Making a 'Bad-Ass' Werewolf
Indeed, this was a far cry from Yogi Bear or Alvin and the Chipmunks -- less cartoony and more naturalistic. "Here at Rhythm & Hues, we're the talking animal heroes of all time, but the first thing Catherine said was this isn't a talking animal; it communicates with its mind power. And that distilled down eventually to: there shouldn't be any muscle movement in the face; there should be no expression whatsoever. We don't want it to look as though he's struggling to talk. Honestly, that keeps pretty well to the rest of the style in the movie and is an important story point in terms of signaling that Valerie's the chosen one, which puts her in jeopardy with her friends and neighbors in the village when they learn that the wolf speaks telepathically only to her. Everything's very understated and percolating just under the lid."
Eyes become important as well: a subtle squint, the disarming raise of an eyebrow or a disapproving crunch down. But Rhythm & Hues did it very subtly, perhaps even too slight for some viewers, Talmy contends. "It is different from our talking animal pipeline that we're used to working with here. So it was a lot of fun for animators to have an animal that they didn't have to make talk."
Using the proprietary Voodoo package, however, attention to fur was vital. "It is uniquely combed and the groom is different; the length is different; whether it's matted from having been rubbing up against a tree full of sap or some encrusted blood still in the jaw line from a kill just made; some areas of him are very feral-looking while other areas are very clean and glossy and pretty. And so we're grooming all of those elements into his fur, either scene by scene or as one global groom."
"We thought there was just something missing from the shot, so we tried this idea where the wolf would poise itself, pull itself up and attack the horse and kill it," he recounts. "Our rationale was that the wolf wanted to first toy with Solomon: get him away from his sword; make him have to be subordinate; have him struggle to get up; then we could do battle with him and ultimately he dies. And so we had some semblance of psychology and everybody liked what we did. It's always fun to bring some alternative versions to the client and they just think it's the greatest thing because it's something they never thought of."
Meanwhile, there was another envelope pushing moment that made Hardwicke jump from her chair and yell, "Rad! That's bad-ass!"
Talmy says working on the cute stuff is fun, of course, but many of the animators play video games, so sooner or later they "just want to hurt something. And when there's a project with a monster, they all come running to see who can get on it."
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.