Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Lilo & Stitch chase sequence

The big chase sequence in Lilo & Stitch went through some really incredible changes before actually making it to the screen. Initially, Stitch and the gang had 'hijacked' a 747 to rescue Lilo. The chase sequence proceeded through downtown Honolulu, where they smashed into hi-rise buildings and generally tore things up. I remember all to well, the morning of September 11th, as I watched the events unfold on television, somewhere in the back of my head a little voice said "Oh my God, we are going to have to change that entire chase sequence...!" Small worry to think about in the face of such cataclysmic events, but sure enough, within 24 hours, we were meeting to discuss how to change an entire FINISHED chase sequence. A new spaceship was designed and modeled, and we swapped out downtown Honolulu for a mountainous region of Kauai. Within one month, the entire sequence was re-done, with no more hijacked planes running into hi-rise buildings.

In the original sequence, the big fat sun-burned guy with the ice cream cone, was at a cross walk in Honolulu, when the wing tip of the 747 knocked his chocolate chip pistachio ice cream off of his cone. We painstakingly replaced the 747 footage with the new red spaceship, seated the guy on a beach, and successfully splattered his ice cream just like we had in the original sequence. Mission accomplished.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Stitch arrives on Earth

When Stitch arrived on Earth for the first time, he didn't exactly get a warm welcome. This was the very first sequence that we completed in the making of Lilo & Stitch, as well as one of the most enjoyable to create. It challenged us to create fully 3D sugar cane trucks, and put them convincingly in to a 2D water colour painting environment, and drench the whole thing in pouring rain. The basic falling rain that we used was re-used from the film 'Mulan', but the little splashes hitting the pavement were new hand drawn elements. We instanced three different splashes to a surface particle generator in Maya,to give a convincing perspective look to the rain drops hitting the ground. Stitches ray guns were actually modeled in Maya, and then we used these models to help us hand draw the guns accurately. ( We were still developing a CGI line rendering look for the film, using Disney proprietary rendering software called 'Inka' that was ultimately used for the countless CGI props in the film)

Running over Stitch with the trucks was a very involved process. The trucks were animated rough for a first pass, and then Stitch was animated being squished and thrown around between the wheels. This animation then went back to the CGI animators who squashed and ripped the tires and heaved the trucks around violently, to react to running over a bullet proof, invincible 2D cartoon character.

It is a beautiful sequence, and tells the story of Stitch arriving on earth with finesse and a powerful punch!

Stitch catches a 'plasma ball'

One of my favorite effects elements in the film Lilo & Stitch, was the plasma that shot out of the weapons that were wielded by various characters in the film. We called it P.P.P. for 'propane propelled plasma'. Our goal when creating this propellant was to make it seem almost 'friendly', that is, not too deadly looking. Keeping with the creator Chris Sanders' beautiful rounded and organic style of drawing was also paramount. This had a very practical side to it as well, as these kinds of shapes turned out to be very simple to animate, compared to a more complex or realistic style, thus also keeping the overall production costs down some what.

In the final compositing stage, I made the plasma look like it was glowing from the inside out, as if it contained quite a bit of energy inside it. Each drawing was required to be broken down in to three separate pieces of artwork to create this final look.

Seeing that Stitch could actually catch and play with the plasma from one of these guns served two purposes. It showed the viewers that Stitch was a formidable opponent, and it also took away some of the threatening deadliness of the weapons, making the film more palatable for its younger audiences.

On top of all that, it was really fun to animate this stuff!

Avalanche Special Effects from Disney's 'Mulan'

As a special effects animator on Disney's Mulan, I was given the task of animating quite a few scenes in the avalanche sequence. The sequence was shared between several animators, but the bulk of the most dramatic scenes where the avalanche races down the side of the mountain, were animated by myself and Garret Wren. There was an incredible amount of detail to contend with, as there were hundreds of CGI horses and riders galloping in every which direction. Every single horse had a trail of hoof prints following behind, as well as snow kicking up, and full cast shadows. From scene to scene we had to switch from CGI horses to hand-drawn horses for the close up scenes. The snow effects were painstaking hand-drawn and animated to match the Chinese styling of the film, with spiral accents and a water colour look to the final renders. Many of the scenes were animated entirely on one's, that is to say 24 drawings per second, and on 24 field paper, which are enormous sheets of paper, to give the drawings as much detail as possible. It was not uncommon for the clean up effects artists to spend an entire day on one drawing!

