellope first
see it. The artists wanted that same reaction from audiences.
Before anything, the team had to understand how the Internet and
websites work, and then translate that concept from something akin to
a board grid to a land with hubs. “We wanted a metropolis feel, but sort
of abstract,” says Ernie Petti, technical supervisor, who interfaced with all
the departments on solving the technical challenges that would arise. The
design team conceptualized the Internet as a cityscape – “the biggest city
you’ve ever seen,” says Petti. It is filled with wires and boxes and districts,
and teeming with brands (some real, some not) from all over the world.
To keep their vision current during the four years of production while
Images ©2018 Disney
the actual Internet continually changed, the group focused on its main
pillars – shopping, online gaming, and so forth.
New Steps in Worldbuilding
“We came away from Zootopia with the ability to build a world as big as
that city – with distinct districts that were all fully realized and uniquely
populated on a scale that was mind-blowing,” Moore says. “The technology here has taken a huge step forward in the last few years, and we
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
c gw
wanted to keep that going with Ralph Breaks
fluidity: The Internet is alive and changing.”
lighting styles help delineate among the
the Internet. The Internet is not only big, it’s
To build the virtual city, the artists used
many environments. “We also used film
dense with characters and places to go. This
Autodesk’s Maya for modeling, along with
LUTs, which give the sense that you’re
is probably the most complex animated
in-house tools for texturing, including Paint
using different film stock, bringing a more
film we’ve ever made in terms of locations,
3D for painting and proprietary software for
distinctive look to certain environments,”
characters, heavy design, and assets.”
materials creation. Rendering was done us-
says Petti. “For instance, the real world
ing Hyperion. Each building was constructed
is a little more washed out, while the
has a unique, layered pattern, wherein the
of various subparts that were mixed and
Slaughter Race environment has a really
streets are at different levels of verticali-
matched, and reused, yet each structure still
pushed look.”
ty, as are the buildings, constructed with
had to look unique. While Hyperion has in-
building blocks. Interconnecting these
stanced buildings before, all the little pieces
perspective, with cameras attached to the
densely-packed buildings are streets and
and parts here presented a problem.
vehicle to make it feel like an actual car chase
Unlike the city in Zootopia, the Internet
pathways, along with billboards, signage,
was being filmed. The crew also extended
videos, and more jam-packed throughout,
plains, noting that at peak, they were render-
the camera lens system to be more physically
all made from 3D geometry “to give the
ing equivalent to 1.9 million hours a day. “We
based, removing the CG edge from the cam-
camera flexibility and for the light bounces
had to rethink the entire instancing engine.
era for more accurate depth of field, to better
and reflections. “We needed to populate the
So, instead of instancing a building, it would
ground certain scenes like this one in reality.
buildings with crowds and vehicles, which is
look at each piece inside and outside the
easier when it’s all in 3D,” notes Petti.
building, and reuse that stored information.”
Another particularly interesting environment is eBay, where there are endless cubes
The crew started out with a rough
Meanwhile, the newly developed screen
with items being auctioned off, including
construction of a scene as a test. “The
graphics pipeline enabled the artists to track
some Easter eggs such as Aladdin’s lamp.
render never came back due to the sheer
the plethora of screens and videos that are
The items appear as holograms, to indicate
amount of geometry,” Petti notes. So, a
beside, below, and on top of the buildings.
these objects are not physically present
number of steps had to be taken. First,
The art department created the signs, while
in the space, and each has its own unique
the crew needed an efficient way to
the animation department created the
signage, auctioneer, and a bidding counter.
construct the 3D buildings. Then, Disney
videos, all of which had to be organized in
Animation’s in-house Hyperion renderer
an intuitive way so they could be populate
objects as well as signage and characters,
had to be reworked to make the rendering
across the cityscape. While placement of
resulting in a new hologram shader that
more efficient. In addition, the artists de-
the hundreds of thousands of buildings and
allows rays to skip sets of geometry after
vised a new screen graphics pipeline for
screens was done procedurally, that only
light hits the outer surface and automat-
all the signage so they could be authored
provided a starting point for the artists;
ically finds the other side. An “edge glow”
and organized efficiently.
everything still had to be art directed quickly
capability provided the necessary flexibility
and easily from that point forward.
and user control for the effect.
average height comparable to the Empire
Popular Environments
for all the screens. The crew even built the
State Building (1,250 feet). “We wanted
There are approximately 150 master sets
Deep Web, a dark, seedy sort of place at
to include really big buildings that towered
in the film, unique environments including
the depths of the Internet with characters
over the Netizens,” says Larry Wu, head of
the arcade from the original Ralph, which
whose faces are covered with hoodies
environments. “Each building represents a
had to be revamped to work with the
and all sorts of viruses hanging around.
website – the bigger the building, the bigger
updated Hyperion. Then, those sets had
But the one environment that is getting all
the site. And these buildings have floaty
to be fleshed out into individual loca-
the buzz is Oh My Disney, inspired by the
parts to them that give them a sense of
tions within the Internet-scape. Different
actual website of the same name, where
The buildings differed in size and
material (glass, steel, concrete), with an
“We were processing too much,” Petti ex-
Slaughter Race contains a unique film
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
Ralph 2 contains a lot of holograms, for
For BuzzzTube, animations were needed
all things Disney can be found, from Star
well, notes Kira Lehtomaki, head of anima-
scalp to her ponytail. Now, the groom reacts
Wars to Marvel, Pixar, and the Muppets
tion. “But it all works together,” she adds.
like an actual person’s hair would.
into this film. It is here where Vanellope
Litwak’s Pack
designing hair across the board in this film,
meets the Disney princesses (see “Oh My
Although Ralph and Vanellope made their
employing a solution developed for Zootopia
Princesses,” page 29).
feature-film debut only six years ago, in
and also used on Moana, whereby look dev
animation, that can mean a lifetime. Time
and technical animation define hair grooms
and technology marches on, requiring
using a hierarchy of strands that allow for
these characters to be reworked due to
improved art direction while still maintaining
a number of advancements in the past
a believable feel when simulation is added.
