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Disney Goes Deeper Into Bolt

Last week, Walt Disney Pictures offered journalists an extensive look at its next animated feature, BOLT (opening Nov. 21), including some stereoscopic 3-D sequences (the opening TV series within the movie and a pivotal moment with Rhino the hamster), and a peek at the studio's innovative use of CG lighting.

Directors Chris Williams and Byron Howard hosted the screening of clips in 3-D. "Chris wanted to make the TV show so cool -- like a Michael Bay movie -- that you'd want to see it [on the air]."

Robert Neuman, the stereoscopic supervisor, explained that BOLT represents Disney' first full foray into 3-D during production. He offered an overview of how immersive and technologically efficient the toolset is. During layout, they can offer 3-D as another cinematographer's tool. It provides control and comfort, and Disney utilizes a "Depth Script," "Floating Window" and "Result Driven Camera Rig" methodology. The "Depth Script" charts the emotional intensity and placement in 3-D space of each shot. The "Floating Window" repairs "window violations" on screen and allows greater control over screen placement. And the virtual camera rig provides precise depth control with both left and right eye views. The studio has also developed multiple camera rigs for volume control.

Look and Lighting Director Adolph Lusinsky discussed the Edward Hopper influence (which goes all the way back to the earliest incarnation of the project with director Chris Sanders), and the R&D efforts to apply painterly techniques in a CG world. This included brick detail in close-up, edges on models that look like brush strokes, integrating matte paintings more seamlessly into 3D spaces and applying distinctive lighting and detail sensibilities for each city. For instance, San Francisco contains cobblestones coming up from the asphalt in old shipping yards; a gray haze and de-saturated color palette for New York's garment district; turquoise haze for Kentucky and Ohio; the neon look of the Las Vegas strip; and the Santa Ana winds with purple skies in L.A.

The idea was to combine the urban, cinematic look of Hopper with the naturalistic exposure sensibilities of air/atmosphere in the cinematography from the films of the '70s (most notably Vilmos Zsigmond's MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER). This included lens effects such as light scattering, blooming and lens flares.

Art Director Paul Felix further explained the painterly influences of PINOCCHIO and other Disney classics while also exploring the new CG techniques for normal painting (3D painting on normal maps with receding detail) and ray painting, which provides brushstrokes with perpetual painterly edges.

Visual Effects Supervisor John Murrah discussed these techniques in more detail: "Your eye doesn't resolve detail, so we attacked the massing of detail [with] and an AB look, which we fed into shaders so compositors can control depth, light and shadow. We have detail fall off or mimic exposure in cinematography...We made tools for controlling the area of focus and light and shadow. For normal mapping, we reversed the way it's used in videogames so you could make light play across a surface like painting."

Murrah added, "We ended up painting a lot more detail in modeling and can manipulate detail more in rendering...[With ray painting], we devised a method where a virtual object has painterly edges...through a series of cards with a transparent map [inspired by the matte work of Disney great Peter Ellenshaw]."

--By VFXWorld Editor Bill Desowitz