The Cutting Edge of Animation Technology
With the combined elements of cutting edge live action and animation, "Osmosis Jones" required two different production teams, four directors and ultimately about
650 people working on various facets of the project from beginning to end to bring Frank and his pulsing, bubbling, deteriorating body to life. The groundbreaking film provided the perfect opportunity for these technical artists to push the envelope, because as Tom Sito explains, "We had to invent our own rules."
In the film, computer-generated images blend with traditional hand animation, which is interwoven with live-action footage. To seamlessly marry the different media, a "texture map" was culled from sources as diverse as traditional artists' renderings to biology textbooks. Animation cels were tweaked in Photoshop. Everything possible was done to seamlessly meld the various technologies that create the unprecedented unique look of this film.
Using the cold capsule Drix as an example, CGI animator Richard Barely explains one way in which this worked. "I drew all the mouth shapes, facial expressions and the various little squashes and stretches that Drix does. Then the modelist used those drawings in the computer animation."
"We painted all of the backgrounds in Photoshop," adds background artist Mary Locatell. "It's the first time that has been done, so it's pretty exciting."
Producer Dennis Edwards offers a specific example of the kind of multimedia effort involved. "Most of the characters have a transparent membrane around them. which is a digital effect on top of the traditional animation," he explains. "We used bits and pieces of every available technology, and it worked." Indeed, backgrounds pulse. faces and bodies morph, and vibrant colors combine in the City of Frank. "Even the animation color stylists had never seen anything like this," Edwards enthuses.
In the film, Frank's insides serve as a microcosm of a functioning city, and at the same time, as a satire of how a city works. Much like the convention of a live action buddy cop movie, Osmosis and Drix literally race from one end of the city to the other to track their suspect — from the dark seedy parts of town (like the liver, where bad toxins hang out) to the high-tech control center of the brain, from which the Mayor oversees the daily workings of the metropolis.
On a purely logistical level, it seems feasible enough to turn a body into a city — a body has arteries, like highways. The stomach serves as the arrivals terminal, and the departure terminal is located.. .ahem... somewhere further down. But, as Tom Sito attests, the filmmakers faced numerous challenges in bringing the City of Frank to life on screen. "First, imagine that these internal characters are one-celled entities," Sito says. "Is each one a single color? How are their expressions distinguishable? Realistically, the body of each cell character is a little environment all its own, and it's in a liquid state, so do the 'facial' features float around inside each one? Are there any horizon lines in the body? Any vistas? For awhile, the whole internal world was depicted as underwater because the human body is mostly water. We had to create our own laws of gravity. We had to create a world."
Tad Gielow, animation department head for computer graphics design, describes the meticulous attention to detail paid to every aspect of the animated sequences in the
film. "In the backgrounds alone, there's a lot of pulsing and vibrating — it looks like breathing, really," he explains. "We took a standard painting that one of the artists had prepared in Photoshop, and we image-processed it, manipulated it and warped it a bit, which gave it a little wavy feeling like a pulse. That gave the backgrounds a sense of being alive."
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