– all of which had to be re-created to fit
Cast of
In fact, the artists devised a new way of
Once the Internet was built, it had to be
few years, especially in terms of lighting
populated. Like the original Ralph, this movie
and rendering. “A lot of our technology
New Main Characters
features a mishmash of environments and
changed since the first Ralph, and our
There are many new characters that help
characters, only this time they span far
system couldn’t even open up the original
Ralph and Vanellope navigate the Internet,
beyond the video-game realm to include
Ralph because our simulation engine, rig-
including Yesss, the trend-predicting head
just about every genre. And, there would be
ging systems, and even our renderer have
algorithm at BuzzzTube. Yesss’ poses
many of them, far more than a Walt Disney
changed,” Komorowski says.
and movements are big, snappy, and
Ralph received some facial work, more
exaggerated. She changes hairstyles and
hair, longer legs (for better performance),
clothing often, and her outfits are quite a
and wrinkles on his clothing. According
spectacle – after all, she is a trendsetter.
ters. And, the number continued to increase
to Komorowski, the group had difficulty
Her clothes are very defined and have very
from there.
with Ralph’s rigging on the first film due to
sharp angles “because she’s a very sharp
his proportions – Ralph is an 8-bit game
and quick-witted character,” Lehtomaki
creation into perspective, consider these
character whose legs are as long as they are
says. The ultimate creator of cool, Yesss
numbers: Bolt had 57 characters; Wreck-It
wide, making it especially difficult to bend
sometimes sports a large faux-fur jacket
Ralph, 233 (421 variants); Zootopia, 182 (687
his legs and get an appealing pose.
made out of fiber-optic cables whose tips
Animation Studios film has ever had. So,
every vertex would count.
The first test contained 150,000 charac-
To put the daunting task of character
variants); and Ralph Breaks the Internet, 434
Also, Ralph’s clothing is more detailed and
light up, changing constantly based on
characters with unique sculpts and 6,752
moves better now. There are a lot of subtle
her data intake. Code, meanwhile, moves
variants. Also, a new crowd system enabled
wrinkles. Plus, there is a lot of cloth sliding
through her hair.
some scenes with 500,000-plus unique
thanks to the use of Marvelous Designer’s 3D
characters, though the system was able to
tool for a more realistic, natural result. The
fits hand-in-racing glove into the dark, gritty
generate twice that number.
same can be said about the detail and sim-
urban environment of her edgy online game,
ulation of Vanellope’s clothing. “If you look on
Slaughter Race. “There is a subtlety to her
are from the first Ralph, but mostly they are
the inside of her hoodie, you can see the pilling
acting and performances,” says Komorow-
new ones, some with larger roles and some
that we’ve added,” Komorowski points out.
ski. Through Shank and her posse, the artists
So, who are all these characters? Some
just faces in the crowd. “What I love about
In contrast to Ralph, Vanellope is not from
Shank is another complex avatar, who
pay homage to the various car racing games
the Ralph series is that almost anything
the 8-bit world and has a lot of S curves to
that use lower-level motion capture where-
goes. We have characters that are all over
her posing. Her motion is fluid and zippy.
by their foot contact is not always perfect to
the board appearance-wise,” notes Dave
One of the bigger adjustments to Vanellope
the ground. “We do this purposefully in the
Komorowski, head of characters and techni-
was her hair, specifically her ponytail. The
film because we wanted to evoke the fun in
cal animation. From a craft standpoint, there
technology six years ago didn’t provide a
some of those games,” Lehtomaki says.
is every kind of keyframe animation style as
way for the animators to run a hair from her
Shank wears layered clothing: a hoodie
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c gw
on top of a T-shirt, and a leather jacket over
subsurface shader, presenting some
robotic body motion (with their heads lead-
that. “We ran a simulation and then art
surprising results. On the first Ralph, the
ing the action, as if directed by a computer
directed her long, flowing brown hair,” says
subsurface solution tended to wash out fine
mouse). They have block-shaped heads
Komorowski of this fearless driver whose
detail, so the artists would amp up those
and are rather uniform in size. But everything
hair often blows in the wind.
shapes to get them to read better once the
else about them – from their clothes to their
subsurface was applied. “When we used the
hairstyles – are unique from all the other Net
Dan (Alfred Molina), a grouchy, slug-like
path-traced subsurfacing, suddenly all those
Users, thanks to a mix-and-match creation
shifty sort of guy so named because of a
details were standing out. Ralph looked a bit
system that included facial sculpts and
conjoined little twin brother, named Little
like a Neanderthal, and we had to tone back
so forth for the most variety possible. The
Dan, tucked into the folds of his neck.
some of that detail,” says Komorowski.
animators then used a crowd rig for these
On the gross side of the scale is Double
Double Dan is the proprietor of the Dark
Netizens & Net Users
various viruses. Far from a subtle character,
Another fun and interesting character is
Double Dan’s animation does, in fact, have
KnowsMore, an outdated, clunky digital
a subtleness, which adds to his intimidation
academic running the search bar. A search
type, a system called Refitters used the base
engine personified, he was inspired by the
simulation setup to retrofit the clothing to
1950s/’60s style of animation that is simplis-
different shapes by using specific landmarks
simulation to really sell the scale of the larger
tic yet elegant. Like the other characters, he
on the bodies, saving all the rigging and simu-
animals. Here, they applied that technology
was created in Maya, but his cartoony eyes
lation procedures. The artists just clean it up.
to Double Dan, giving him jiggle as he moves.
and the reflection in his glasses were crafted
“His little brother is right there on his neck,
in Meander, in-house software first used in
…But Who’s Counting?
which presented us with even more of a
the short “Paperman.” In fact, the Internet is
Disney Animation is known for pushing the
challenge,” says Komorowski.
filled with these native avatars called Neti-
state of the art in technology and creativity.
zens, who call the Internet “home.”
And Ralph Breaks the Internet is no exception.
In Zootopia, the crew used a lot of muscle
The basic sculpts for these and the other
main characters were created in Pixologic’s
Netizens are colorful bits of characters of
used for the main characters, but rather a
simplified version of the standard rig.
To account for some deviation in body
In this case, though, the challenge did
ZBrush, and then the models were ported over
various sizes and shapes branded to their
not rest with a unique, singular advance-
to Maya, where they were rigged and simu-
website – sort of ghosts in the machine that
ment; rather, it was about expanding the
lated using mostly proprietary tools written
perform actions on the Internet. Mostly they
scale and scope of previous advancements.
inside of Maya. The animators employed a
look cartoony, and their actions are more
In Frozen, all the characters were simulat-
newer, faster rigging system on this film, called
fluid than the Net Users’. “They’re meant to
ed. In Big Hero 6, the team wrote a new
Parade, enabling the animators to scrub back
be digitally constructed. Their skin has a su-
shader. In Zootopia, they dealt with massive
and forth to a nearly real-time result. The
per-soft silicon feel. Their hair is a bit metallic,
scales of crowds and hair, and on Moana,
models were textured using the studio’s Paint
and if you look at their specular highlights,
they tackled wind in the hair and water.
