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Wedge Talks Up Robots

With Blue Sky Studios wrapping production on ROBOTS (which parent company Twentieth Century Fox will release March 11, 2005), director Chris Wedge took time out to talk to VFXWORLD about his eagerly-awaited follow-up to ICE AGE. The 3D-animated feature will open day-and-date in IMAX DMR on IMAX screens around the globe.

Its been a three-year trek, Wedge said. Its hard to have perspective at this point, but I think what weve managed to do is come up with a fun, consistent, fresh world. Just from a style and look perspective, I think its innovative. Weve pulled off 10 times more than I thought wed be able to. You get to a point where youre routinely doing things nobody thought we could do, everyday. Our pipeline gets so big you can drive a truck through it. Its just easier to do everything because everyones in tune. Its hard to keep up with production sometimes just from a story perspective. Were just fine-tuning right now. Weve written a couple of bits that were trying to push through.

ROBOTS is powered by the celebrity voice-over work of Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry and Mel Brooks. The whimsical movie, scripted by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (CITY SLICKERS), and based on a story by playwright David Lindsay-Abair, actually began as a collaboration between Wedge and ROLIE POLIE OLIE author William Joyce. Set in a unique world of 'bots, it's the story of a young genius who falls in love with a sexy exec and sets out to prove that robots can improve the planet.

Other celebrity voice work will be turned in by Greg Kinnear, Drew Carey, Jim Broadbent, Amanda Bynes and Robin Williams.

For me, I re-learned what I learned on ICE AGE, which is just keep it simple. Because on ROBOTS, we said, now that we pulled ICE AGE off, lets make a bigger one. We just kept adding and adding and before we knew it, we had much more than we should have. So for the past year-and-a-half, its been editing and shaping and rewriting. Its been much, much harder because we bit off a lot more. Its a much bigger looking movie. It was a matter of taming the beast. But, I think, as a result, while we were trimming the story, we were modeling and designing and the world got much bigger, and so theres a sense of scale to the movie. Every shot or sequence has something new in it, so the experience is [very different].

Wedge explained that the original intent was to make it look like you went to a place and shot it with a camera. However, after realizing that the bots initially looked too stiff, they started going in and breaking limbs and bending things and deforming faces and squashing and stretching. So at the end of the day, its about expression and appeal, Wedge affirmed Youve got to build a better silhouette here; this moments all about appeal. The fundamentals of animation, for me, has always been posing and timing and subsets of those.

We still use Maya and have our own plug-ins for it. The lighting is an important part of the experience of the movie and it supports the storytelling. Weve learned a lot. We thought ICE AGE was going to be tough and it ended up being easier rigging them. We thought ROBOTS would be easy to rig and it ended up being extremely complicated.

There are many, many more controls on these characters. We got all nerdy and fixated on things like: Well, if this robots arm moves, this piston should go up over here. Theres all sort of automation that the animators dont have to deal with on a consistent basis. Theres always cleanup and stuff but there are all sorts of gadgets that move on these guys.

As for the ICE AGE sequel, which has started production, Wedge said co-director Carlos Saldanha will direct. Carlos has been weaned off of ROBOTS and is doing ICE AGE right now. Weve got a lot more movies to make after that, and Ive got to be able to delegate a little bit. Ive got a lot of faith in Carlos.

Circling back, ROBOTS looks like something Ive wanted to do forever. I just look at it and I think it was something I was born to do. Its a look weve taken years to get to and I feel personally that its a huge part of my own sensibility about how a fantasy movie can look. Im just grateful that weve got the technology and the infrastructure here to put ROBOTS together.

Blue Sky Studios Inc. ( is a computer animation studio located in White Plains, New York. Blue Sky Studios became a wholly owned unit of Fox Filmed Ent. in 1997. Wedge previously won the 1998 Oscar for Best Animated Short for BUNNY. Blue Skys proprietary software is CGI Studio, which is based on the concept of raytracing and simulates the way light behaves on objects and surfaces in a natural environment.

Bill Desowitz's picture

Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.