Getting Inside the Head of Megamind
"We also developed muscle systems particularly for Metro Man and Tighten that would allow us to not only get good volumes on the characters as they were moving but could also animate the muscles, add jiggle and change the timing when the muscles fired to make them appear more powerful."
Actually, one of the most difficult challenges was picture-in-picture shots of characters talking through various monitors or through Megamind's Brain Bots. "We had to figure out how to get the shots in sync and allow the animators to work on them separately but to still be able to display them together for McGrath," Schleifer adds.
Meanwhile, over in the character effects department, they were working on cloth sims for capes, and immediately ran into a problem: their real world physics was at cross purposes with the more cartoony heroics. Therefore, the capes would break when stretched too far. So they had to figure out a way to deliver believable clothing that was form fitting for these super poses.
Again, in keeping with McGrath's mandate for believable action, Metro City (a hip re-imagining of Metropolis) was treated like a character and a new rendering technique was developed. "When you think about a city, it goes from the art department to modeling to layout, etc.," Denis adds. "But we knew that in this case it wouldn't work. So we decided to go with a procedural city. Instead of modeling the buildings, we coded them so we could change a lot of parameters. The system worked so well that at the end we used entirely procedural buildings.
"We divided neighborhoods into streets and blocks that were constantly being resized. We looked at a lot of cities and created different sizes, shapes and styles. We pulled people from different departments for this team of half a dozen. We tested the surfacing and lighting and emphasized the level of detail, keeping it in the foreground and losing it in the background.
"Visually, you go from high to low frequency detail. We also made sure the models responded well to the lighting and when it came time to the texturing, we worked on getting the right parameters."
It all came together in a night sequence where Tighten is trying to impress Roxanne with his new superpowers and drops her down to the bottom of the street before rescuing her. "We go way up high and swoop down between cars and then go right back up to the roof and there's a lot of distance changes," Denis continues. "Also, you couldn't have thousands of lights and the rendering was difficult, so we came up with a solution: interior alignment cubed maps and point-based rendering. We also inhabited the city in the background with tiny light particles. Even though you're focusing on the characters, you still feel there is life in the city."
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.