3D and Adobe’s Photoshop. Hyperion, again,
you’ll see little circuit board types of textures,”
Without any of those steps, Ralph Breaks
was used for the shaders.
says Komorowski. Some Netizens, though,
the Internet would not have been possible.
like Shank, Yesss, and Double Dan, have larger
Or, it would have been “less” in every way:
roles in the film, and are extremely detailed.
fewer buildings, fewer characters, painted
Using the Hyperion renderer devised for
Big Hero 6, the artists were able to make
colors in this film more vibrant. “It’s a level
In addition, there are Net Users, mechani-
of sophistication we just didn’t have on the
cal representations of us inside the Internet.
first Ralph, and we really wanted to plus
Non-natives, Net Users do not show a lot
them in this world,” says Komorowski.
of emotion; they have iconic expressions
With Hyperion, the subsurface shading
models were changed to a path-traced
characters, which is not as robust as the rig
Net’s apothecary, where he whips up
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
backdrops, static signs….
Petti sums up the work perfectly: “Everything here was just more.” 
that kind of snap or pop from one extreme
to another. They have limited, somewhat
Karen Moltenbrey is the chief editor of CGW.
Oh My Princesses
In Ralph Breaks the Internet, Ralph and Vanellope decide to
underwater? Or translate Aurora’s (Sleeping Beauty’s)
make a viral video to pay for an eBay bid gone awry. And the
stylized, art-deco curls and cinnamon bun-like bangs? “The
subject of this video? The Disney princesses in the Oh My
artists [back then] were making choices based on what
Disney realm of the Internet.
angle they were drawing them from, so while they could
The sequence uses a tongue-in-cheek approach to
move lines in a drawing to accommodate that, in CG, we
lovingly poking light fun at Disney and its beloved princess-
actually have real strands of hair growing from their head,
es. The idea was made on the fly during production and
so the hairdo has to make sense,” says Lehtomaki. Together,
presented at a story meeting, not knowing how it would be
the animators and simulation team figured out how to move
received. Disney and the directors loved it.
each strand of hair to achieve a particular curl.
The first order of business was to research the characters
Rebuilding the princesses in the Ralph style required
– 14 of the officially coronated Disney Animation princesses,
modelers, riggers, the hair simulation team, texturers, and
including Merida “from the other studio.” This was done by
lighters all working together with animation in what was
accessing the Disney Animation Research Library, which
informally dubbed the Princess Palooza Lab. The process
houses all the original drawings from the films, to study
was collaborative and iterative, not linear – and not just for
expressions and movements. They also consulted many of
the hair, but for the movement as well. Lending insight were
the original animation supervisors.
some of the original animators and the voice actress who
The biggest challenge was converting the characters
were live-action models for their particular princess; they
from their original 2D form to CGI; the textures of their
also voiced the princesses in this film. Each princesses’ per-
original outfits as well as new, contemporary clothing also
formance had to be specific to that character in substance
had to be made in CG. Even the more recent 3D characters
and movement.
needed re-stylized to fit into the Ralph 2 visual universe.
“There are little homages to really iconic scenes from the
“Some are more cartoony, some are more realistic. And
original films that are peppered throughout the background
their eye sizes can be drastically different,” says Kira Lehto-
in the sequences, so even if a princess is not the center of
maki, head of animation.
focus in a scene, there’s still intricate character movement
Hair often became challenging as well – how would they
make Ariel’s hair, which was always voluminous and flowing
happening in the background,” says Lehtomaki.
Is this sequence iconic enough to go viral? Quite possibly.
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
c gw
n 1964, Disney released one of
Award-winning director Rob Marshall
its most iconic films and intro-
(Chicago, Into the Woods) and a stellar
duced audiences to Mary Pop-
team of creatives that includes Academy
effects requirements throughout the film,
pins, a story of a charmed nanny
Award-winning DP Dion Beebe (Chicago,
but there were certainly key areas that
who, through music and magic,
Memoirs of a Geisha), editor Wyatt Smith
demanded a great deal of focus, including
helped repair a strained relationship
(Into the Woods, Doctor Strange), and vi-
a brand-new animated/live-action
between two children and their father.
sual effects supervisor Matt Johnson (Into
sequence, an underwater segment, the
Relying on some of the period’s most
the Woods, World War Z) – all of whom
fictitious Cherry Tree Lane where the
cutting-edge techniques, the studio
had some very large shoes to fill.
Banks family lives, and, of course, Mary
mixed animation with live-action perfor-
“It’s funny, it’s Mary Poppins, and Disney
at various locations throughout England.
According to Johnson, there were visual
Poppins’ magic itself.
mances, as well as some practical gags,
is handing you the crown jewels, going,
and took audiences on an adventure
“here, take these. And don’t screw it up,”
the visual effects for this film,” says John-
with dancing penguins, carousel horses,
Johnson says with a laugh. “It’s one of the
son. The creation of Cherry Tree Lane, for
and singing farm animals. The next year,
most iconic films ever made, and every-
instance, is a partial set built at Surrey,
the film went on to win five Academy
one is going to be looking at the visual
England’s Shepperton Studios, with a full-
Awards, including one for visual effects.
effects because they are really important.
CG London behind it.
Fast forward 54 years, and Disney is
I mean, she does magic, and magic tends
hoping to make movie magic once again
to be visual effects, which were spectacu-
a sort-of CG park, and a lot of digital
with a long-awaited sequel, Mary Poppins
lar in Mary Poppins!”
extension work in the film,” explains
Returns, staring Emily Blunt as Mary
“We really run the gamut in terms of
“There were a lot of CG environments,
Johnson. “We had to take contemporary
Poppins, Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack,
No Place Like Home
Colin Firth as William Weatherall Wilkins,
Production on Mary Poppins Returns
To that end, there was a great deal of
Meryl Streep as Topsy, and Dick Van Dyke
began in February 2017, and the film was
“invisible” visual effects work, “instances
as Mr. Dawes Jr. At the helm is Academy
shot on Arri Alexa Mini and SXT cameras
where the audience is just looking at the
Images ©2017 Disney Enterprises, Inc
London and make it look like it was 1934.”
performance of the actors and unaware
is moving. Every little anemone that’s
what comes to mind when you think
that what they are looking at is a big
popping out of the coral is breathing,
of Mary Poppins,” agrees Johnson. “The
CG creation behind them,” he explains.
and there are fish that are feeding on
carousel, the penguins…. We obviously
“That’s sort of the first level and a very im-
the little bits of coral and swimming. “All
needed to go there, too. We properly
portant part of the movie. There is a lot of
kinds of stuff are layered into the shots,”
went old school and worked with many of
that going on that you are not supposed
says Johnson. “It’s all really huge amounts
the original animators who came out of
to be aware of.”
