George Miller's toe tapping, exuberant and heart-felt HAPPY FEET, the first animated feature for him and Animal Logic, which won the Oscar, bows on DVD March 27, 2007 (Warner Home Video, $28.98).
Misfit Emperor Penguin Mumble (Elijah Wood) can't sing but he sure can dance, and endures a difficult redemptive journey to save his brethren in Antarctica. Also includes voice work by Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman as his musical parents, Memphis and Norma Jean. Robin Williams voices two Rockhopper penguins: the wise old Lovelace and the wisecracking Ramon.
Animal Logic created its own "creative hub," which included 70% performance capture and 30% keyframe built around the tap dancing. Animation was done with SOFTIMAGE| XSI. Animal Logic also created its own crowd system called "Horde," which takes multiple performances with variation and then randomizes them further through time and space warping. Massive was used for more procedural and cycle-based crowd sequences.
"Animation was like shooting in slow motion," Miller told AWN. "BABE alerted me to the potential of this form of storytelling." And what was the biggest learning curve for the self-described "Synch Nazi"? "To be honest, apart from just caring more about the mysteries of storytelling, the revelation to me was camera. I fancy myself as pretty good with a camera, but I just had no idea what it would be like and they built a special tool for me. But in this case it was no big deal to take a camera and go anywhere. As [Roman] Polanski said, 'There's only one perfect spot for the camera.'
"I sort of knew that but never so much as before making HAPPY FEET. As an experiment, I took exactly the same animated performance and set and the only things I changed were the camera angle and cutting pattern. And you could seriously influence how it played because of those variables. The other big thing about animation is that it gives you time to reflect because you're doing it bit by bit, whereas live action is all from the gut because there is no time to think."
Bonus features include:
* Two deleted scenes: "Mumbles Meets a Blue Whale," created for the DVD and featuring the voice of the late Steve Irwin as an albatross, who instead voiced the elephant seal; and the brief "Happy Feet Moment."
* "Dance Like a Penguin: Stomp the Beat," in which dancer/choreographer Savion Glover offers a brief lesson in dancing like Mumble.
* The 1936 animated Warner Bros. short, I LOVE TO SINGA.