ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.12 - MARCH 2000
El Dorado: The Old World Meets the New in "Tradigital" Animation
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Learning Along The Way
The DreamWorks team used standard software as well as their in-house programs. For example, the background department worked with Photoshop and Painter. Kevin Turcotte was pleased with the amount of time these programs saved his crew. "A complete light change in the background previously required two painted backgrounds. Here we're able to take one painting and digitally change the color so that everything is perfectly lined up. There's no registration problems or anything, and it's a fairly simple procedure to do without taking the extra week or two to create a complete background. It's just maybe a day or two."
Turcotte was responsible for training his crew of 18 background painters. "At the same time I was learning it myself. I had never worked on Photoshop or Painter or a computer for that matter. I'm still struggling with how to deal with e-mail. But Photoshop and Painter I was learning on-the-job...The learning curve was a little steep at first, but then it really took off. They're pretty incredible programs, and it's amazing to think that they're just off-the-shelf."
See how the cool colors set the mood for this scene with Miguel and Tulio bargaining with the Chief. TM & © 2000 DreamWorks LLC.
The backgrounds are hand-painted initially then scanned in and digitally enhanced. Once they are completed and a library of scenes begun, various elements can be transferred from one background to another. "We were able to pop them in a few other scenes and color-balance, so you had great continuity and a little more economy." Turcotte asserts, "Pretty much one painting can get recycled a number of times, but because we're able to change it a little bit [digitally], it doesn't feel like we're using the same exact elements. It gives it a little bit more richness, too."
Their work was slower at first until they could build up a library of scenes. Turcotte noted, "Once a library is established, we can take an overlay from one background, flip it around and combine it with an overlay from another background, relight it with either a cooler or warmer palette and get a new background that fits totally within the style of the film but takes only a fraction of the time to paint compared to traditional methods."
When they were finished, Turcotte's crew had compiled a library of 858 backgrounds with 480 of those produced completely digitally from the library.
El Dorado also contains something called The Wizard of Oz effect. In that live-action classic, there is a total change in background ambiance between the reality of Kansas and the surreal world of Oz. The team of art directors on El Dorado wanted to achieve that same effect between Old World Spain and the New World. "We purposely left out green in Spain," says Turcotte. "There was very little foliage. You might see a green shirt on a character or something like that, but there's no real lushness to the environment. We save the real explosion of color for El Dorado."
And explode it does! After their escape from Cortes' ship, Tulio and Miguel ride through jungle backgrounds that are lush and green. They are mainly hand-painted backgrounds mapped onto simple 3D geometry. Their journey ends at an icon-filled monolith that appears to be a stone version of their treasure map. Here the color is lowered and darkened using a lot of cool blues and a gray mist. The colors remain muted as the two are surrounded by natives and led off through the jungle. That sets us up for their entrance into El Dorado, which heats up exlosively with a riot of yellows and reds. All the stops are pulled out so there can be no doubt that we have arrived.
This shot features the lush greens used in the New World scenes. TM & © 2000 DreamWorks LLC.
Not all of the animators on El Dorado were "tradigital" hybrids. Rodolphe Guenoden, a traditional artist, was the supervising animator on Chel, perhaps the most delightful character in the movie. Trained at C.F.T. Gobelins in his native France, Guenoden worked at Amblin Entertainment in England first on An American Tail: Fievel Goes West and later on We're Back and Balto. He explains that he does sketches until he finds the essence of the character. "Then we take the drawings or sketches and model them more to what we like. She was a lot skinnier than what she is now...Jeffrey [Katzenberg] and Bibo [Bergeron] were in the same frame of mind not to make her a regular character."
The toughest part of the film for Guenoden was not a wild action sequence but a relatively static one. "Animating Chel the first time she discovers that they're [Tulio and Miguel] there just to find the gold, and she has to convince them that they need her help. It was all acting and just very different to do. There were a few changes to add on in production to that sequence but the most difficult thing was to make her enjoyable enough so that the audience would like her."
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