of CG, but it’s not just like, ‘Hey, look at
retirement to work on it. I mean, it’s Mary
this amazing CG stuff,’ but it’s just the
Poppins, so why wouldn’t you? We were
environment that Mary and the kids find
literally back to animation stands where
themselves in.”
people were drawing with pencils. It was
Every Little Thing
She Does Is Magic
Johnson points out that there’s nat-
Once Marshall and his team decided
proper, traditional old school. It was a
urally a lot of “fantastical stuff” going
to employ the hand-drawn techniques
world that would have been very familiar
on in the film since Mary Poppins is,
of classic Disney films, some of the top
to Walt Disney walking through it in the
well, magic. “There are various musical
animators from Pixar and Walt Disney
’60s. It was a delight.”
numbers where Mary and the kids go
Animation came out of retirement just to
into these completely fantastical CG
be involved with the project. They created
sical theater and Broadway background
worlds,” he says.
the animation/live-action sequence.
lent itself well to how the visual effects
According to Johnson, Marshall’s mu-
There’s a number where they are
“We were all incredibly excited to
played out in the film. “He stages a lot of
traveling through a magical underwater
bring this unique art form back to life,”
the big numbers like he’s doing a Broad-
kingdom. “That was fun; we were literally
says Marshall. “Having every single
way show. So, you will have Mary Poppins
creating an entire CG ocean,” he says.
frame hand-drawn by great Disney/Pix-
and Jack dancing down an animated
ar artists has been a once-in-a-lifetime
magical staircase with penguins and ev-
thrill for all of us.”
erything, and rather than do a three-sec-
For the sequence, the artists created
sort of a whole new kind of coral system.
Every strand of coral and every bit of kelp
“The animated sequence is obviously
ond take, we’re running a full, six-minute
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
c gw
production number with four cameras
is obviously iconic, so there are many
Mary Poppins, but also feels kind of
and doing everything in sort of real time.
things that people associate with it, like
contemporary as well.”
He continues: “You really have to
Cherry Tree Lane and the cartoon world.
factor that into your approach when
The way we approached it was, in 1964
you’re planning out the visual effects.
they were using the absolute latest cut-
Old School Goes
You can’t completely rely on, ‘Oh, don’t
ting-edge technology that was available
Johnson explains that when Disney first
worry, Rob, we can fix that later in post.
to them at that time. It was as up to date
started working on its animated features,
There will be a CG person in there.’ Rob
as any Marvel blockbuster is today. That
they used a multiplane technique, where-
is very precise… he knows exactly what
solarium yellow lighting, the multi-camera
by up to four layers of a scene were drawn
he wants, from every angle of every
setups. Just the way that things were
onto glass and then filmed.
dancer’s hand, to where their leg is, to
done was absolutely the pinnacle of 1964
where that certain thing is in the frame
visual effects,” says Johnson.
on that precise musical beat. All those
In that same vein, “we wanted to make
“To introduce parallax in the background, they used to put on the layer
farthest away from the camera, the skies,
sure that a modern audience, and maybe
then on the next one up, they would put
kids who have never seen the first movie,
the mountains, then the trees,” Johnson
film, certain things had to be done differ-
still would get something out of the new
says. “By just slightly offsetting how they
ently. For instance, “if we wanted to say,
movie. We wanted to pay homage to the
moved them or the camera – moving the
‘Just film Mary’s head and stick her in a
work that had been done previously – we
closest one faster and the one farthest
CG body and float her along,’ that wasn’t
are all standing on the shoulders of giants
away slower, frame by frame – they would
going to work in this kind of movie,” John-
– so we had to make sure that our stuff
achieve an effective parallax. That was
son says. Instead, the team had to make a
works in a 21st century context,” Johnson
the old-school technique. You would
lot of extremely elaborate wirework from
adds. “With that said, Cherry Tree Lane
typically have four layers on a Disney
which cast members would be suspend-
had to be more realistic, had to appeal
animated feature film.”
ed simultaneously.
to a more contemporary audience who
things had to be factored in.”
With Marshall’s unique approach to the
“Everything would be done as if we
were making a live show,” explains John-
expects a certain kind of look.”
And, as it turns out, their approach to
The modern version of that, which was
used for some but not all of the animated sequences in Mary Poppins Returns,
son, “with cameras and actors traveling
combining some of the oldest tech-
was to project animated textures onto
down on wires and tracks, and everything
niques with the new methods worked
different cards. “So, instead of having four
was choreographed to music. It was like
really well, according to Johnson. “We
sheets of glass that you would with a mul-
taking old-school techniques and modern
literally wrote new code to create these
tiplane camera, you could have 90 indi-
techniques and fusing them together.”
kinds of environments. We also needed
vidual cards. So, each tree would be on a
to make the lighting work because
different plane, each bit of grass would be
for both Marshall and him was that, while
you don’t want the lighting to look like
on a different plane, and as the camera is
they were making a Mary Poppins movie,
traditional CG lighting,” he notes. “That
moving through, it’s imparting a sense of
it was a movie “in the 21st century and
was not the look we were going for. It
parallax. And Rob would often shoot the
not 1964.”
was fascinating and technically a very
animated sequences with a Steadicam,
challenging process to get that blend
which is what modern audiences would
right so it feels animated and feels like
expect,” explains Johnson.
According to Johnson, what was key
“The look of Poppins has been an
interesting kind of balancing act. The film
in the wind for the end sequence,” says
filming it, that this had the potential
where Mary Poppins and Jack are dancing
Johnson. “It was huge amounts of render-
to be a very special movie,” Johnson
with the penguins, we built a CG music
ing. A sequence where they are floating
recalls. “There are a lot of things that
hall, a CG set, and actually textured it as
above the ocean, with a gigantic ocean
were filmed in greenrooms or [with
you would in technical 3D, but textured
where every single sphere of the bubbles
actors] looking at something that’s not
it with hand-drawn artwork, so it was
had to be rendered and correctly reflect
there, or they’re dancing with people
textured to look like it was a flat drawing,”
and refract light. These renders took
wearing green leotards. That’s all great
Johnson continues.
weeks and weeks to get right. It took the
and everyone did such an amazing
absolute bleeding edge of technology to
job filming it, but it’s like, if the visual
get this stuff to look right.”
effects team doesn’t get this right, then
“When you see the animated sequence
The technique was used particularly for
lighting purposes because Marshall had
Meanwhile, Framestore in Montreal did
we’re letting down a lot of people and,
fill lights due to his theatrical background.
