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November 08
2022

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

GOOD, BAD OR IN-BETWEEN IS A QUESTION OF LUCK

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Apple Inc. and Skydance Animation.

A major effects challenge was making sure the jacket worn by Babe fit properly on her massive body.

A major effects challenge was making sure the jacket worn by Babe fit properly on her massive body.

One can honestly say that Luck prevailed despite the pandemic. The Skydance Animation and AppleTV+ movie deals with Sam Greenfield, who constantly has to overcome misfortunes and accidentally discovers a realm that manufactures and randomly distributes good and bad luck to the human world.

Bob and Sam take a ride on one of the many mechanical platforms that enable inhabitants to travel around the Land of Luck.

Bob and Sam take a ride on one of the many mechanical platforms that enable inhabitants to travel around the Land of Luck.

“For me, I needed to be reviewing the assets on the big screen before we were going into a lighting process, so I went back to the office myself in 2020, with some of the crew eventually joining me,” recounts Visual Effects Supervisor Javier Romero (Wonder Park), who was part of the Madrid team while other crew members were situated in Connecticut and Los Angeles. “That was the biggest thing. The second, animation is a collaborative effort and people behaved amazingly working from home; however, sometimes I think you work faster when you have everybody in the same room. It was hard.”

The real world had a more muted and desaturated color palette.

The real world had a more muted and desaturated color palette.

Special attention was paid to the eyes of Bob to make the direction he was looking at more readable.

Special attention was paid to the eyes of Bob to make the direction he was looking at more readable.

Fred Warter imagined the Land of Luck as being like a coin with two cities that mirror each other on either side.

Fred Warter imagined the Land of Luck as being like a coin with two cities that mirror each other on either side.

The hiring of John Lasseter as the Head of Animation at Skydance meant that the workflow had to be altered. “The way that John works is amazing,” Romero notes. “It’s always about getting the best note for the shot or movie. Sometimes you don’t know when that note is going to come. We had to do a lot of changes to the pipeline to accommodate this workflow. We also wanted to review the input from every department at the same time, whatever the sequence. Maya was programmed to accommodate procedural workflows favored by the other departments, such as Solaris and Katana.” Brought on to be the director was Peggy Holmes. “Peggy had an amazing team of storyboard artists working internally in Los Angeles,” Romero adds.

“The [good and bad luck] crystals go into the randomizer and are broken into dust. There is a stylization in terms of how you make that final effect for this randomizer image. Sometimes we need to be modifying the timing because this is animation. We apply weight, overlapping and silhouettes to those effects. It gets complex, but you have to keep it serving the story rather than getting yourself in the rabbit hole because it can be distracting. Creating hyper-realistic physics, in the case of light or how light travels and reflects, is important but can be expensive.

—Javier Romero, Visual Effects Supervisor

Concept art of the randomizer by Ernie Rinard examining the various shapes it creates out of the good and bad luck crystals.

Concept art of the randomizer by Ernie Rinard examining the various shapes it creates out of the good and bad luck crystals.

A lighting key by Dominique Luis that conveys the Bad Luck World as being a mysterious and scary industrial environment.

A lighting key by Dominique Luis that conveys the Bad Luck World as being a mysterious and scary industrial environment.

Production Designer Fred Warter envisioned the Land of Luck having two sides that mirror each other. “We started research as to how good luck fits into the world in different cultures,” Romero states. “One side is governed by bad luck, so everything breaks and the inhabitants adapt to it, but on the other side, the good luck inhabitants have never had bad luck, so they didn’t have to worry about it.” Even stylized worlds have to be grounded in something tangible. “If you have a character walking, you need to have the cloth moving properly because we have gravity in that particular world. There are some problems we don’t want to overcome. For example, there is a gravity shift when Sam and Bob go into Bad Luck that is not realistic, but the movie needs it. We discussed whether it should be physically correct or we should add some humor to it. The reverse gravity was directed by the animation, but then we started seeing different behaviors or results of the CFX that we wanted to foster. It took a while.”

A color key of the area in the Land of Luck known as In-Between, with a scale reference of Sam.

A color key of the area in the Land of Luck known as In-Between, with a scale reference of Sam.

Despite the good and bad luck crystals being stylized, the particles had to have weight. “The crystals go into the randomizer and are broken into dust,” Romero remarks. “There is a stylization in terms of how you make that final effect for this randomizer image. Sometimes we need to be modifying the timing because this is animation. We apply weight, overlapping and silhouettes to those effects. It gets complex, but you have to keep it serving the story rather than getting yourself in the rabbit hole because it can be distracting. Creating hyper-realistic physics, in the case of light or how light travels and reflects, is important but can be expensive. We were applying internal elements to some shots to be able to fake refractions, or even sometimes we were toning down the refractions because it was getting distracting.”

Animals that represent good luck from different cultures populate the Land of Luck.

Animals that represent good luck from different cultures populate the Land of Luck.

