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MPC’s VFX Goes to the Dogs in ‘Strays’

Leading creative studio delivers 720 shots for Universal’s comedy adventure, starring Jamie Foxx and Will Ferrel, about an abandoned dog who forms a gang of misfit ‘strays’ dogs; CG magic used to create a fully digital eagle and replace dogs’ muzzles and heads.

Universal’s comedy adventure Strays, starring Jamie Foxx and Will Ferrell, follows an abandoned Border Terrier who forms an unlikely bond with a misfit gang of stray dogs. Together, they embark on an epic trek across town to help Reggie find his way home - facing various escapades and overcoming challenges along the way.

Led by production VFX supervisor Jason Billington and animation director Matt Everitt, 370 artists across MPC Adelaide, Bangalore, and Mumbai delivered 720 shots for the movie.

MPC’s goal to deliver director Josh Greenbaum’s vision required the creation of a believable world where the boundaries between real and digital animals are indistinguishable. The film encompasses moments of subtle emotion, full CG action sequences, and comedic gags.

“The VFX work was a true collaboration between Josh Greenbaum and MPC’s artists,” said Billington. “Josh was an incredibly creative and inspiring director, always open to our ideas and encouraging exploration as we found the tone of the show.” 

One of the movie's key elements was exploring dog behavior and their imagined conversations. MPC’s team worked with the performances captured on set to ensure that the dogs appeared engaged in realistic dialogue while highlighting each dog’s distinct personality.

Much of the VFX work incorporated CG muzzle replacement for the dogs, ranging from replacing the muzzle below the eyes to complete head replacement. Additionally, certain shots featured full CG dogs, while one specific sequence required a full CG eagle.

MPC crafted and developed over 30 assets with highly detailed full CG versions of the hero characters. Among the notable dogs were Reggie (voiced by Ferrell), Bug (voiced by Foxx), Hunter (voiced by Randall Park), and Maggie (voiced by Isla Fisher). The dogs required full facial systems blending seamlessly across the entire face and neck - MPC’s artists utilized different areas of the live-action dog depending on the performance requirements. Each dog has its own distinct and diverse groom, encompassing various fur styles and textures such as short, fine, straggled, long, flowing, and silky.

“Strays was one of the first shows at MPC to use our new, Houdini-based grooming system for hair, fur, and feathers called LOMA,” added Billington. “A proprietary Houdini/USD based toolset that allows us to create, control, and simulate grooms for much more detailed and art-directed characters than before. This technology works in conjunction with our industry leading shader development for hair, which calculates physical properties of hair strands, such as the medulla, cortex, and cuticle - animal and human alike, in much more physically based manner, resulting in never-seen-before realism for furry creatures.”

The eagle sequence posed a significant challenge to the team as it called for the creation of both full CG dogs and a full CG eagle, intricately connected, and prominently featured in close-up shots, which required meticulous attention to detail in the assets and multiple simulations for every moving element. Much time and effort were put into previsualization, during which new jokes and ideas were pitched and incorporated into the final film. The sequence aimed to maintain a sense of peril but simultaneously elicit laughter from the audience as our heroes are carried over treetops hundreds of feet in the air.

The seamless integration of these into background plates, captured using various cameras at different times of the day, posed more intricate challenges for MPC’s lighting and compositing artists, who had to ensure consistency across the entire sequence.

Source: MPC

Debbie Diamond Sarto's picture

Debbie Diamond Sarto is news editor at Animation World Network.