the animated world as well as an amazing
quite frankly, the Disney legacy of Mary
“That was a big deal to him, to make the
animated music hall and the chase envi-
Poppins. We just had to make sure that
lighting work. We were able to do that
we worked as hard as we could to cre-
very specific notes about spotlights and
without making it look like it was com-
Cinesite was responsible for the Cherry
ate something that everyone could be
pletely real,” Johnson continues. “Again,
Tree Lane environment, Mary’s enchanted
just taking it slightly one step forward,
bicycle, animated kites, and the teaser
so you get the more simple, the multiple
where clouds roll past and Mary Poppins
sequences were Johnson’s favorites to
planes of artwork for the first bit, and
comes out. The studio also completed
work on. He was particularly pleased that
then we get into something more elab-
a sequence of Big Ben. “So, we had to
Mary’s famous talking umbrella was not
orate. We were able to keep very true to
create a digital House of Parliament
CG, but rather an old-school animatronic.
the look of the original film and yet bring it
and a full-digital 1930 London with the
river Thames and all the buildings and
Johnson says. “I think we made a really
sweeping shots of nighttime London, and
special film. I think the visual effects are
London is CG. Complicated stuff!”
amazing. I think we made something
The Main Players
Much of the work was broken up among
Teams relied on the tried-and-true
pleased with and proud of.”
While challenging, many of the big
“I’m really excited for people to see it,”
that I hope people who liked the first
several main visual effects studios, with
combo of Autodesk’s Maya, Foundry’s
move will enjoy… and without copying
Framestore in London and Montreal, and
Nuke, and particle systems at the center
the original. I want people to think that
Cinesite in Montreal doing the lion’s share
of their software packages, while each
we were respectful of the original film.
of the work. Luma came in and complet-
“certainly had their own kind of special
I also want people who never saw Mary
ed a sequence with Meryl Streep.
sauce,” says Johnson. “We shared a lot of
Poppins to like it, too. And, of course,
assets, including digi-doubles of charac-
I want Disney to feel that we kept the
ters and Cherry Tree Lane.”
crown jewels intact.” 
“Framestore London was responsible
primarily for the underwater and abovethe-ocean sequence, and a sequence at
With so many challenges, one of the
the end of the movie where everyone kind
biggest, in Johnson’s opinion, was “not
of floats around on balloons. They literally
screwing them up!” (laughs).
built a full-CG London park scene with a
whole-CG horizon and CG trees blowing
“When we were previewing it,
everyone was very aware, even when
Linda Romanello (lromanello@postmagazine.
com) is the chief editor of Post, CGW’s sister
Creative Bloke
Media & Entertainment
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After Effects I Adobe
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From the UK’s National Trust to
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digital content creator Mike Griggs
An eGPU is a full-sized graphics card installed
has a wide and varied portfolio of
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supply that is then connected to the host PC
motion graphics and multimedia
or laptop via a Thunderbolt™ 3 USB Type-C
exhibits. A typical day might involve
interface. The latest macOS versions robustly
sampling birdsong near
integrate eGPU support for
Virginia Woolf’s country
“When the eGPU is working Radeon Pro graphics, providing
estate or creating 3D
a simple, plug-and-play
with the Radeon Pro WX
animations for VR. To
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boost the graphics capabilities
demands, Griggs wanted
Mike Griggs, Founder,
of his Mac system.
to take the full power of
Creative Bloke
the GPU computing
Griggs chose the AMD
revolution on the road.
Radeon Pro WX 9100 graphics card in the
“My work is never the same from one day
to the next, and I need the power that GPU
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portability — for client visits, working on
the go, collating data from photo and video
shoots and just exploring ideas while
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Creative Bloke.
However, until recently, Griggs found the
combination of portability and
performance led to many compromises
instead of the optimal “laptop turned
desktop workstation” he sought. Then
Apple officially rolled out external GPU
(eGPU) support for Thunderbolt 3equipped Macs3, only recommending eGPU
solutions powered by AMD graphics cards.
“I was thrilled,” Griggs said. “The eGPUs
have long been the grail of modular
computing, and staying with the Mac
has become so much easier because of
the eGPU support.”
Apple-recommended Sonnet eGFX
Breakaway Box 650W, with the Sonnet
connected to an AMD FreeSync1-enabled
4K display. The combination overcomes a
“frustrating compromise” that Griggs
had made for years — that of having to
switch between his Apple MacBook Pro
and higher-powered Windows-based
workstations he custom-built.
With the Radeon Pro WX 9100 eGPU,
Grigg says his laptop feels like a
workstation. “Day-to-day tasks feel
quicker with the powerful GPU,” he said,
adding that “the Radeon Pro WX 9100
throws graphics and UI elements around
the screen smoother than a hot knife
through butter.”
He said in his experience, the performance of
After Effects and Premiere, both from Adobe,
is enhanced by the powerful GPU, while his
favorite editing application, Apple Final Cut
Pro X, is “a beast” on the eGPU when
scrubbing, rendering previews and working
with effects and motion graphics.
In his own tests, Griggs said the speed improvements when
using the Radeon Pro WX 9100 eGPU with a MacBook Pro for
Maxon Cinema 4D are also dramatic. For a Radeon ProRender
scene he created, the Radeon Pro WX 9100 eGPU took 10
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than 42 minutes for the laptop’s internal Radeon Pro 560
integrated graphics. This is a benefit when working under tight
“With everything delivered digitally, if you’re on a one- or twoday turnaround and someone’s screaming at you, a half hour can
make a difference,” he said.
Griggs said this flexibility creates an upgrade path for the current
generations of Macs for the first time, extending the
performance of the hardware, critical for artists making a
substantial capital investment in Apple hardware. He also enjoys
the flexibility of hot-swapping eGPUs: when he needs optimal
performance across all his video and graphics applications, Griggs
can use the Radeon Pro WX 9100 eGPU to keep his MacBook Pro
charged while essentially turning it into a desktop workstation.
He can then simply disconnect the eGPU when the laptop’s
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“The way this functionality has been implemented by Apple and
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With a performance increase of up to 4x4, the Radeon Pro WX
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9100 eGPU in tandem with the MacBook Pro also
card. “You plug the eGPU into the back of your
“The AMD Radeon Pro WX
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computer and you’re done—and your machine is three
9100 throws graphics and
times more powerful.”
