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Halon’s ‘Slumberland’ Visualization Shows Exactly What Dreams are Made Of

Teams led by Casey Pyke and Ryan McCoy produced previs – and some postvis – on key scenes involving the Ballroom Dance, an Octopus chase, a Garbage Truck chase, and the big third act dreams chase, on Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of Winsor McCay’s famous comic strip, now streaming on Netflix.

Adapted from famed American cartoonist Winsor McCay’s weekly comic, “Little Nemo in Slumberland,” Netflix’s Slumberland takes audiences to a magical dreamworld where precocious Nemo (Marlow Barkley) and her eccentric companion Flip (Jason Momoa) embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

In the film, director Francis Lawrence (I Am LegendThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire & Mockingjay) switched Nemo’s gender from male to female, then sent her on a sleep-induced journey to find a special pearl in the Sea of Nightmares that will enable her to reunite with her father who was lost at sea. Now streaming, Slumberland stars Barkley, Momoa, Kyle Chandler, and Chris O’Dowd. It’s written by David Guion and Michael Handelman (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb) and produced by Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, David Ready and Lawrence.

Led by previs supervisors Casey Pyke and Ryan McCoy, and postvis supervisor Andre Mercier, Halon Entertainment, part of NEP Virtual Studios, produced previs for three sequences on the film: the Magnatile city and Garbage Truck chase, the Ballroom Dance and Octopus chase, and the third act chase through the dreams. “We also did some shots here and there,” Pyke adds. “And some postvis on the Ballroom Dance and Octopus chase sequence.”

Take a look at their visualization reel, then learn more about their work on the show.

For the Garbage Truck scene, under Pyke’s supervision, Halon deployed a team of 4-5 for around two months, using a Maya and Unreal Engine pipeline, with a mocap stage setup at Pyke’s house.  McCoy’s team numbered 5-7 for a number of months, also using Maya, animating action brought in from motion capture before using Unreal Engine to light, create FX, then render.

“At this point, we've been working in Unreal Engine for 5 years, and have our workflow down,” Pyke reveals. “But we really pushed the visual fidelity, lighting, and reflection effects, especially when the scene went underwater. We ended up really happy with what our team came up with.”

According to McCoy, “The main goal of the previs was to creatively work out the shots and beats of the action sequences.  We also helped with the look development for the sequences with the butterflies.” Pyke adds, “The previs helped explore story flow and camera. Work out specific action and gags. Communicate certain dream effects. Plus, it allowed us to collaborate with the director as fellow filmmakers to realize his vision.”

The team started with storyboards, but, Pyke notes, “as often happens, we moved on from the boards as ideas got refined and pacing and camera moves became more complex. We also had concept art for the Magnatile city, the Nightmare squid, and the garbage truck, and for Nemo and Flip.”

McCoy says, “Yeah, for some of it we had boards, for other parts we had a script, and for the butterfly sequence we had another company’s previs to start with.”

He continues, “I worked on the sequence where folks first enter the nightclub and it’s constructed of thousands of butterflies.  Then the moment when the Nightmare squid crashes through the ceiling. I also worked on the sequence at the end where the gang is being chased through the dream by the Nightmare squid -- from crashing into the bathroom to the toy streets, nightclub ballroom, and lobby, where Flip is caught by the nightmare and turns to butterflies.”

For Pyke, the biggest challenge on the project was setting up a mocap stage at his house during the first few months of the lockdown so that he could continue working as he had been previously. “It was a lot of fun, getting it to work with a little elbow grease, but not without its frustrations,” he admits.

For McCoy, getting convincing animation on the Nightmare squid was quite difficult. “The rig was tricky to use, and we really needed to feel the weight of its tentacles for the sequence to work, even for the previs,” he shares. “We roto-animated some crazy footage of an octopus slithering across the beach that we slowed down and then used as its walk cycle. It was also a challenge to make sure it felt dangerous as it chased them. They always had to feel just about to be captured, but without it being right on top of them, as then it would just feel inept.”

Dan Sarto's picture

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