VFX Voice

The award-winning definitive authority on all things visual effects in the world of film, TV, gaming, virtual reality, commercials, theme parks, and other new media.

Winner of three prestigious Folio Awards for excellence in publishing.

Subscribe to the VFX Voice Print Edition

Subscriptions & Single Issues


April 26
2022

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

DREAMWORKS ANIMATION HANGS OUT WITH THE BAD GUYS

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Animation

A character design plate with contributions from Julien Le Rolland, Taylor Krahenbuhl, Anthony Holden, Pierre Perifel and Jorge Capote.

A character design plate with contributions from Julien Le Rolland, Taylor Krahenbuhl, Anthony Holden, Pierre Perifel and Jorge Capote.

For Australian author Aaron Blabey, the best way to describe The Bad Guys, a series of illustrated books depicting what are viewed to be despicable creatures trying to redeem themselves, was as “Tarantino for kids.” The cinematic adaptation found a home at DreamWorks Animation, with it being overseen by producer Damon Ross and director Pierre Perifel, who was making his feature directorial debut. The vocal cast features Sam Rockwell as Mr. Wolf, Marc Maron as Mr. Snake, Craig Robinson as Mr. Shark, Anthony Ramos as Mr. Piranha and Awkwafina as Ms. Tarantula. The creative journey began for Pierre Perifel in March 2019 with the lockdown caused by the pandemic occurring halfway through preproduction.

A character experssion sheet of Mr. Wolf with the model created by Hyun Huh and designed by Jorge Capote.

A character experssion sheet of Mr. Wolf with the model created by Hyun Huh and designed by Jorge Capote.

“The bad guys are in the warm colors and a cooler palette when they attempt to be good guys. The police moments would be the regular color of a police car, like deep reds, white and black. When it’s more the desperate moments, it would be desaturated, almost black and white. There is strong lighting in Los Angeles, so we have white skies and warm light.”

—Pierre Perifel, Director

“There is no way you can stick for the long run with something that you don’t like or feel drawn to,” admits Perifel. “The universe of the books struck a chord with me as it could be a heist movie by Quentin Tarantino or Steven Soderbergh. I added my own influences as animator back in France. Underneath all of this is the journey of Wolf. The idea that people can change and figure out more meaning in their personal lives, was something I connected a lot with for personal reasons.” The illustrations from the books had to be altered in order to be cinematic. “The art of Aaron Blabey is simple and efficient,” observes Perifel, “but yet we had to expand upon it to make a visual experience on the big screen. There are also limitations to his characters that you want to change or rework so you can have them actually moving. A shark without legs in our world would have been difficult to do. The same for Piranha.”

Sam Rockwell voices Mr. Wolf, who attempts to pull off his biggest con job.

Sam Rockwell voices Mr. Wolf, who attempts to pull off his biggest con job.

Perifel wanted to create a new animation style which combined influences of Hayao Miyazaki and Ernest & Celestine. “The code of anime is that the posing of the characters has a lot to do with economical animation. Over the last few years at the studio, we had tended to be video reference and realistic for our acting in animation. I didn’t want to forget that, but wanted to try something that was more stylized and illustrative.” A simple color theory was developed by production designer Luc Desmarchelier that reflected the mental state of the main characters. “The bad guys are in the warm colors and a cooler palette when they attempt to be good guys,” explains Perifel. “The police moments would be the regular color of a police car, like deep reds, white and black. When it’s more the desperate moments, it would be desaturated, almost black and white.” The location had an impact on the color palette,” Perifel adds. “There is strong lighting in Los Angeles, so we have white skies and warm light.”

Pierre Perifel wanted to create a new animation style that combined influences of Hayao Miyazaki and Ernest & Celestine.

Pierre Perifel wanted to create a new animation style that combined influences of Hayao Miyazaki and Ernest & Celestine.

The storyboard by director Pierre Perifel and the final frame that appeared in the movie.

The storyboard by director Pierre Perifel and the final frame that appeared in the movie.

The storyboard by director Pierre Perifel and the final frame that appeared in the movie.