“Quicker render times means quicker iteration
UI elements around the
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screen smoother than a hot
In addition to helping to protect investment in Apple
starting to explore things with your creativity
knife through butter.”
hardware, the eGPU opens new competitive
you would not have before because it would take
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Mike Griggs, Founder,
45 minutes to render. Now what you see is what
he said. “With my AMD Radeon Pro eGPU box, I can
Creative Bloke
you get, you can tweak and update while
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I can deliver a high-quality product just as quickly
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All these workflows can become even more efficient, as a single
MacBook Pro or iMac Pro can support multiple Radeon Pro WX 9100
powered eGPUs through multiple Thunderbolt 3 connections. “You
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He noted the different performance and price points of Radeon
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1. Requires a monitor and AMD Radeon™ graphics, both with FreeSync support. See for complete details. Confirm capability with your system manufacturer before
purchase. GD-127
2.In independent testing performed by Mike Griggs, founder of Creative Bloke, using the Radeon Pro WX 9100 eGPU with a Thunderbolt 3-equipped MacBook Pro running Maxon Cinema 4D.
3. External graphics processors (eGPUs) are supported on any Thunderbolt 3-equipped Mac running macOS High Sierra 10.13.4 or later (
4. Testing conducted by AMD Performance Labs as of June 18th, 2018, on a 2017 15” Mac Book Pro test system comprising of Intel Core i7 quad-core processor@ 3.1GHz, 16GB DDR3 system memory,
MacOS 10.13.2 (High Sierra), Radeon Pro 560 integrated graphics, and Sonnet eGPU Breakaway box with AMD Radeon™ Pro WX 9100 graphics. Benchmark Applications: Maxon® Cinema4D® and
Radeon™ ProRender, Autodesk® Maya® and Radeon™ ProRender. Performance measured using the internal “AMD_motorcycle” model for Cinema4D, “helmet_demo.mb” for Maya. Results of
benchmark with “AMD_motorcycle” model: Onboard graphics = 939 seconds, Onboard + eGPU = 269 seconds. 939/269 = 3.49x improvement. Results of benchmark with “helmet_demo.mb” model
on Maya: Onboard graphics = 1644 secs, Onboard + eGPU = 408 seconds, 1644/408 = 4x improvement. PC manufacturers may vary configurations, yielding different results. Performance may vary
based on use of latest drivers. RPW-210
©2018 Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. All rights reserved. AMD, the AMD Arrow logo, Radeon, Radeon Pro, and combinations thereof are trademarks of Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. Apple, Final Cut
Pro, iMac Pro, Mac, MacBook Pro, and macOS are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries. Thunderbolt is trademark of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries in the U.S.
and/or other countries. Adobe, Adobe Premiere, and After Effects are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated in the United States and/or other countries.
Maxon and Cinema 4D are either registered or unregistered trademarks of MAXON Computer GmbH and its subsidiaries, MAXON Computer, Inc. and MAXON Computer, Ltd. Other product names
used in this publication are for identification purposes only and may be trademarks of their respective companies.
Red Carpet Wor thy
The year at the box office started out rath-
$700 million in gross sales at the theater,
planets. This includes a menacing forest on
er slowly, but it quickly gained momentum
followed by Avengers: Infinity War at $679
the evil planet Camazotz, where a violent
thanks to a particular superhero who
million, and Incredibles 2 at $608 million. (In
dust storm kicks up, with flying debris, dark
definitely came to the rescue – yet again.
fact, Black Panther sits at number three on
clouds, ground that separates, and more.
Without question, there were some big
the all-time box-office list.) Following for
blockbuster VFX-filled films this year, aside
the year is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,
from Black Panther. Just in the super-
Deadpool 2, Mission: Impossible – Fallout,
hero realm alone, there are a number of
Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Solo: A Star
strong contenders as we head into awards
Wars Story – again, all big-time effects
season, including Ant-Man and the Wasp,
films. Although box-office gold does not
Deadpool 2, Avengers: Infinity War, and the
directly translate into Oscar gold, it is an
upcoming Aquaman.
indication of overall popularity, at least
In fact, a plethora of films released in 2018
contain a degree of visual effects work –
category, there are a number of standouts.
Avengers: Infinity War
April 27, 2018
Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios
“Superhero” and “super visual effects” go
hand-in-hand. And Avengers: Infinity War
definitely falls into this description. It is full of
supersize VFX scenes containing legendary worlds and characters. Aside from the
impressive work that brought the heroes
to life, a larger-than-life standout is all-CG
Thanos, motion-captured and animated by
the visual effects teams at Digital Domain.
In addition, there is the CG character Ebony
Maw from Cinesite who is featured fullscreen. In fact, character animation is big in
the film, especially in various fight sequences, including the all-out battle between the
Guardians and Avengers.
A Wrinkle in Time
March 9, 2018
Walt Disney Pictures
This long-awaited sci-fi adventure from
Disney takes audiences through space and
time. Some of the better effects are contained within the environments of the alien
Black Panther
February 16, 2018
Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures
This movie dominated conversation and
theaters for quite some time due to a
number of its many achievements, including the effects, created by a dozen primary
among the general public.
As we await the short lists and nominees
some far more plentiful and cutting-edge
for the upcoming Academy Awards and
than others.
other major motion-picture competitions,
On the animated features side, CG
here is the rundown of some of my top
superheroes played their part in saving
choices and why I believe they are deserving
the day, too, as the Incredibles once again
of this honor.
flexed their muscle at the theater, drawing
in crowds left and right for Incredibles 2.
As of this writing, a number of the holiday-season films had yet to be released –
While the list of work is quite long in this
features boasting tremendous appeal and
tremendous visual effects work. In fact, a
handful (namely Mary Poppins Returns, Fantastic Beasts 2, and The Nutcracker) could
potentially unseat the year’s top earners.
Until then, the films in the top spots at
the box office are VFX/animated superhero films: Black Panther, with more than
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
vendors for the 2,500 VFX shots – 2,000
honesty, the combination results in a more
of which contain “significant effects.” They
believable period look.
range from subtle, small effects to full-CG
shots. A lot of the work was environmental: a CG city built inside Wakanda;
a jungle; a casino. And there is plenty of
VFX action, too: a car chase in Busan, an
elaborate fight scene at the casino and in
the arid landscape; a fire in a greenhouse;
a dream sequence; and more.
December 21, 2018
Paramount Pictures
Because it is part of the uber-popular
Transformers property, Bumblebee cannot
be overlooked. The franchise is filled with big
effects, the kind reserved for big bots and
big battles.
Christopher Robin
August 3, 2018
Walt Disney Pictures
In this lovable film, the past comes back to
the adult Christopher Robin, after his old
friend Winnie the Pooh pays him a visit. In
the film, Pooh and his Hundred Acre Wood
friends are CG, interacting with live actors.
