ILM Gets Down and Dirty on Rango
For the animators used to working on VFX films, it was a matter of now creating something out of nothing, even though they had the performance footage as reference as well as their own reference they created for themselves. "They're used to reacting to the live-action footage as a framework," Hickel suggests. "But here it was closer to a blank slate. It's funny, they [couldn't wait to get in there] and act and not worry so much about having to integrate with the live action. But as soon as they got in there, they realized how much work was involved."
It was the same with the lighters, too, because they suddenly had so many creative options at their disposal. To help them along, ILM developed some new tools, especially for earlier and more accurate QC'ing before lighting among the various departments. The Previewer enabled the lighting TDs to interactively check where the light's going to fall, and the Sequencer allowed them to load some or all of the shots in a sequence in one file for easier lighting and relighting. For instance, a campfire sequence comprised of 56 shots was lit by two artists.
In addition, ILM created a new team right before lighting called preflight: this group took all the shots and rendered frames to make sure the shot was operating correctly.
In terms of characters, Tortoise John, the mayor (voiced by Ned Beatty), was especially challenging, but, fortunately, the similarity to John Huston's Noah Cross from Chinatown proved instructive. There was just something about him that wasn't working. "His shirt looked a little rumpled and he didn't look like a man of power," Hickel explains, "and so we went back and looked at that scene in Chinatown where Noah Cross is sitting and eating lunch, and we noticed that his shirt had this stitching on it that made it look rich, so that got added and we firmed up the modeling of his collar so that it had a bit more starch. We cleaned him up and made him up a little more impressive."
An even more recognizable figure, known simply as The Spirit of the West (voiced by Tim Olyphant), proved even more challenging. "We knew we wanted to stylize him and so then it was really an art direction journey for quite a while," Hickel continues. "I think Aaron McBride did a lot of the heavy lifting. Aaron even sculpted 3D forms in the computer. And then it was just like anything else: building the model and turntabling it and working iteration after iteration. At some point, you just wanted to get him in the shots and light him and make some final changes. There is such a cult around him and everyone wanted to get it right."
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.