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July 09


Summer 2017



copyright © 2017 by Sony Pictures Animation, Columbia Pictures and CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Controversy has helped garner unintended attention for The Emoji Movie – the trailer was roundly panned on YouTube last December on grounds of general triviality – along with a big marketing boost on mobile and social media, by corporate partners, and from an all-star team of voice actors. All that means more eyes will catch the animation work on the film his summer than might have otherwise, and that’s good for the animators at Sony Pictures Animation.

Directed and co-written by Tony Leondis, and starring the voices of T.J. Miller, Anna Faris, James Corden, Patrick Stewart, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Rob Riggle, Jennifer Coolidge, Jake Austin and Sofia Vergara, The Emoji Movie is described by studio wordsmiths as a “app-venture,” which speaks mainly to teens and pre-teens.

“We did not want to make it look like the human world, but (one) with emojis. It had to be unique and funny. It also needed to look like an oppressive society, but  beautiful.”

—Carlos  Zaragoza,  Production Designer

The story, according to Sony PR, is global in a micro way: “Three emojis (voiced by Miller, Corden and Faris) embark on an epic adventure through a smartphone to save their world from deletion.”

It’s true, the stars of the movie are emojis, short for emotive icons, those mostly tiny faces offering a full range of facial expressions people sometimes add to their text message or email. It’s also true the movie takes place inside a smartphone.

For the art, design, layout and VFX teams on the project, there was a digital world in that phone, a world of detailed simplicity that never existed before, and a city that had to be built from scratch. Carlos Zaragoza, Production Designer on The Emoji Movie, faced the challenge of designing the Emoji world, and “how to translate a very flat and graphic concept – like the graphics and icons of the emoji sets – into a believable universe that the audience can relate to.

All photos copyright © 2017 by Sony Pictures Animation, Columbia Pictures and CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“We did not want to make it look like the human world, but (one) with emojis,” Zaragoza says. “It had to be unique and funny. It also needed to look like an oppressive society, but beautiful.

“We solved it,” he says, “by making their city, Textopolis, look like a real place, with sidewalks, buildings and transportation, but introducing surreal and unexpected aspects. For example, the buildings are laid out on a regular grid over a flat, white ground that extends to the infinite, like the emoji set on your phone. Everything looks like a simple emoji: the characters, the sets, the graphics, but is rich in detail when needed.”

In the end, bringing the Emoji to animated life boiled down to teamwork. “Teamwork with other departments early on in the development of the look of the movie was crucial to achieve the look we were looking for,” Zaragoza concludes.

“Working closely with James Williams, the Layout Supervisor on The Emoji Movie to make sure that the camera language and design are on the same page to tell the story. David Smith, Sony Pictures Imageworks’ VFX Supervisor, helped us to find the best look for the worlds and these unique, electronic-expression emojis.”

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