Storytelling drives the technology at DreamWorks Animation. “The head of layout, Todd Jansen, wanted to give us an anamorphic lens, which is what you usually do in live-action because it has a Los Angeles film vibe to it,” states J.P. Sans, Head of Character Animation for The Bad Guys. “We wrote tools to have this lens distortion whenever we needed to. The other tool that we had was a comic-book style, so there were a lot of drawing effects. We could draw motion blur and multiple legs for when a character was spinning around, instead of using rigs and CG elements. Everything felt handmade but still had that CG aspect, so it feels like a hybrid.” Animation tests involved copying 2D films frame by frame into CG, which were then shown to Perifel. “It was a great way to find our parameters of, ‘Are we close or are we too far off?’” states Sans. “The style that we found was removing some of that motion in CG and letting the mind fill in the blanks like you do in 2D.”

“We wrote tools to have this [anamorphic] lens distortion whenever we needed to. The other tool that we had was a comic-book style, so there were a lot of drawing effects. We could draw motion blur and multiple legs for when a character was spinning around, instead of using rigs and CG elements. Everything felt handmade but still had that CG aspect, so it feels like a hybrid.”

—J.P. Sans, Head of Character Animation

A color script by Luc Desmarchelier and Pierre Perifel for a dramatic car chase.

A color script by Luc Desmarchelier and Pierre Perifel for a dramatic car chase.

It was important to make Ms. Tarantula appealing rather than creepy. “The fur on tarantulas looks pointy and like it could stab you,” remarks Sans. “We wanted to bring a cuteness by making the fur feel soft. Because of going anthropomorphic, we added a torso and head that separates from the body so that it gives you a humanistic feel. We wanted her to feel like a spider based on the speed and how she moves around. But we didn’t overdo the legs, because if you have every leg doing something different or you can see every leg, you’re always going to remind people that she is a spider and some people don’t like spiders! It’s about visually simplifying the characters. At times we hid legs. Sometimes when Tarantula is running around, you only see four legs and visually it’s more appealing and easier to swallow than all of these eight limbs coming out of this body.” The vocal delivery of Marc Maron was a perfect fit for Mr. Snake. “Marc brought so much personality to that character and who he was that we wanted to visually maintain that sarcastic dry humor in his expressions. The actual visual recordings give us a lot of ideas on mannerisms that we could incorporate into the character animation,” Sans notes.

Concept art by Floriane Marchix that explores the white skies and warm light of Los Angeles.

Concept art by Floriane Marchix that explores the white skies and warm light of Los Angeles.

“We wanted to bring a cuteness [to Ms. Tarantula] by making the fur feel soft. Because of going anthropomorphic, we added a torso and head that separates from the body so that it gives you a humanistic feel. We wanted her to feel like a spider based on the speed and how she moves around. But we didn’t overdo the legs, because if you have every leg doing something different or you can see every leg, you’re always going to remind people that she is a spider and some people don’t like spiders! It’s about visually simplifying the characters.”

—J.P. Sans, Head of Character Animation

Central to the technical process was figuring out the workflows and tools needed to allow digital artists to solve visual problems like an illustrator. “We wanted to come up with ways that would allow us to hide detail in the rigging so you could procedurally lose some of detail on a per-shot basis depending on the angle of the light,” states Matt Baer, Visual Effects Supervisor for The Bad Guys. “We also wanted the ability to add additional linework later on to enhance the idea that the image looked handmade. If you look at Wolf, some of his linework is built into the rig. That allows the character animator to move these expression lines around. We also even painted some lines into his fur. That stuff is cooked into those renders.” Textures were strategically chosen. “Where we wanted detail to show up on each of those characters was where the highlight would transition into the mid-tones or where the mid-tones would transition into shadow,” details Baer. “Each of the characters came with their version of a base color and then a texture map. Based on where the light was sitting, we could dial in some of that texture in those transitional areas.”

A lighting key by Floriane Marchix for a scene when Ms. Tarantula hacks into a security camera system.

A lighting key by Floriane Marchix for a scene when Ms. Tarantula hacks into a security camera system.

The Bad Guys was inspired by Australian Aaron Blabey wanting to invert archetypal evil animals and place them in a story that would be 'Quentin Tarantino for children.'

The Bad Guys was inspired by Australian Aaron Blabey wanting to invert archetypal evil animals and place them in a story that would be ‘Quentin Tarantino for children.’

Genders were switched when creating Ms. Tarantula, voiced by Awkwafina.

Genders were switched when creating Ms. Tarantula, voiced by Awkwafina.

The texture of the characters was influenced by the environmental lighting.

The texture of the characters was influenced by the environmental lighting.

“We wanted to come up with ways that would allow us to hide detail in the rigging so you could procedurally lose some of detail on a per-shot basis depending on the angle of the light. We also wanted the ability to add additional linework later on to enhance the idea that the image looked handmade. If you look at Wolf, some of his linework is built into the rig. That allows the character animator to move these expression lines around. We also even painted some lines into his fur. That stuff is cooked into those renders.”