Exploring different lighting scenarios for Babe’s office by Dominique Louis

Exploring different lighting scenarios for Babe’s office by Dominique Louis

Exploring different lighting scenarios for Babe’s office by Dominique Louis

“There are some problems we don’t want to overcome. For example, there is a gravity shift when Sam and Bob go into Bad Luck that is not realistic, but the movie needs it. We discussed whether it should be physically correct or we should add some humor to it. The reverse gravity was directed by the animation, but then we started seeing different behaviors or results of the CFX that we wanted to foster. It took awhile.”

—Javier Romero, Visual Effects Supervisor

Babe the Dragon and Jeff the Unicorn were special challenges. “The biggest two questions we posed about the dragon were, number one, do we need to have complex dynamics on it or is it going to be realistic?” Romero explains. “Number two was, how are we going to make this jacket work through the movie because it is massive? I wouldn’t want that to be distracting us. In terms of deformations, we decided to rely on the animation team. We spent a lot of time to make the volume preservation work properly. Jeff is a complex character. How many wrinkles do you want on the hair? We did a hybrid approach with Jeff, in terms of animation, and had some controls to modify the silhouette of the long hair that he has, and CFX had an extra subtle layer, which was not distracting, on top of it.”

An original dragon concept art by Lutgardo Fernandez.

An original dragon concept art by Lutgardo Fernandez.


Max Narciso reconceptualizes Babe from scratch with the help of Production Designer Fred Warter.

Max Narciso reconceptualizes Babe from scratch with the help of Production Designer Fred Warter.

“Instead of [Bob’s feline eyes] being concave, we wanted to see convex [eyes] because eye direction reads better that way. The other question was how much reflection do we want in those eyes? Do we want them to look real or not? Finding the spot in the reflections was something we spent a lot of time working on. The last was making sure that the direction the eyes were pointing was respected.”

—Javier Romero, Visual Effects Supervisor

A storyboard demonstrating how Bob is able to defy gravity in the real world because of being a creature from the Land of Luck.

A storyboard demonstrating how Bob is able to defy gravity in the real world because of being a creature from the Land of Luck.

A storyboard demonstrating how Bob is able to defy gravity in the real world because of being a creature from the Land of Luck.

Demonstration of the shot development process from storyboard, layout, animation and lighting.

Demonstration of the shot development process from storyboard, layout, animation and lighting.

Sam’s long hair was difficult. “There was a lot of hair that it was affecting the silhouette of her hair,” Romero states. “We developed tools that were given to the animation team to give silhouette guidance to the CFX group, such as how much hair was covering the face.” Attention was paid to the feline eyes of Bob. “Instead of being concave,” Romero observes, “we wanted to see convex [eyes] because eye direction reads better that way. The other question was how much reflection do we want in those eyes? Do we want them to look real or not? Finding the spot in the reflections was something we spent a lot of time working on. The last was making sure that the direction the eyes were pointing was respected.”

Custom tools were written to minimize the impact of Sam’s long hair on her silhouette.

Custom tools were written to minimize the impact of Sam’s long hair on her silhouette.

“The challenge with that [city] sequence [where Sam lives and chases Bob] was the shot planning, How do we build the city and where you want to spend the money to build the actual city? You can go crazy and say that I’m going to build a super city and then you don’t shoot there. We spent a lot of time in previs and layout to define the action with editorial because they would be cutting that scenery to work. Sam and Bob are running around different places in the city. There are a lot of cheats there. There were continuous storyboards.”

—Javier Romero, Visual Effects Supervisor

Size and scale was a major concern in particular maintaining the silhouette of Babe when she is talking to characters significantly smaller then herself, like Sam.

Size and scale was a major concern in particular maintaining the silhouette of Babe when she is talking to characters significantly smaller then herself, like Sam.

Jeff the Unicorn used a rig similar for the human characters, as he was treated as a bipedal.

Jeff the Unicorn used a rig similar for the human characters, as he was treated as a bipedal.

Good and bad luck are being projected from the randomizer situated in the Land of Luck to the human world.

Good and bad luck are being projected from the randomizer situated in the Land of Luck to the human world.

Boston was a primary reference for the city where Sam lives and subsequently gives chase to Bob. “The challenge with that sequence was the shot planning,” Romero notes. “How do we build the city and where you want to spend the money to build the actual city? You can go crazy and say that I’m going to build a super city and then you don’t shoot there. We spent a lot of time in previs and layout to define the action with editorial because they would be cutting that scenery to work. Sam and Bob are running around different places in the city. There are a lot of cheats there. There were continuous storyboards.” Vegetation had to be set dressed. “We started by deciding how much vegetation we had to build and instanced a number of different trees. When we went to the Land of Luck, the trees that were close were more stylized, while for some of the faraway elements we used trees from the city. We always try to find a best approach for a challenge because sometimes it can be overkill.”


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