Doing the Razzle Dazzle with 'Yogi Bear'

Read about Yogi's feature debut and how he translates into CG.

Check out the Yogi Bear trailers at AWNtv!

Yogi remains a large, asymmetrical figure. Images courtesy of Warner Bros.

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the live-action/CG hybrid of Yogi Bear is that Rhythm & Hues is a co-producing partner for the first time with Warner Bros. The VFX studio has thus been able to leverage its considerable experience in creating characters from cartoon series (the Scooby-Doo, Garfield and Alvin and the Chipmunkmovies) into more of an ownership role, which made Yogi an interesting starting point for conversations about their involvement.

For the 3-D shoot in New Zealand with director Eric Brevig (Journey to the Center of the Earth), Rhythm & Hues worked on several hundred shots, featuring its extensive animation, lighting and fur work for Yogi (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) and Boo Boo (voiced by Justin Timberlake). In addition, R&H did matte paintings and vfx work, (water, fire and cloth) and props animation. In addition to its proprietary Voodoo animation, R&H continues to use Maya and Houdini.

"Being a producing partner definitely added a new level to it," suggests Betsy Paterson, R&H's vfx supervisor. "We were able to be involved from design all the way through story, so that helped. You always have ideas to make things easier and better along the way and it was great to be in the room and listened to on this show. It was nice to feel more ownership of the final result.

But the animators had to find a new appeal for these characters in a live-action world.

"This was our first show shot in stereo. We built a while new stop in our pipeline, which is called the Stereo QC, which dealt with the plates as soon as they came in, making sure that the left eye and right eye matched and tweaking colors and distortion. We had to come up with new layers in our software to make sure that it worked in stereo and that the artists could see both eyes at the same time and their work was translated properly for the other eye. We built a new set of tools just to look for problems. Even without a 3-D display, you could see the disparity between the two eyes."

Paterson says there's a lot of interaction with people, lots of action in and out of boats on a river and water skiing and flying in the sky. "We did three minutes of full CG for the flying sequence, with all the mountains and rivers below them," she adds. She was dubious of 3-D at first, "but somehow the stereo made it useful for really making sure that we can feel the characters in those spaces."

But the biggest concern, of course, was translating the iconic Yogi from the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons into a believable CG character in a live-action world. "Early on, getting the Yogi design to work was a challenge," admits Joe Ksander (9), the animation director that spearheaded the animation team. "The live-action world has cartoon-inspired, pushed designs, which better enabled Yogi and Boo Boo to inhabit it. That being said, we wanted to keep a lot of what was appealing about Yogi and his performance. The original design was big on asymmetry and large, graphic shapes. It was the South Park of its day. We cued off of that, even though we knew we had the ability to do more fluid and complete animation in CG. In terms of the performance, he was very restrained in keeping with the original character.

Rhythm & Hues, which was a producing partner, stepped up its creative role for determining animation and vfx.

"This character is as big as any of the human actors and occupies the same space. He's the driver of the story. We were concerned that in storyboarding him that we got enough of the character onscreen before we started animating. After the film was shot, we storyboarded every single scene to give us an idea of the performance choices and what the gags are and who Yogi and Boo Boo are. It's not something that is generally done with these live-action movies."

Alex Orrelle, founder of Crew 972 in Israel, worked closely with Brevig and Ksander as animation director heading up the story team. Orrelle was involved in rehearsing some scenes with the actors, finding things that they do that the bears could react to, and make it feel as if they were really there.

"I came on quite late, briefly before shooting started," Orrelle says, "but my main job during the shoot was that, every time a sequence was shot in New Zealand and went into rough edit, I would receive it as a QuickTime and would discuss it with Eric to make sure that his vision for the animated performances were coming through. And then I would digitally draw the characters into the QuickTime or onto the back of the shot's back plates with key poses that describe the performance ideas for these characters, and get them approved for Eric. And then send it over back to editorial to cut my drawings back into the QuickTimes.

R&H also created a new Stereo QC for its pipeline.

"It was a lot of fun because of all the drawings, and a great way to inform the film and to start working out the business for the character animation, which I was largely in charge of from the creative side. I had to adapt what I know of Yogi from the original in more of a live-action scenario and live-action feel. We literally had to find a new appeal for these characters, a new way to make them fun to look at. The little that's there from the original is the striking of confident, strong poses. CGI tends to be over-animated, so we can't have that with Yogi Bear, who's voiced by Aykroyd as very arrogant and we had to match that. We would watch the film and say, 'Hey -- wouldn't it be funny if Yogi hits his head on the side of the train car when Boo Boo's trying to help him climb in?'

"The way the characters are rendered is so realistic that we also had to stay close to physical reality, making sure that stuff moves properly and realistically, which the folks at Rhythm & Hues are great at."

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.

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