The timing couldn't be better for Seth MacFarlane's Ted, a naughty fable about a foul-mouth teddy bear come to life. Fortunately, R-rated comedies are more popular than ever. However, the VFX budget proved challenging, as did the animation, which was split evenly between Tippett Studio and Iloura (each working on entire sequences). It turns out that it's not that simple animating a teddy bear. Just ask Dennis Muren of ILM: He had a tough time with A.I.'s teddy bear. In fact, when Phil Tippett mentioned in passing that his studio was working on Ted, Muren cautioned him: You suddenly become aware of what reads nicely as loose fabric and what sells as a teddy bear, but one false move and the audience is aware of it immediately.
"You don't get the same budget on an R-rated comedy as you do for a superhero movie, so we started retooling and spending a good six months working on the budget with producer Jason Clark on the production side and me on the visual effects side to a place where the studio was willing to green light," explains VFX producer Jenny Fulle of Creative Cartel.
"It was a question of thinking outside the box and there was never any question that the bear had to be believable and within the first five minutes you weren't looking at a CG character anymore. And you had to be able to see the personality that Seth chose for the character. We felt very strongly about doing motion capture for the character of Ted and so we did a few tests with Tippett and Iloura. Seth liked it a lot and that put us light years ahead in terms of concept work and movement tests.
"In the old world, we would've been leery of splitting the animation of Ted between two companies," Fulle continues. "In the new world, though, I like the idea of having two facilities on it because we never know how something is going to grow and change and it gives a lot more flexibility to production. Both companies built a pipeline that could handle 400-500 shots each and make it so he looks the same. I think you'd be hard pressed to say that's not the same vendor."
Even so, production VFX supervisor Blair Clark of Tippett had to make sure that Ted played convincingly as a store-bought teddy bear and not a photoreal one, which is the customary brief on these live action hybrids.
MacFarlane wore an MVN suit and realtime feedback of his pantomiming was provided to the animators via MotionBuilder. A teddy bear puppet stand in was used on set as well.
"We bought swatches of fake fur as an education for us to see how it looked in different lighting environments," Clark suggests. "We fine tuned it so it had a synthetic feel that real fur doesn't. It had to look synthetic but not fake. The artists did a lot of grooming to get the splines to match that original test, including warn spots on him. And there was back and forth between the houses to get consistency like matching the warn spots and the bottom of his feet."
Both Tippett and Iloura animated in Maya, but Tippett uses RenderMan for rendering while Iloura is a V-Ray and 3Delight house. Every shot has a cloth sim, even the ones where Ted just sits there, because it relaxes the fabric enough so you get the feeling of a loose bag. It's very subtle but he reads more believably as a stuffed teddy bear. Attention to detail was exact, including the wrinkle across his chest.
"We made a call early on that Ted's pupils wouldn't move," Clark says. "Seth was concerned that it would push him into a cartoony look so we played around with having them be teddy bear eyes. We tried to keep all the eye lines consistent with more of a face line. He would do it with the whole movement of his head. And he's slightly wall eyed as well: the eyes don't match. Sometimes we had to make slight adjustments once we saw the renders. His eyebrows are very expressive and mouth and muzzle were the main focus of Seth's notes throughout the show. He was very focused on the mouth shapes and the phonemes. He would always have some fine tuning direction for us. But he was happy with all the pantomime the animators had that was cleaned up from his mocap."
Along with a major chase sequence at Boston's Fenway Park, there was also a wild party scene and a hotel fight with Ted's best buddy played by Mark Wahlberg. These involved a combination of practical and CG elements, but also Clark playing a stand-in.
"The party was all over the place and was shot in Boston and LA," Clark remarks. "There's even a shot that we did and everybody loved it but it didn't make the final cut when they introduced the antics with the duck. When they come out of the bathroom and have done the cocaine, there's a shot where Ted is washing [Flash Gordon star] Sam Jones' hair. I did the actual washing by holding rods and in the final shot they painted me out and replaced me with Ted. "
Meanwhile, the hotel fight between Ted and his buddy was shot in only two days, thanks to pre-production choreography between the stunt coordinator and Wahlberg's stuntman and previs by Tippett. MacFarlane looked at a video of the fight and only made a few minor changes.
"But having to slap Wahlberg around was tough for Clark: "I kept thinking, 'Man, if this goes wrong, I'm going to get an impromptu boxing lesson from The Fighter.' It was a little nerve wracking but he was a good sport. I ended up spanking his bare ass with a radio antenna."
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.