Ice Age Goes Epic with Continental Drift
"The trick is when you get to animation to figure out what's best for the franchise," adds Thurmeier. "With Horton and Rio and the upcoming Epic, the character rigs are so much better yet the new Ice Age characters have been held back slightly to exist in the same world. Still, they're a little more elaborate and organic than the classic characters. But the big character advancement is incorporating simulation on top of characters: [pirate baddie] Captain Gutt's beard is a simulation. We wanted it to flow and blow in the wind and react to his body and we didn't want to rely on traditional follow through techniques because they're not technically accurate and crash into each other. The sim team also did jiggly fat on a new elephant character. Now they're taking it further on Epic."
Since Manny, Sid and Diego are cast out to sea, the dynamics of waves and ocean and 3D clouds are very important. In fact, CG water was the big new advancement for Blue Sky. The water effects were achieved by using a combination of software, some developed in-house, and some off-the-shelf. While water, splashes and cloud rendering was done in Blue Sky's proprietary renderer, CGI Studio, Houdini was used to generate data for simulations, and Realflow for some splash effects.
"We have a big storm sequence and it all had to be prevised to get the waves correctly," explains art director Nash Dunningan. "We even had a seasick test early on, where we all sat with the glasses and figured out if it was going to make someone in the audience feel ill or have we pushed it too far with the rocking of the waves. I would say just because it's simulation based, it probably approached realism as far as the fluid aspect of it; color wise, it got stylized with the lighting: Dark aqua and dark green. The destruction had to feel threatening. The perfect storm sequence had to have the right scale."
As far as the clouds, they became a compositional element as well. Matt Wilson built cloud settings in a real space so they could be lit and rotated with dynamic camera movement through and around them. This also provided great parallax, especially in stereo. "This was a huge component in getting the skies right," Dunningan adds. "He could render out some temps in just a fraction of the time it used to take and check out what it would look like with the right atmosphere and the right color."
"The artists here are of two minds about the sequels," Thurmeier says: "'Oh, another sequel?' But it's fun to animate on a sequel because you know the characters so well but you want to keep pursing new stories."
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and VFXWorld. He's the owner of the Immersed in Movies blog (www.billdesowitz.com), a regular contributor to Thompson on Hollywood at Indiewire and author of James Bond Unmasked (www.jamesbondunmasked.com), which chronicles the 50-year evolution of 007 on screen and features interviews with all six actors.