Wreck-It Ralph Shines Bright with New Lighting and Effects Technology
They worked with art director Mike Gabriel to determine the rules of how effects should be handled. The 8 bit world of Niceland needed simple shapes and motion. Sugar Rush required more classic animation – cartoony fun, charming effects, smoother lines. Those worlds sharply contrasted with Hero’s Duty, where things needed to look as real as possible.
The 1980s 8-bit arcade game design of Niceland required stylized effects that exemplified sprite-based video games. For example, the smoke incorporated repeating patterns, with simplified rectilinear shapes and pixel-like cubes. A scene with fire in a fireplace used a looping pattern and staccato movement. 2D effects animators were brought in to help design the splat from a cake Ralph smashed with his fist.
The 1990s, cartoony design of Sugar Rush required things look cute and charming. And of course, since everything in Sugar Rush is food, everything had to look delicious. So for example, cotton candy clouds had to be made into 3D volumetric elements to match the matte paintings from the background department. Dust and smoke from race cars were styled like patterned frosting decorated on a cake with a pastry bag. When Ralph fell into a pond of taffy, FX artists gave him a nice umbrella splash that evokes the classic Disney animation of Alice in Wonderland. For the taffy stuck on Ralph’s mouth that stretched between his upper and lower lips, the FX team tried simulations but didn’t feel they looked realistic. They detracted from the animation. So, they had a 2D artist add different taffy effects to make it look more believable.
When it came to the world of Hero’s Duty, they were tasked to make it as different and real as possible. That involved lots of layers of subtle effects to give a realistic feeling of the atmosphere, the fog of war. This meant different types of smoke, steam, weapons muzzle flash, putting debris in the air like Saving Private Ryan, placing items in constant motion, all the little things in the background that will lend realism to the sequence. Ultimately, the focus was giving the audience the feeling they were really in a first person shooter game.
So Many Effects, So Little Time…and So Many Challenges
According to Kersavage, there were so many varied effects on the film, you never knew whether or not a simulation would work until you tried it. “There were so many stylized effects in this film. The nature of effects, it’s always trial and error. We always try to use a simulation but ultimately, if it didn’t give us the look we were trying to achieve, we would incorporate a more hand drawn 2D effect.”
New to this film was the role of the effects designer. As Velazquez explained, software that comes out of the box today is designed to make things look real. That’s not necessarily what they were going for. “We wanted stylized effects. We have such a strong legacy in 2D that we ended up with a number of 2D effects animators working with the CG effects animators to help with timing and shapes, tuning the simulations. They would draw over the CG effect to show a more stylized way it would be done in 2D.”