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If Dogs Could Act, They’d be Scooby

Mary Ann Skweres uncovers the challenges of refining Scooby so he behaves more convincingly as a 3D canine with human characteristics in Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed.

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For Scooby-Doo 2, Rhythm & Hues completed 100 more shots within a tighter schedule than the original film. All images ©2004 Warner Bros Ent. All rights reserved.

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Vfx supervisor Betsy Paterson (left) and animation director Leon Joosen contend their 3D computer model work on Scooby improved the canines acting performance in this sequel.

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Digital supervisor Todd Shifflet (left) created the pipeline for the project while Art Jeppe supervised both the lighting and compositing teams for the complex CG slope sequence.

Vfx supervisor Betsy Paterson and animation director Leon Joosen were among the key crew members who worked on the first Scooby-Doo movie and returned with their expertise to bring the character to life again in Warner Bros. Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (opening March 26). At the peek of post-production, Rhythm & Hues Studios had 325 people working and created around 450 shots in under seven months 100 more shots than the first film and on a schedule two months shorter than the original.

Work on this film was more varied and included a full 30-shot CG sequence of two Skeleton Men chasing Scooby and Shaggy down a slope. For Paterson, this was the biggest challenge. The whole slope is computer-generated all the trees, dirt and rocks. The only live action in the sequence was one character shot on bluescreen. The rest was CG and matte paintings. Because its important that the lighters and compositors work together, CG slope lighting/compositing supervisor Art Jeppe oversaw both teams. Jeppe also had a lot to do with the art direction of the sequence along with art director Mike Meaker, who worked on the matte paintings.

The biggest hurdle was rendering something that complex. Paterson adds, We clocked it. Most of the time Scooby and the Skeletons are moving at about 100 miles an hour down that slope. Theres an awful lot of CG ground to cover. The team had to develop methods to handle the problem. Paterson credits Raymond Chen, lighting supervisor, with the solution to get the CG chase sequence rendered. Wherever possible the slope was split up so only the necessary parts were visible and the entire model wasnt carried through the whole sequence. Still, there were many shots looking literally miles back up the hill that had a lot of detail. Work had to be done so that they could be rendered with less resolution in the distance and higher resolution closer to camera. Which is a neat trick. The computer had to calculate things based on distance from the camera, says Paterson.

R & H uses proprietary software for most work. The software is always evolving. Paterson explains, We develop everything for each show as we need it. Challenges occurred due to the use of multiple vendors. It was necessary to not only blend character performances, but also technology. Everybody has a different way of working, according to animation director Leon Joosen, The way animators animate is like a fingerprint. The way they choose to move a character around to create the performances that they want is unique and individual to the animator. Sometimes compositing problems occurred. Often the difficulties were due to compatibility of the different software used at the different houses. Digital supervisor Todd Shifflet, who built the pipeline for the show, came up with a lot of the technology. He was responsible for making sure these complex systems actually worked and came in on time.

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The many faces of Scooby-Doo: R & H focused on the dogs facial performance in this film.

An on-set model of Scooby was set up for eyeline. The actors had to act as if Scooby was really there. Neil Fanning, the voice of Scooby, did the lines live providing repartee with the actors. A lot of spontaneous improvisation came out of these sessions. Joosen says they make Scooby act to the voice making sure that he was funny. That he blended in. And that he was part of the five, not just something on his own. The animators had a free rein to experiment with new character ideas. If necessary Fanning would rerecord dialogue over the new scenes spawned by his original dialogue. It was a very good give and take situation, according to Joosen. It was synergy.

The first film had a lot of lead-time. All the decisions of what Scooby was going to look like and how he was going to act had to be worked out. The animators had to figure out how to make Scooby transition from a 2D to 3D character. He couldnt look exactly like the cartoon because that would look too freakish in the real world. It became a matter of how doggy-like and how realistic he should be. The first film was a battle back and forth as to what would be acceptable. Joosen explains, For the end sequence we went whole-hog and did absolutely over-the-top cartoonery. The audiences loved it. The second time around Joosen had parameters. The team knew the audience would accept just about anything as long as the transition between being a real dog and being a stand-up type of human was correct and not abrupt or jarring. There are even moments when Scooby barks with a real dog bark, so at moments in the film he is an absolute real dog.

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For the CG slope sequence, art director Mike Meeker (left) created the matte paintings. Lighting supervisor Raymond Chen figured out how to get the computer to render foreground and background images in different resolution.

Paterson compliments Joosen: Hes great. He really is Scooby. He, more than anyone, developed the character and what the 3D Scooby is all about how he reacts to things. Paterson and Joosen worked closely with the director, and came up with a lot of the gags that Scooby does. Paterson adds, Were very proud of Scoobys acting abilities. The acting ability is improved because the first film served as a reference of what Scooby should be like, so it was much easier to get a consistent character. Having the same animation director and a lot of the same animators, everyone felt like they already knew the character. The same 3D computer model was used, but they rebuilt the structure underneath. Scoobys shape remained the same, but how he moves, how his skin deforms, was all tweaked and refined to work better.

Joosen expanded the facial acting. He could stretch what was originally conceived as a real dogs face into something that simulated what Scooby would do in the cartoon. The team developed more facial controls, more subtlety, even a little muscle that twitched under the eye things that would make Scooby seem absolutely real and alive. It came in handy in the emotional scenes that are Joosens favorites. There was no need to have Scooby sobbing, he could just stand there staring, with that muscle in his eye twitching and his nostrils flaring as he tries to hold back a sob. He doesnt have to sob. Hes doing the acting for it. These different facial attributes bring a CG animal to realistic life. Joosen admits, We were opening the envelope with Scooby as far as what his performance levels would be. This time the animators were not afraid to bring him to levels of despair that would put him on the verge of crying.

In this film, the most challenging aspect of animating Scooby was continuing development of the relationship with Shaggy. Joosen explains, I always looked at them in the first film as an Abbott and Costello, a comic duo. To keep that kind of feel in the first film was difficult while still working out the parameters of the animation. This time the challenge was to make them mesh as a duo. They were a comic team identified as Shaggy and Scooby, not separately.

Joosen is a dog owner and laughs when people ask him if he used his dogs for inspiration. Yes, it does definitely help. Great Dane reference shots were studied at the beginning of both films. Great Danes were brought into the studio and filmed so that the animators could look at the physical reality of a dog. Even though Scooby can be a wacky cartoon, there had to be reality in his movements so that it still felt like Scooby was a flesh and blood dog. Anyone who is a dog owner knows what their dogs are capable of. Their dogs may not be able to do backflips or ride a unicycle. But they do jump up. They do leap off. There is a flow to their body. There is a way that when they land, their paws spread slightly and their legs cushion for the blow. Those are the things we had to put into even the wackiest Scooby shots. Once that was in there, it still felt like a real dog no matter how over the top you wanted to make him. Although the performance will draw the audience in, the realistic look solidifies that concept.

Joosen reveals, I really wanted a kid to feel like he was watching a dog that he could go and get himself. If kids come out of the audience going, Mommy, get me a Scooby, then I think Ive succeeded.

Mary Ann Skweres is a filmmaker and freelance writer. She has worked extensively in feature film and documentary post-production with credits as a picture editor and visual effects assistant. She is a member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild.

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