The Oscars: Chasing The Gruffalo
JS: Yeah, well another thing about budget was that we didn't want to have locked cameras. We wanted to have some moving shots, not many, but an actual motion control would've been impossible budget wise and space wise. And so we found this great guy -- half-American and half-Indian -- living in Denmark, who builds these motion controls out of Legos. He had just built a prototype for a film of his own and he built a slightly improved version for us. Currently, we're doing the second Gruffalo film, and we're still using it. If you don't want to do super complex camera work, it really works.
BD: You used Maya for the characters?
JS: The main thing for this film is that we cast many of the animators from the Animation Mentor program, which we'd never done before. One animator, Max Stohr, worked on the test that we'd done in 2007 and we got him in basically to clean up animation, and I just really liked his way of working. And he was a pretty good animator, and then he brought in his best friend, Toby von Burkersroda. And they ended up being the lead animators on the show. These two guys basically set the standard for the animation. And then we got some more Animation Mentor people and some from the Filmakademie as well, which is the school that we all went to at the studio. But we had a very detailed animatic, which helped with the animation.
JS: We didn't think we would need one because we did really detailed 3D blocking after the storyboards. But these sets were really large: 5 meters [16.4 feet], so a 3D scanner was only needed to get the geometry of the floors correct so the drop shadows would fall into place. Our projects were a lot smaller before we started work on The Gruffalo, so we didn't have a full-blown pipeline for the size of the project or the technique, so things had to be invented along the way, and, luckily, most of it was.
BD: How's it going with The Gruffalo's Child sequel?
JS: Very well. But Max and I are not directing it because that started directly after The Gruffalo and we both needed time off before the next project. So Johannes Weiland, who's another one of our directors, jumped at it. The second book takes place at nighttime in winter, and you have a new set of problems because suddenly you have footsteps everywhere, and you have snow falling and a lot of interaction between characters whenever they touch something and that all contradicts the normally solid, physical sets, which don't move. Also, you have to have enough variety in the atmosphere and compositions, but the color work is looking really, really good.
BD: What are you doing next?
JS: I'm doing pre-production for a TV series that we've developed here at the studio and a few commercials on the side.
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.