They are not polished CGI characters,
though; instead, they have a fluffy quality
to them – perfect for their role of stuffed
animals who come to life.
Fantastic Beasts:
The Crimes of Grindelwald
November 16, 2018
Warner Bros.
The beasts are back! The second installment of the Fantastic Beasts series, this
film is filled with fantastic creatures big
and small. In addition, look for magic, often
the result of digital magic by VFX artists.
Also, many of the environments are unique
(think Harry Potter scale), which are also CG
First Man
October 12, 2018
Universal Pictures/DreamWorks
Space is often considered the final frontier,
and in First Man, about Neil Armstrong’s trip
to the moon, there is plenty of out-of-thisworld effects. While there is some amazing
digital work, the film also includes methods
from the past, such as integrated archival footage and practical sets. And, in all
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
June 22, 2018
Universal Pictures
The film is evolutionary, particularly in terms
of the visual effects. Twenty-five years ago,
ILM crafted its first CG dinosaur for the
original film, and since then, has created
an evolution. Indeed, there are still some
amazing animatronics in the latest movie, but
the many CG dinos in the film are amazing in
every way, from the models to the animation.
In one memorable scene, the dinosaur Blue is
reunited with its trainer Owen, a shot in which
the animators at ILM gave the cold-blooded
character personality. There is also a volcano
eruption, causing a massive stampede, as
well as some all-CG shots. Thanks to this
work, the franchise never gets old.
Mary Poppins Returns
December 19, 2018
Walt Disney Pictures
Decades after she left (5.4 in actual time,
2.5 in the film’s chronology), Mary Poppins
returns to Cherry Lane, turning the mundane into pure fun and magic. And, a broken
bowl becomes the portal to a cartoon world
– created with traditional-looking animation
to mimic the look from the original film.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
July 27, 2018
Paramount Pictures
We all know that actor Tom Cruise likes to
perform his own stunts in his action-packed
films, and in his latest Mission: Impossible
film, some of the more publicized stunts are
in fact practical. But, that does not mean
he, or the movie itself, lacked the assistance
of CGI to up the ante. Quite the opposite.
As Ethan Hunt performs a nighttime HALO
jump, DNeg tracked the city of Paris into the
plate and conjured up a raging storm below
the plane. The film also contains two helicopters crashing into each other – a CG shot.
Mortal Engines
December 14, 2018
Universal Pictures
The best way to describe this movie is
“epic.” Think Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit epic. (What else would you expect from
the filmmakers of those franchises?) There
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
c gw
are massive structures, massive machines,
bring the kingdoms to life. There are fully CG
The film is a stop-motion-animated
massive crowds, CG environments including
environments: a land covered in ice, a land
science-fiction film from Wes Anderson,
a futuristic, steampunk version of London,
overgrown with flowers, and a land covered in
and it clearly carries his unique style.
now a giant machine.
candy; they complement sets designed and
(Many of the animators worked on his
built for the Fourth Realm and the palace.
earlier creation, Fantastic Mr. Fox.) The
Separating each realm is a CG river with huge
hand sculpting was augmented with dig-
CG waterfalls. (Including all of the smaller wa-
ital techniques. The film boasts 20,000
terfalls on each realm, CG artists created 23
faces, and 1,105 animatable puppets
individual CG waterfalls in all.) Lurking in the
were crafted by 12 sculptors. In addition,
Fourth Realm is the Mouse King, a mysterious
2,000 more puppets were made for the
and monstrous character made up of 60,000
background characters. This is a beautiful,
mice. Created entirely in CG, the Mouse King
well-crafted feature.
Ready Player One
March 29, 2018
Warner Bros.
The central theme of virtual reality runs
strong in Ready Player One, about a dystopian future filled with people effectively
drugged by VR and a young man’s quest
to save the virtual world he thrives in and
gain a fortune in doing so. This movie can
be thought of as three films in one in terms
of the work involved. There’s the real-time
game-engine version used by director
Steven Spielberg for previs and production,
the 90-minute photoreal animated feature
created by ILM in which actors appear as avatars, and the final film, which includes that
virtual world called the OASIS plus live action with visual effects set in the real world.
In summary, a virtual pleasure for sure.
moves in a very cool, very specific way.
Editor’s Picks:
The Nutcracker, Mortal Engines, Black
Panther, Avengers, Ready Player One,
Jurassic World, Fantastic Beasts 2
As of this writing, 25 movies had been
officially submitted for consideration in the
Animated Feature Film category for the 91st
Academy Awards. Many had limited show-
Solo: A Star Wars Story
May 25, 2018
Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Pictures
Whenever a Star Wars property hits the big
screen, you know it will be a jaw-dropping
experience. And, this was certainly the
case here. ILM is one of the best at making
digital magic, and for this film, they were
led by Rob Bredow, one of today’s best
digital magicians. They also tapped special
creature effects legend Neal Scanlan. Effects work pretty much span the full gamut,
including CG characters and objects, digi-doubles, set extensions, matte paintings,
greenscreens, and more to create vehicles,
character performances, otherworldly
environments, and spacecraft unique to the
Star Wars universe. From the speeder chase
and train heist to the infamous Kessel Run,
the VFX team had an immense challenge in
creating over 90 minutes of visual effects
required for the film. But the secret here
was using state-of-the-art technology to
deliver a look and feel of the past befitting
the beloved hero, Han Solo.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
November 2, 2018
Walt Disney Pictures
The entire film looks magical. However, a
large portion of the visual effects are used to
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
ings within the US, making them relative
Ralph Breaks the Internet
November 21, 2018
Walt Disney Animation Studios
A lot has changed since Ralph and Vanellope made their debut in Wreck-It Ralph
six years ago. Story-wise, the arcade gets
a wireless router, which the two characters
use to transport themselves to the Internet.
Technology-wise, new techniques from
other Disney Animation films have enabled
the animators and artists to do more for this
film – lots more in terms of the size of the
environments and the number of characters.
mysteries outside of film festivals and special screenings (due to my limited exposure
to them, I have left them off my pick list).
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch
November 9, 2018
Universal Pictures/Illumination Entertainment
We’ve seen the film presented in 2D cell animation, live action, and now it is appearing
in amazing CGI, brought to life by the artists
at Illumination. We all know the story by
now, but this holiday tale surely will bring a
smile to your face, thanks to the spectacular
visuals and expanded world.
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
July 13, 2018
Sony Pictures Animation
The film takes the characters and animators
out of their comfort zone with exotic and
challenging locations beyond the familiar
hotel grounds of the franchise. Particularly challenging was the water, which was
everywhere in this film as the gang boarded
a cruise ship for this journey.
