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102 DALMATIANS

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 shot.

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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