Matt O'Callaghan tells us about directing the newest Road Runner and Coyote theatrical short.
Starting today, you can see The Looney Tunes in 3D and 3-D on the big screen in front of Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, as Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote go at it in Coyote Falls. It's the first of three theatrical shorts featuring the famous duo: The other two will screen in front of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole(Sept. 24) and Yogi Bear (Dec. 17). In Coyote Falls, Coyote has purchased an Acme bungee cord and baits Road Runner with bird seed and tries to jump off a bridge and snag him. Well, you can imagine what violence happens with a bungee cord -- and in 3-D! I spoke with director Matt O'Callaghan about taking Road Runner and Coyote into the 21st century.
Bill Desowitz: What was it like taking Road Runner and Coyote into CG and 3-D?
Matt O'Callaghan: Once you get over the excitement of doing these, you go, "Oh, my God!" We all have such wonderful memories of these cartoons that we realized we all have to do our best to make it feel like the old shorts. My biggest challenge was not screwing it up: not showing off but honoring the sensibility that was created and let's embrace the new technology. The biggest challenge taking it into the computer was keeping the graphic nature of the original designs, even though you have all the tools for fur and feathers (down feathers for Road Runner) and special lighting treatments. But the thing was we never put down those model sheets from the original shorts. And even when we were in animation, we were constantly looking at the old animation to capture certain expressions and mimic certain timing.
What also changed was we went from a 7-minute format to a 3-minute format. So that presented a couple challenges and what we quickly realized is that we would have to do away with the opening free-frame intro. The other thing is that in the old shorts they would set up a gag, pay it off, fade to black and then set up a new gag. What we concluded was we'd be able to only have two of these gags, so it wouldn't have the pacing that I wanted. So we kind of do a little start and stop on Coyote Falls, but when we fade back in, it's non-stop till the end. So instead of using multiple props, we decided to use a bungee cord that's threaded throughout the episode. In doing that, it's constantly moving forward. It feels right for 3 minutes.
BD: Who did the animation and stereo 3-D?
MOC: Reel FX in Dallas did both.
BD: What was the process like?
MOC: We did all the usual things here, which were conceiving the idea, storyboarding it, designing it in terms of the backgrounds and props. And then when we started working with them, they would take our boards and start translating what those look like in 3D sets. They took the character models and then started conceiving those in three dimensions, where we could do turntables and actually see what these characters look like dimensionally. Then we had to figure out what exactly those textures were. Chuck Jones drawings could be open to interpretation and they're flat and graphic, and we assumed that the Road Runner had feathers, but what were those? How many layers were there and how do you take a simple graphic shape that was indicated for the tail and actually give it dimension? And the same thing with the Coyote in regards to the fur and we had to give him little toe nails and finger nails. We basically had to give it much more detail than the original drawings so it would support it in this 3-D space and look really sophisticated on a very, very large screen, so a lot of attention was given to small details.
BD: How did you arrive at your CG look?
MOC: In the actual design of Road Runner's legs, for example, they're very sleek with little lines on them. We had to figure out what those little lines are so we started looking at chickens and thinking about texture and how big the bumps should be and his skin. And then we had to make decisions about the eyes for both characters because in the drawings they're just little black dots. And so we had to give them pupils and irises and colors to match the rest of the design. For feathers, they're all designed very flat and always on profile, but we had design them to have layers and move in dimension. Then we had to figure out how to handle the fact that when the Road Runner runs really fast, they basically blur into an oval shape. So what was that going to look like? And when Coyote sticks his tongue out, what does that look like? We just wanted it to look believable within this world that we created. Visually, we certainly did our research on the Maurice Noble designs from the early '50s. We wanted it to feel the same, but take some of those shape and design sensibilities that we remember so well and give them rock texture (including the imperfections) and sand texture and give dimension to the cactus in 3-D space. And when you put the lighting and atmosphere in it, it was very cool and dimensional but still felt very graphic. We didn't want to go photoreal.
BD: What was it like working in 3-D?
Well, that's what was really cool about doing this, and having that extra tool was really interesting to me because now we can do these gags with the 3-D advantage. We were really able to push and pull that dimension. We're definitely going the other way from Avatar. And to be able to have 3-D and be in your face with these gags, I think works pretty well. And I also had the chance to use the camera differently. I'm able to move the camera through space and have tracking shots and zip camera and pull out from an extreme close-up to an extreme wide shot and still see the all the backgrounds stay in dimension. Again, the idea wasn't to show off but to have you feel the 3-D and enjoy it.
BD: What do you have in store for the other two Coyote shorts?
MOC: The second one is called Fur of Flying and he goes after Road Runner with a flying contraption, and the third is called Rabid Rider, where he thinks he's purchased a futuristic high-speed vehicle, and when he opens it up it turns out to be a gyro scooter device. The flying one is really cool because we can take advantage of a flying camera through these shots and that gives us a lot of dimension when he's flying through canyons over the desert.
BD: And they're all done?
MOC: Yes, we just finished.
BD: And what about other Looney Tunes?
MOC: I can't talk about that yet because we're sort of in the pitch stage.
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.