Isle of Dogs
April 13, 2018
Studio Babelsberg/Twentieth Century Fox
September 28, 2018
Warner Bros./Warner Animation
In this cute film, a young yeti searches for
a smallfoot (a human) to prove they exist.
The team at Sony Pictures Animation,
who worked on the film, pushed through
technical challenges pertaining to snow and
hair development, two of the film’s larger
technical challenges.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
December 14, 2018
Columbia Pictures-Marvel Animation/Sony
Pictures Animation
There have been many Spider-Man films
over the year, but this is one superhero film
that is visually unique. It looks like a comic
book that’s come to life, in a graphic novel
kind of style. In fact, the aesthetic is a result
of computer animation mixed with handdrawn comic book techniques, requiring up
to 140 animators, the largest crew ever used
by Sony Pictures Animation for a film. 
Editor’s Picks
Isle of Dogs, Spider-Man
ur culture is buzzing about VR,
VR totally immerses the senses in digital
AR, and MR – and for good
content as a headset envelops eyes and
reason. This summer alone,
ears, and hands hold a joystick or other
Sotheby’s launched the first AR
controller. Sometimes the entire body is
real estate app; Hulu announced that it will
suited (often providing haptic feedback).
air the first VR comedy (Door No. 1); and
VR allows the user to enter an entirely
Microsoft is about to release SharePoint
different sensory realm in which movement
software, which will allow people to “experi-
and interaction have (or appear to have)
ence” their financial assets in a digitally-en-
hanced setting. And if SCAD ForwardFest
2018 (a media festival championing the
newest technology revolutionizing the field)
Picture Iron Man’s or Terminator’s point
was any indication, expect a period of AR
of view. AR enhances the real world in a
and VR innovation on par with the Internet
way similar to how a heads-up display
explosion of the 1990s.
appears to float before your vehicle’s
Still, many of us have only a vague idea
windshield. Like Tony Stark, you see
of what these initialisms even stand for.
what’s really there but with relevant
Across all industries, people are trying to
information superimposed over it. Or
find clarity. Earlier this year, Forbes published
think Snapchat: Your selfie filter makes
All the games, in fact. And not just gaming:
a definitional piece on AR, VR, and AR. And
you look like a puppy sticking its tongue
They’re providing new ways to accomplish
trendy software company Foundry posted
out, which you aren’t, I’m guessing.
everyday tasks, from managing your stock
an article on its website with the headline
VR and AR are already changing the game.
portfolio to keeping track of shipping con-
“VR? AR? MR? Sorry, I’m confused” (www.
Want a deeper interaction between the
make surgeons’ lives easier, for example,
mr-ar-confused). There’s even an ongoing
real and virtual worlds? In MR, you might
by projecting digital information over a real
Wiki about AR and VR to help keep track
actually hold a hologram – and feel it as a
abdominal wall to allow an ultra-precise
physical object. MR’s digital content knows
laparotomy. And, this is just a small sampling
If you aren’t clear on what these terms
the size and mass of real-world objects,
of how AR and AR are being used.
mean, you aren’t alone! With apologies to
distances between them, states of light
readers who are already hip to the future,
and darkness, and much more. You can
they’re going to study in college and beyond
here are some handy ways to envision each:
“teleport” a technician into your home. Or
should consider AR and VR as more than
your virtual pet might actually go hide in
novelties that make selfie filters possible,
a real closet in your house. So far, mixed
or as the exclusive province of gaming and
Imagine holding a One-Hit Obliterator inside
reality is the most challenging of the three
entertainment. These tools are as useful as
the fictional world of The Legend of Zelda.
ways virtual and real interact.
hammers and screwdrivers.
tainers in a dockyard. These technologies
Those beginning to think about what
In Fall 2018, SCAD launched a new BFA degree in immersive reality. The fully
comprehensive degree combines AR, VR, and mixed-reality courses, allowing
students to be on the forefront of this innovative industry. The new degree
curriculum comprises 36 courses, 11 of which are new for the program,
including Immersive Revolution: Augmented to Virtual Reality, Integration of
Immersive Realities, Immersive Sound Design, Visual Effects for Immersive
Environments and Game Engine Applications for Immersive Computing.
Eleven new cutting-edge courses were created for the new degree program.
In addition to the new Immersive Reality degree, SCAD hosts several annual
events that feature new developments in AR/VR, including AnimationFest,
SCAD Savannah Film Festival, aTVfest, and GamingFest.
e d i t i o n 4, 2018
c gw
modations for those
Consider some of the uses for AR and VR
hearing. Microsoft Holo-
beyond entertainment.
Lens software develop-
Perhaps the biggest immediate change
who are deaf and hard of
ers are already working
VR will bring is in the way people prepare
on ways to translate
for their jobs. Decades ago, pilots and
spoken language into vi-
astronauts trained using simulators, but,
sual signs so deaf people
in the near future, all industries will have
can “hear” a speaker in
access to virtual training devices. When
real time.
miners enter a tricky shaft, they will have
AR will also revolu-
already been there – quite possibly that
tionize the way we drive
very same shaft’s virtual twin! Pro athletes
cars. Imagine looking
will never face an in-game situation they
forward toward the road
hadn’t already simulated. Even sexual
ahead and seeing arrows
harassment training will likely soon be
extending gracefully
delivered in VR.
down the route you’ve
VR also will make life easier for people
mapped. Picture safety
who think visually rather than analyti-
alerts “existing” in a
cally. The financial services industry has
way that you don’t need to rely solely on
cant technological change, inventive people
already pioneered ways to allow custom-
orange cones and traffic-message trailer
have risen up and moved the world forward.
ers to “experience” their stock portfolios,
signs, whereby the warning turns an entire
When the printing press debuted, when
investment growth, and retirement savings
section of the road orange – or pulsing
steam power was harnessed, when the
by walking through it. Imagine entering
with light.
first lightbulb flickered on, or when the first
a city whose skyline represents the total
AR will help the elderly, too. Delivered
email was sent – creative, visionary people
value of different investments. Imagine
via Google Glass devices that look very
caught on to the implications of those
that they’re different colors based on how
much like normal eyewear (and, in fact,
changes and applied them in new ways.
quickly they’ve grown over a certain period
can be prescription glasses), AR will help
of time. Visual thinkers will be able to make
older users navigate tricky shopping trips
better, more informed decisions about
or errands with greater ease by labeling “to
their money.
do” items by priority and suggesting easier
One huge way AR will help make the
world a better place is by creating accom-
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The big question is, how will you contribute? What role will you play? 
Paula S. Wallace is the president and founder of
the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).
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