Giving Rise to the Guardians
However, Joyce is proudest of the Sandman, or Sandy, as he's called in the movie. He's a mute, badass Buddhist-type of character naturally inspired by silent comedians. "Of all the revisionist takes on these guys, I thought we had the most room with Sandy to play around in his sandbox. Early on, they asked me to do inspiration reels for each character and I saw Sandy as mute and so we looked at both Laurel and Hardy with the girth of Hardy and the sweetness of Laurel and then Harpo Marx, who always had this mad sweetness about him. And Sandy floats about as if he's filled with helium."
For Ramsey, the most inviting aspect of the movie was the notion that children's belief in these beloved icons is so strong, so integral, that they can't exist without it. So he merely upped the superhero quotient. "We streamlined a lot of what Bill Joyce had done," Ramsey suggests. "He has this beautiful, ornate, retro style drawing from Arthur Rackham, Maxfield Parrish, and N.C. Wyeth and for animation you have to pare away all of the details, so, number one, you can render all of the details, and, number two, so you can move them through space elegantly. That was job one but we did the best we could to retain the flavor of his characters."
Human animation for DreamWorks reaches new heights with Guardians, particularly the softness of Jack's skin and the subsurface scattering. They studied the rapid prototyped Legacy models made of resin and through reverse engineering were able to achieve a new degree of subtlety. "It was built on the idea of actual, physical models of how high light passes through the layers of skin to create a slight translucency," Ramsey adds. "That was something that had never been done before at DreamWorks but our head of visual effects, David Prescott, brought that technology to the film with those shaders."
The sand of Sandman and Pitch was the biggest breakthrough and biggest expenditure. There's so much of it n the movie and it becomes its own character, split into two variations, golden and black: the dreams and the nightmares. Prescott and effects lead Stephen Wood worked for nearly a year with the team developing this system. It's one of the most ambitious point render effects they've done. The sand emits light and made up of wondrous design shapes, filigrees and swirls. They were able to intricately design where and when they wanted animated shapes to happen within a stream. Curiously, by running the stream backwards they accidentally stumbled upon the best possible reversal effect for Pitch's black sand, which is coarser in its makeup.
For Ramsey, it was more of an aesthetic breakthrough than a technical one. "It does two things actually. There's the lyrical streaming and as it's forming characters it will make these, whimsical, stylized shapes. There were some curlicues that it does really well and the way that the strands fold back into each other is a really graceful and elegant separation."
"To me the best art, the best movies, the best books are the ones you can go to over and over again and you grow with the story," Joyce concludes. Both Joyce and Ramsey want to grow the Guardians into a franchise. Up next: perhaps the Man in the Moon.
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.