Raising the Bar on Bringing Animated Characters to Life
Press Release from Cartoon Network
Ben 10: Alien Swarm is the second live-action film from Cartoon Network based on their immensely popular animated series franchise Ben 10. This time around the network wanted to push the limits and deliver an intense thrill ride for the audience.
The film is directed and executive-produced by Alex Winter, who also directed Cartoon Network’s first Ben 10 live-action movie, Ben 10: Race Against Time, which scored over 13 million viewers during its Thanksgiving weekend premiere in 2007.
“The original Ben 10 series was really geared towards younger kids and our first live-action film, Ben 10: Race Against Time, reflected that sensibility,” Winter recalls. “The new animated series, Ben 10: Alien Force, is aimed at an older audience. So we really wanted to bring a more grounded reality to this film. There’s also a lot more action and thus, more visual effects.”
In fact, with nearly 600 shots, the scope of Alien Swarm’s visual effects work was roughly triple the 2007 film, Race Against Time. Leading the charge was the project’s overall Visual Effects Supervisor, Evan Jacobs, who also served as VFX supervisor on Ben10: Race Against Time. “This time around we had many, many more shots and a great deal more complexity as well,” Jacobs said.
To tackle the challenges posed by the film, Jacobs decided to spread the work across several visual effects vendors; Zoic Studios in Culver City, Atlanta-based Turner Studios, Ghost VFX in Demark and Super78 in Hollywood.
“The producers approached us very early on to design the hero aliens that Ben transforms into as well as the villainous Queen and her chips,” Super78’s Creative Director, Brent Young said. “From working on the first film we saw how much the fans know these characters and there are things they expect to see. Still, Alex really wanted to stay away from anything cartoony so we worked hard to find that balance.”
Once the assets were designed, they were handed off to the other vendors to be integrated into the live-action photography.
“The scope of the project and the tight schedule really required using multiple vendors, but we really wanted to make sure we kept a continuity of design across the CG characters,” relates Jacobs. “Centralizing the asset build allowed us to do that.”
Zoic Studios was responsible for the opening sequence of the film with complex effects including a massive swarm of alien computer chips, along with one of the most popular alien heroes from the series, Big Chill.
“The fans of the animated series know and love Big Chill so we definitely wanted to be faithful in bringing him into the real world,” Zoic’s VFX Supervisor, Andrew Orloff, relates. “He’s very wraith-like, with these big wings. Oh, and he’s blue, which was a little tricky to make photo-real.”
Zoic was also responsible for interpreting two well-established effects from the animated series; Kevin, who is capable of absorbing any material he touches, and Gwen’s energy powers throughout the film.
“Kevin presented some interesting challenges,” recalls Orloff. “We wanted to bulk him up so he looked heroic but unlike Ben, he isn’t changing his DNA, so we were careful to keep him looking like our actor.”
Turner Studios, another alumni from the first film, was responsible for the largest portion of the effects work including the massive Plumber’s Lab computer displays, the car chase and Humongosaur sequences as well as the all CG animated battle between Nanomech and the Queen in the finale.
“The scope of this project was daunting but our team was really motivated to deliver,” related Sean McPherson, VFX Supervisor for Turner Studios. “Alex gave us a lot of creative latitude, particularly in the early design phase. Our artists really got invested in the imagery and the characters and so they went the extra mile, pushing to keep the quality high.”