The Visual Effects
Disney's digital production studio, The
Secret Lab (TSL), was charged with the creation of Oddball, the totally white
Dalmatian heroine of "102 Dalmatians," a project that took about 18
months to accomplish.
In most of the 345 visual effects shots
in the film, Oddball is either a completely computer generated puppy or a live
action puppy whose natural black spots have been painted out by digital artists.
During pre-production The Secret Lab explored some practical methods of creating
a white Dalmatian; puppies were powdered and even dressed in white stockings. A
white dog of a different breed was considered, but none of these schemes quite
captured the character of Oddball.
While Visual Effects Supervisor Jim
Rygiel and Co-Visual Effects Supervisor Dan DeLeeuw were in London shooting with
director Kevin Lima, the visual effects team in California developed a CG pup,
sending tests to London on a daily basis. TSL's CG puppy can be seen most
notably when Waddlesworth the Macaw rescues Oddball in the St. Pancras train
station and drops her inside the Orient Express rail car, a shot which would be
impossible or too dangerous for a real puppy.
While belief can be suspended for a CG
dinosaur or monster, everyone knows what a puppy looks like, so the slightest
bit of artificiality will destroy the illusion for the audience. The Secret Lab
created a totally believable CG pup that not only tackled Oddball's most
harrowing moments, but which also managed to work her expressive face into
several convincing close-up shots.
Since Oddball is devoid of spots, the
plan was to remove every single spot from the live action pups. Oddball was
actually played by 10 live action pups due to the quick growth spurts of an 8-10
week old puppy. Since every Dalmatian is different, a signature look was
established for both the CG and live action Oddball by maintaining the same
button-shaped, black nose and the same dark pigment around her eyes in every
The spot removal process is meticulous
and painstaking. Even with computer software to automate some of the process,
much of the digital paint work had to be done by artists on a frame by frame
basis. Some of the real puppies were so heavily spotted that it was decided to
replace them entirely with the computer generated puppy.
In other cases, spotted CG puppies were
used to fill in scenes which required the presence of all 102 puppies. Many of
these scenes, especially in the patisserie, called for many pups to be on camera
at one time, requiring Jim Rygiel to orchestrate multiple portions of a set-up
which were shot separately and combined as "split screens" by TSL's
team of compositors.
"The safety of the dogs was always
our main concern," said Rygiel, "but we also wanted these shots to be
exciting. We couldn't use safety nets or cables, so we erected 20 ft. by 8 ft.
flying ramps that extended out from the sides of the bakery platforms on which
the puppies ran. The ramps were painted green so we could digitally remove them
from the scene later. Below each ramp stood a trainer, one for every dog. We had
to mount these ramps for every set up of the shot. It was genuinely hard work,
but we ended up with an amazing sequence. The puppies look like they're doing
a ballet on beams 50 feet up in the air!"
In addition to the various techniques
used to create Oddball, The Secret Lab gave the power of speech to the
irrepressible macaw Waddlesworth. Digital artists replace
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