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Getting into the Autumn Spirit with New 'Tinker Bell'

The second in the seasonal Tinker Bell movies comes to Blu-ray and DVD today from Walt Disney Home Ent., and we find out what's new with our favorite fairy.

Facial animation was improved, thanks to improved and easier to use rigs. Images © Walt Disney Home Ent.

In Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, an autumnal beauty graces the fairy world, as Tink travels north of Never Land to patch things up with her friend, Terence, and restore a Pixie Dust Tree with a treasure she's broken. We spoke with Director Klay Hall (King of the Hill, The Simpsons, Family Dog) and Animation Director Sheryl Sackett (Tinker Bell) about raising the animation bar.

Bill Desowitz: What were the challenges the second time around?

Klay Hall: The first one set up the world with Tink, but I wanted to go a step further [with Lost Treasure]. It goes without saying that, although we are doing a franchise, these are supposed to be standalone movies… an individual, new, fresh story. So right up front, one of the challenges is for it to feel completely original, which I think we've absolutely succeeded in. Part of that process is working with John Lasseter on story and then also with the internal brain trust here at the studio to make that happen.

And since early on, the decision was made early on with John and the directors here to use the seasons as the background of the movies, the other challenge was -- and I picked autumn because I really love the fall, personally -- how can we bring that season to life: to really feel the textures and the colors of light and even almost the atmospheric crispness of the air, to really make this world believable.

BD: So how did you make autumn come alive?

KH:

It was several things. First of all, we did the research of getting out into the morning fog and in some of coastal areas we took shots of how that early morning dew feels in the air and really watching the light as it rises and falls on the horizon. And then some of our folks are also well versed in the CG aspect of things and trying to capture that atmosphere that we see and feel. It was a process: we wanted to make it feel believable. And that's another great thing about CG that you really can't get in 2D and that, certainly with the application of Blu-ray, it just enhances it that much more. And I really think that we've raised the bar with this one, and the third one will raise it again.

BD: And how did you raise the bar?

KH: Right away, you'll see the quality level of the animation has kicked up. It was good on the first one, but here we were really able to hone in on the subtleties of the acting and the sophistication of the acting that I was looking for. You know, it starts off at Pixie Hollow and she's around all her friends, but then she sets out on this adventure and she's kind of by herself and is befriended by this little firefly named Blaze, who I liken to Tink's Jiminy Cricket. But that actually gave me an opportunity to spend time nailing down the acting, especially in her eyes and in the thinking process. I think you'll notice that difference.

BD: What are some of the other noticeable improvements?

KH: We've definitely kicked up the level of special effects. There's a sequence later on where there's a blue snow from a crystal that really raises the level along with the color palette.

The animators worked hard to not only make autumn come to life but also raise the level of effects as well.

BD: So, as animation director, how were you able to raise the bar?

Sheryl Sackett: The main thing that we tried to concentrate on was improving the facial animation. So we worked on a lot of things to push the facial animation: get more shapes and blend shapes in there and make it easier for the animators to use, and also getting the animators up to speed on that part of the animation.

BD: And what was it like for you personally, since you worked on the first Tinker Bell movie?

SS:

The fun part for me was introducing new characters and bringing new personalities in. In this one we have Terence [voiced by Jesse McCartney] and Blaze [voiced by Bob Bergen]. We tried to make those engaging characters [to play off of Tinker Bell].

BD: And what was it like exploring her more fully?

SS:

It's interesting because in the original Peter Pan, which we're always referring to, if you string it all together, there's only five minutes of animation for Tinker Bell. Even in this film, we pay a little homage, but she's growing and our main focus is just to make her engaging. She's always our curious girl and we try to keep that part of her personality, because she's a tinker fairy.

BD: But she's also very mischievous.

SS: Well, that's beside the point. But it's important to us that she's appealing.

BD: How difficult has it been to translate her into CG?

SS: In the original, it was a lot of work. It took us a long time. There's a lot of cheats in the 2D version that we try and make into the 3D version, which is a little difficult to make sure that people recognize her as Tinker Bell. But she's different… she has to be by the nature of it. For instance, her hair is a whole 2D cheat, whereas in 3D it has to be grown almost like real hair. And artists can draw her and make her engaging, but in 3D were limited in that manner. We got some good notes from John Lasseter on making her look more Tinker Bell-like, so that's progressed. She's evolved.

BD: And how was Lasseter helpful on this one?

SS: It was a lot of his influence in pushing the facial and getting a lot of symmetry on that. And it really paid off. A lot of it is ease of use for animators and we want to make the rigs easier to use and push them forward more to get their animation more refined. It's pushing little details and gestures and getting character into the animation

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.

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