Taking Flight with the Guardians
Legend of the Guardians, opening today, is the latest instance of a hot live-action director trying his hand at animation without sacrificing style and vision. In this case, Zack Snyder finds a comfortable fit for his balletic action and deconstructing of myths; and Animal Logic has done well in surpassing the Oscar-winning Happy Feet by beautifully rendering Kathryn Lasky's beloved Australian adventures about owls overcoming fascism to preserve their homes, families and heritage.
Perhaps doing Guardians keyframe instead of performance capture made all the difference. But then owls and their bucolic world are a lot more complex to animate than penguins living in the Arctic. And conjuring up Lord of the Rings
also makes it a unique animated feature.
"I was attracted to the project because I liked the idea of getting away from the animation mainstream and I wanted to work with Zack," suggests Eric Leighton, the animation director (Coraline, King Kong). "I like Zack's physicality, which is how I like to work, and we live in the same world, which is we both like to have truth. Zack wasn't in Australia very often, but his energy was always there. TDs can get lost in a digital world and I really liked the idea that Zack pushed them to be physical. And I wanted it to feel real, so we looked for the unique characteristics and then tried to incorporate as much of that as we could."
"For all the joints to move accordingly, we didn't use the wings as hand or fingers, since feathers don't have muscles and can't move by themselves. By giving ourselves these limitations it forced the animators to think more creatively about how to convey emotion. To help this along we had an 'Owl School' and all new animators were given time to study the owl footage and anatomy before starting work. I had to make sure they were given a chance to get some animations out of their system before starting production shots."
The feather system was the biggest R&D project on Guardians. Right up front, from the grooming tools, rendering, collision, feather effects, winged on feathers, snow on feather, collisions between feathers on individual characters and feather to feather collision between different characters. It lasted up until the last months of production, according to Ben Gunsberger (Happy Feet, The Matrix Reloaded, Shrek), the digital supervisor.