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DreamWorks Shares ‘The Bad Guys: Anatomy of a Car Chase’ VFX Reel

In an AWN exclusive, see how the studio designed and produced the signature opening chase scene, where cops and robbers careen across Los Angeles, in the studio’s 3DCG action comedy about a crackerjack criminal crew of animal outlaws attempting to become model citizens, starring Sam Rockwell, Craig Robinson, and Awkwafina.

DreamWorks Animation has just shared with AWN an exclusive look at how the animation was designed and produced for The Bad Guys’ signature opening chase scene, where cops and robbers careen across Los Angeles in The Bad Guys: Anatomy of a Car Chase VFX reel.

Based on the New York Times best-selling Scholastic book series by Aaron Blabey, The Bad Guys is an action-packed heist for all ages that follows a crackerjack criminal crew of animal outlaws about to attempt their most challenging con yet - becoming model citizens.

In the film, the group of outlaws includes dashing pickpocket Mr. Wolf (Academy Award winner Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside EbbingMissouri); seen-it-all safecracker Mr. Snake (Marc Maron, GLOW); chill master-of-disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson, Hot Tub Time Machine franchise); short-fused “muscle” Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos, In the Heights); and sharp-tongued expert hacker Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina, Crazy Rich Asians), aka “Webs.”

After years of countless heists as the world’s most-wanted villains, the gang is finally caught; Mr. Wolf brokers a deal (that he has no intention of keeping) to save them all from prison: The Bad Guys will go good. But can they?

Take a few minutes and enjoy The Bad Guys: Anatomy of a Car Chase VFX reel, then read more about how this exciting scene was created.

Just considering the Modeling, Look Dev, Set Dressing and Digimatte departments, an average team of eight artists took six months to build the portion of Los Angeles and its suburbs you see during the exciting chase.

Work on the chase scene began with a healthy amount of reference that the previs team used to drive the production. According to Mike Trull, Head of Assets, “The Art team, led by Production Designer Luc Demarchlier, provided extensive art reference for recreating iconic Los Angeles neighborhoods such as Hollywood, Koreatown, DTLA, Arts District, Echo Park, Silverlake, and the Arroyo Seco. Because of our compressed schedule, Asset departments had no time to construct finished streets and buildings. Instead, we relied on our Head of Layout, Todd Jansen, to drive the city design process. We created rough street and building assets that previs used to create a city environment optimally designed for an insanely fun police chase through LA. This previs-adjusted set was handed back to Modeling for the final build.  Having previs drive this process made sure that all the work being done by the Asset departments was seen on screen, optimizing creative resources.”

“All of our assets were designed to be used throughout our different neighborhoods,” Trull continues “From skyscrapers to Spanish bungalows, foliage, and cars, all our assets were designed to be modular, with different facades and surfacing variations, that allowed us to combine assets for a multitude of different looks.”

Head of Look, Jeff Budsberg, along with the team’s technical directors and Look Dev team, designed new workflows to achieve the film’s unique style. “All of our foliage assets were constructed to look as if they were illustrated,” explains VFX Supervisor Matt Baer. “Leaf distribution was carefully designed to look like a dry brush on the silhouettes of many of our shrubs and trees. Look Dev artists could paint brush strokes across the entire canopy while taking advantage of instancing. A new toolset, called Squiggles, allowed artists to add custom linework to any part of an asset or set – further enhancing the illustrative style.”

Hollywood, Koreatown, DTLA, Arts District, Echo Park, Silverlake, and the Arroyo Seco were recreated specifically for use on the scene, detailed by the Look Dev department to give each neighborhood its distinct flavor. Look Dev also created building textures iconic to LA (donut shops, graffiti, colorful murals, and billboards). Final Layout, Trull shares, “used set dressing to create the individuality and cultural flavor of each neighborhood. We were very proud that in test screenings many of the audience comments were how they could identify each LA neighborhood as they watched the sequence.”

“Our Digimatte department used black and white height maps to rough out elevations for the expansive city you see in the distance,” Baer adds. “Our Sprinkles instancing tool provides customizable brushes that allow artists to paint much of the detail seen in the wide shots. Many of the houses were hand placed.  Additional 2.5 techniques create an increasingly hand-drawn and painterly feel in the distance.”

Noting the use of virtual production tools, Trull reveals, “Our scout cameras were integral to our set building process. Locking the camera early allowed us to move quickly through the build process, and with our modular build philosophy, allowed us to use these assets throughout the film.”

“Our biggest challenge,” Trull concludes, “was not design, but a compressed schedule that had our Eastside chase sequences coming early in our sequence order. The scout camera-based workflow was the key to our success in this scenario.”

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.