Animating the Characters in "Life Of Pi" - Quotes from Rhythm & Hues' Animation Director Erik Jan DeBoer
“Having Ang Lee describe our work as ‘impeccable’ is, I think, the best compliment the team has ever received.”
“This was the perfect challenge for our animation team; complex quadrupedal locomotion on a swaying lifeboat with pure animalistic behaviour.”
“The animator’s talent, patience and perseverance in the face of this very difficult and hard work was just amazing. These are true artists.”
Animation Director Erik-Jan de Boer worked with supervisors Brian Wells, Scott Claus, Ian Blum and Matt Shumway, each leading a group of animators spread out over R&H facilities in Los Angeles (fifteen animators), Mumbai (fifteen) and Hyderabad (twelve). The full animation team was supported by a layout group supervised by Lulu Simon in Los Angeles.
Using CGI to successfully emote with a 450 pound Bengal tiger, intercut with a live action animal, was an incredibly exciting challenge for the animation team. Working together for many years on projects such as “The Chronicles of Narnia, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “Night at the Museum” 1 & 2, and “The Golden Compass,” the team has developed a solid understanding of general physicality and biomechanics and the ability to create complex photo-realistic animalistic behavior and quadrupedal locomotion, in this case on a swaying lifeboat in the middle of the ocean!
For “Life of Pi,” the team used hundreds of hours of reference footage collected from a variety of sources. On-set animal trainers Sled Reynolds and Thierry Le Portier gave de Boer full access to the four tigers and one hyena allowing him to collect detailed footage of these animals including general motion on the lifeboat, shape changes on paw plants, muscle firing patterns, lunges, swipes, snarls, yawns, licks and breathing patterns. For each sequence and shot, relevant material was edited into study and inspiration clips that were used by the artists.
All CGI performances were created through keyframe animation in R&H’s proprietary software package Voodoo.
A layer of technical animation was added on top of the main performance by a team of sixteen artists based in Los Angeles and supervised by Matt Brown. Complex simulations, based on character motion, wind, water and other external forces, were run to add realistic details to the animal skins (muscularity and body mass harmonics), hair, whiskers, fins and various props like lifejacket straps and the lifeboat tarp.
R&H crowd artists Jason Quintana and Mark Welser used software package Massive to create flocking simulations for the flying fish shots and meerkat island populations. The meerkat behaviors were controlled through complex rules that sourced an extensive keyframed motion library to create crowds of up to 60,000 animals.
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