—Matt Baer, Visual Effects Supervisor

A new tool called Doodle was created to help sell the illusion that the explosion was a 2D effect.

A new tool called Doodle was created to help sell the illusion that the explosion was a 2D effect.

2D effects had to be created procedurally. “We built a big sprite library and created a bunch of procedural simulations techniques that could be rendered and composited in a way that you can mix and match the sprites with simulations,” remarks Baer. “The goal was to not know where one started and where one ended. The massive explosion had to avoid appearing as a fluid simulation. “We wanted to represent the cooler and hotter areas of an explosion in a much more graphic way,” Baer explains. “A new tool called Doodle was created that allowed effects artists to essentially add additional 2D animated elements on top of the base explosion, which helped to sell the illusion of the whole thing being done as 2D effect.” The same approach was adopted for environmental effects. “You’re trying to boil each of those components down to the necessary detail so that the audience can fill in the rest,” adds Baer. “For effects, we didn’t want a lot of detail inside. We needed just enough to sell the motion of what the effect was doing. We didn’t want to see every single leaf, but needed the ability to make it look that we took a dry brush and brushed it across the whole tree. When you are outside of the silhouette those textures and speckles would appear as physically geometric leaves.”

It was important to have an amamorphic lens, so tools were written to create the corresponding lens distortion.

It was important to have an anamorphic lens, so tools were written to create the corresponding lens distortion.

The characters had to be modified from the books, such as giving legs to Mr. Shark, voiced by Craig Robinson.

The characters had to be modified from the books, such as giving legs to Mr. Shark, voiced by Craig Robinson.

The tight pre-production schedule was the biggest challenge. “Preparing all of the assets and characters would have been fine if it was the regular style, but I wanted something that was different from what we’re usually doing and not just relying on the PBRT rendering, which is physical lighting,” notes Perifel. “It was to be more stylized with brush textures and linework. Figuring all of this out in six months was tricky. But once the team figured it out it went smoothly; that would be the hardest part of it. Then, of course, the transition to working from home technically.” Every scene was carefully crafted narratively and emotionally. “There are two action sequences in the second half of the film that are incredibly fun to look at,” touts Perifel. “There is a lot in this movie.”

To better handle the height differences of the characters Ms. Tarantula was often placed on the shoulder of Mr. Shark.

To better handle the height differences of the characters Ms. Tarantula was often placed on the shoulder of Mr. Shark.


Share this post with

Most Popular Stories

RISING ABOVE THE NETWORK SCHEDULE FOR SUPERMAN & LOIS
02 August 2022
Animation, Exclusives
RISING ABOVE THE NETWORK SCHEDULE FOR SUPERMAN & LOIS
A creative partnership and friendship forged 28 years ago at MGM has Visual Effects Supervisor John Gajdecki (Stargate: Atlantis) and Visual Effects Producer Matthew Gore (Battlestar Galactica) working together again...
COMBINING NATURE WITH CG TO PRODUCE A PREHISTORIC PLANET
19 July 2022
Animation, Exclusives
COMBINING NATURE WITH CG TO PRODUCE A PREHISTORIC PLANET
Going beyond the Hollywood portrayals is the Apple TV+ natural documentary series Prehistoric Planet, which travels back 66 million years to the Late Cretaceous period when dinosaurs reigned supreme.
GOING BIGGER TO HONOR THE FRANCHISE DNA WITH JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION
26 July 2022
Animation, Exclusives
GOING BIGGER TO HONOR THE FRANCHISE DNA WITH JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION
Prehistoric beasts have had a constant presence in the life of David Vickery, who served as Visual Effects Supervisor on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Jurassic World: Dominion.
DIGITAL DOMAIN ENCOUNTERS DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS
09 August 2022
Animation, Exclusives
DIGITAL DOMAIN ENCOUNTERS DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS
Living up to its title is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, where filmmaker Sam Raimi infuses horror...
THE RETURN OF HAND-DRAWN AND STYLIZED EFFECTS ANIMATION
27 September 2022
Animation, Exclusives
THE RETURN OF HAND-DRAWN AND STYLIZED EFFECTS ANIMATION
If you’ve noticed that a raft of animated films, shows and visual effects projects have been toying with more hand-crafted effects animation lately, you’re not alone.
cialis online buy cialis