Arthur Christmas: The Best of Both Worlds
Doug Ikeler, visual effects supervisor for Sony Pictures Imageworks, which collaborates with SPA on the animated features, admits this was their biggest undertaking to date. "It has such scope and appetite traveling over the world. There are so many sets, so many characters, so much hair, so much cloth and so many effects," he says.
There were more than 30 unique, epic-size sets from around the world as well as Mission Control at the North Pole, which was the most ambitious. It's a Christmas tree environment with a profile that's all carved in ice. The whole translation step from 2D to 3D was greatly reduced because they were designing in 3D. It was all very organic with no simple geometry or flat surfaces. But rendering in Arnold, the in-house ray tracer, turned out to be a godsend. "It's been used in live action and on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, but that was a much simpler movie," Ikeler suggests. "It's a very expensive renderer because you want to figure out all light contribution. But we love the output and it's perfect for ice because you get to cast rays through the ice and off the ice."
Moving forward with CG is important to Aardman. "We absolutely believe in our traditional stronghold of stop-motion animation," concludes Lord. We love it and hope always to practice it. But we believe even more strongly in the need to tell great stories and make great movies. Those two principles are one and two on my list of importance. Animation and the style are totally subservient to these first two. So if you've got a great story and a great director, then we ask ourselves the question: which technique is most appropriate? And for Arthur Christmas, the clear answer -- without any question -- was CG. Now we don't have a feature-film sized CG pipeline here in Bristol. That means that we need to partner up with an existing CG set-up and for Arthur Christmas, the Sony team was the obvious and best choice. Will we ever produce CG movies here at base in Bristol? No plans to do so at present, but nothing's impossible!"
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and editor of VFXWorld. He has a new blog, Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), and is currently writing a book about the evolution of James Bond from Connery to Craig, scheduled for publication next year, which is the 50th anniversary of the franchise.