Embracing Change in The Croods
There were a lot more VFX advancements, overseen by supervisor Markus Manninen. "We wanted to bring the tangibility of physical lighting to help ground it and to make it seem like real consequence still exists for the characters," Manninen explains. "We could still exaggerate the world but make it fun and inventive."
DreamWorks has been using point-based global illumination (PBI) for several years and has honed it to achieve more traditional lighting. "We were looking for better techniques to do soft lighting," Manninen adds. "Not just sun but the whole sky becomes a light source.
The R&D department took PBI to the next level by adding glossy reflection to it and built a lighting paradigm, which was a giant leap. This was a new lighting approach based more on tangibility and predictability. This allowed them to normalize materials so that every asset would behave the same in any lighting condition. Instead of the sharp specularity you get from a point-based lighting source, you get a much softer and realistic look with glossy reflection.
"So the family really felt like it was in a cave because you could see reflectivity come not just from a source but literally from the floor where light was streaming in softly and it placed everything in the same environment," Manninen continues.
The behavior of fire, depending on how a character interacted with it, was crucial. And when you look at a character's skin and the broad sheen that the fire created, it really emphasized the heat. There were improvements in surfacing overall to get more detail.
When it came to VFX, they reserved a lot for the big finale, developing a pyro approach to make the destruction of the world through this traveling cloud look big with massive amounts of data. "We modeled it very roughly but had to figure out new ways for matte painting because the effect would travel across it and we needed more detail," Manninen says. "We baked those maps onto the geometry and then effects had the ability to break down that geometry so it became a visual effects approach (using Nuke)."
So when it came to the tar sequence, they didn't treat it like an effect but more of a low-tech approach. It was truly both a cloth sim and deformation animation. They used Ncloth for the pulling and motion around the characters, with a sculpt of animated wrinkles close to the body contact. They added Houdini fluid solve for the waterfall with extra noise added via deformers. Bubbles were cloth sims that were moved around and placed in the shots. Then all of the individual parts would go back through Houdini to put out one large piece of geometry.
"I would say 40% cloth sim; 60% deformation animation," the VFX supervisor explains. "The Ncloth sim was so tweaked, it almost turned into a soft body solve."
"These types of stories where you have real people in extraordinary situations are my very favorite," Sanders concludes. "They run around and crash into things because they're cavemen and their world is very hostile, but we had to strike a delicate balance because we needed the audience to sympathize with them and like them at the same time that these characters needed to be believably in opposition to each other."
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and VFXWorld, the owner of Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), a columnist for Thompson on Hollywood at Indiewire and author of James Bond Unmasked (www.jamesbondunmasked.com), which chronicles the 50-year evolution of 007 on screen, featuring interviews with all six actors.