Almost a full year of incredibly painstaking work spread out among dozens of people went into this epic animated sequence, a modern masterpiece of special effects animation.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A short flash effects reel

A short little effects teaser I threw together for kicks.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Big Splash

This splash effect is made up of several large to medium sized splashes and bubbles that I animated by hand directly in Flash on a Cintiq tablet. All of the elements except for the water surface are simple, hand-drawn effects. The subtly animating water surface effect was created in Adobe AfterEffects by my good friend and colleague Dennis DeKonnig.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A medium sized splash

This splash effect is made up of several small to medium sized splashes and bubbles that have been combined similar to the 'big' splash above.....

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Brother Bear's Transformation

On Disney's 'Brother Bear' I was responsible for designing and creating all of the 2D and 3D special effects for the transformation sequence. The watery light tendrils that reach down out of the sky are 100% CGI, and then when the the effect shoots down and impacts the ground, it is a combination of a 3D column of light, and traditional hand-drawn 2D splash effects animation. Jazno Francouer and I animated the 2D liquid effects, and Jason Wolbert handled the CGI elements. The column of liquid light streaming down is 50% CGI, and 50% hand-drawn. Then when Kenai pierces the light with his spear, the real fun begins. We experimented for months with various ways of creating realistic, yet highly stylized aurora borealis effects, that we could integrate with traditionally animated animal spirit characters. The final product is a complex mish-mash of 2D and 3D special effects and character animation. The shifting colours of the northern lights play on an animating 3D surface upon which we also projected various levels of hand drawn animal animations running to and fro.

It is a special effects tour-de-force of which I will always be very proud.

Lilo & Stitch title sequence

The title sequence for Lilo & Stitch, is full of beautiful special effects. As the director of special effects on the film, I had to design and direct a wide variety of special effects for this sequence. Subtle, realistic reflections of the Hawaiian dancers on the floor, elaborate water surfaces, splashes and waves, a couple of very challenging underwater 'looking up' scenes, complete with lens flares, bubbles, backlit effects, and refracted light dancing in the shallows....it was a fantastic experience made all that much better by the fact that we flew to Hawaii for a research trip!

Lilo & Stitch surfing sequence

When I was the director of special effects animation at Walt Disney Feature Animation in Florida, my most enjoyable job by far was creating the effects designs and special effects animation techniques for the surfing sequences in the movie Lilo & Stitch. A small team of the core artists on the film actually traveled to Kauai, Hawaii, to research our specific areas of interest. My job was to spend as much time as possible observing the water and waves, and research how to best realistically depict cartoon characters surfing, keeping within the simple and elegant style of the film.

Although the effects animation was entirely hand-drawn, I did incorporate 3D elements to assist in the process. The surfboards themselves were 100% CGI. Also, we created animating CGI water surfaces, that we then printed out and used as guides to draw our traditional water surface effects on. This enabled us to keep our water surfaces more alive, rising and falling with subtle wave motion as real ocean swells do.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A hand-drawn techno-Flash FX extravaganza!

This collage of hand-drawn special effects works in sync with a techno soundtrack by Aphex Twin. I pieced this little animated gem together in Flash. Using the soundtrack as a guideline, I just intuitively layered the effects elements in different ways, skewing, tinting, resizing and repeating them as I went along....

Camp Fire

This campfire is a combination of little fires I animated by hand.


This simple and 'cartoony' flamethrower was animated by hand in Flash.

Dust kick-up effects

I combined several of the previous 'flamethrower' animations, tinted them grey and made them transparent, to create this billowing dust kick-up effect.

Lava Bubble

This bursting lava bubble was animated straight ahead, by hand, in Flash, drawing on a Cintiq tablet.

Water fountains

These water fountain animations were hand-drawn, animated straight ahead in Flash on a Cintiq tablet, no paper at all. You will see in my earlier post of 'fountains of fire' that I used some of the same animation, simply colouring it differently.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Creating special effects for an animated shoreline

Here is an example of how an effects artist might break down the various elements necessary to add realism to an animated scene of a bit of shoreline on a sunny day, with clear, translucent, and reflective water.

The elements come together in layers.

The surface light and reflections, the light refractions on the bottom, and the background are layered together.

The final composited elements

All the water and light special effects elements sandwiched or 'composited' together.

fountains of fire!

Explosion effect created using Flash only!

This is an explosion I created using several different elements that I animated traditionally in Flash, drawing on a Cintiq tablet. These elements were put together using Flash only, there are no additional compositing techniques used. (thanks to Paul Johnson for his lovely fireworks burst flash effects which I used as well)

Breaking down special effects animation........

Here is a small example from 'Elemental Magic' of how bubbles are created underwater when an object falls from above.

A little flash splash

This is one of the first effects that I animated without paper, animating with the brush tool in Flash, drawing on a Cintiq tablet. I have since tidied this splash up a little bit, and put it entirely on one's, that is, 24 drawings per second.