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CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2

About the Production
In approaching Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, the filmmakers began -- appropriately enough -- with the first film, both in look and personnel. To make the world of Cloudy 2 consistent with the first film, Cameron and Pearn called upon production designer Justin K. Thompson, Senior Animation Supervisor Peter Nash, and Visual Effects Supervisor Peter G. Travers to reprise their roles behind the scenes.

The production designer Justin K. Thompson was responsible for the overall vision and look of the film on behalf of the directors. "The first film had a very whimsical design -- a simplified style, relying heavily on texture and color instead of lots and lots of detail. The shapes and character designs were simplified. Everything was asymmetrical. It was very charming -- like being inside of a children's book," says Thompson.

That was the starting point for Cloudy 2 -- though of course, the new film required new locations. "The first film was actually small in scope -- medium shots and close ups and character acting. In this movie, there are a lot of wide shots. It's an incredible landscape, and every time they go to a new location, we built a new set."

First up was the city of San Franjose, where Flint is recruited by Chester V. "It's a mixture of San Francisco and Silicon Valley," Thompson continues. "Live Corp satirizes the culture of Google or Apple -- these large, campus-mentality tech firms. That building is larger than the entire town he grew up in. At the very beginning, Craig Kellman came up with the idea of giving Chester a light bulb-shaped head -- so we started to wonder, what if we just made Live Corp one big light bulb?"

"The light bulb is the symbol of Live Corp because it's a company of ideas," says Pearn. "All of the greatest minds in the universe are gathered there -- the best and brightest wanted to come there to work. Everything is provided -- they have a dolphin pool and cookie bakeries and volleyball courts and caffeine stations every ten feet -- it's our way of gently poking fun at Silicon Valley."

"We used a really bright palette and tried to make it a lot more vertical than the first film, in order to give it a feeling that there's a loftiness to the place -- that it's aspirational," says Thompson. "This is the place where Flint can pursue the dream he's always had -- to become a great inventor who can make the world a better place."

Later, the characters return to Swallow Falls -- but for the production team, the changes to the island from the FLDSMDFR meant designing all-new locations. Thompson says that the directors, Cameron and Pearn, were very clear about what they were looking for: "They didn't want a green jungle -- they wanted it to feel like a place that no one had ever seen before."

"So, Cody and Kris asked us to use actual food as the inspiration for all of our locations," he explains. "The art director Dave Bleich and I started cutting apart fruit and vegetables and looking at the shapes and patterns inside. That gave us all of our shape language and our vivid color palette. That gave us a lot of room to be fun and creative in our design."

That was only half the battle. "They also wanted the jungle to be larger than life," Thompson explains. "So I went into a vegetable garden and put a little handheld camera down on the ground. And what I saw was that fruits and vegetables have really interesting shapes to them. Almost all of them are covered in some kind of fur -- a texture that you don't see on larger plants. And we found that when we scaled that up, and especially when we started getting into 3D, it really worked well."

Not only that, but as production designers can do with all great sets, Thompson and his team could help tell the story through their designs. "We used the jungle as a backdrop for the characters' emotional states," he says. "We worked with Sony Pictures Imageworks' Peter G. Travers, the Visual Effects Supervisor, to build the sets so that we could change the color at will -- if we wanted a scene to feel happy or sad, we could use the same plants and simply change the color."

The other benefit was to add variety to the look of the film. "No two scenes look the same," he notes. "As you go through the film, it feels like you're walking through the color spectrum the whole time. For us, the color really does tell a story."

Of course, the production design team was also able to express their creativity by carefully placing food within the landscape. Each area of the island had its own theme. "We had the Sunday morning breakfast section, with pancakes and eggs; we had the Mexican food section; the steak-and-potatoes dinner section; and, at the end, dessert -- inside the big rock candy mountain."

And oh, that dessert. "Back on the first movie, our 3D supervisor said that with the Jell- O mold, we had managed to create the most difficult set ever created in 3D. Well, on this one, we managed to make one even more complex -- they go inside of a geode made of rock candy," says Thompson. "There are giant crystals with a waterfall going through it, and characters splashing in the water. There's so much going on -- there are sparkles everywhere. And, of course, we art directed everything -- even the sparkles."

The animators create a performance for the characters on the screen, so each character has a unique way of moving and emoting. The senior animation supervisor, Peter Nash, oversees the team that tackles that challenge. "We do movement for a living," he says. "That's the most fun for us. How do we make motion entertaining and expressive?"

Nash says that the first challenge on Cloudy 2 was making it feel part and parcel of what came before. "We were very determined to make everything feel true to the world of the first movie," he says. "On that movie, we had to invent the style. This time around, we had some new concepts or tried things slightly differently, but we definitely wanted it all to fit within the language that was already established."

Having worked on the first film, Nash played a key role in designing the way that most of the returning characters move through space -- including Earl the cop. "He's a supercop in a town where nothing happened," he says. "He wants to use all of his abilities and has nothing to use them on. So, he's got a lot of pent-up energy -- every movement is like a sprinter off the blocks, and every time he stops, it's like slamming on the brakes."

Of course, new characters meant new animation -- and creating a new character requires great amounts of trial and error in seeking to get the performance just right.

That is perhaps never more true than the performance of Chester V. "Whenever we're figuring out a new character, we'll do all kinds of performance tests with them to figure out which concepts work best. Chester's persona is this new-age, touchy-feely guru -- he's bright, happy, and positive, but it's a means to an end, because he uses that to manipulate people."

To suggest that, Nash says, the animators made Chester graceful and elegant. "He has a dancer-like control over his body," Nash says. "Every time he's talking, he's giving a performance that he's orchestrated in his head ahead of time. He can isolate parts of his body to move in sometimes impossible ways. It's designed for maximum impact.

On the other hand, Barb -- the orangutan with a human brain inside her ape brain -- is going through a personality crisis. "She's trying to completely disregard her apelike qualities and act as dainty and human as possible. She completely overcompensates by being prim and proper -- but she'll forget. She has moments where she walks on her hands and gets embarrassed."

The other new characters, of course, were the foodimals. Once the foodimals had been designed -- whether though Cameron's early tests carving up real strawberries and pickles or through Kellman's nutty brainstorms -- it fell to Nash and his team to design all-new movement for each of the foodimals. "The way the characters were designed was very funny -- a spider that's a cheeseburger with French fry legs has a lot of presence, a lot of detail. It's very funny. So we decided, if the design is the joke, then we had to make the movement as real as possible. If we animated them light, like a cartoon, it wouldn't be as funny. So we did it visual effects style, very realistic, with lots of weight. It might be a cheeseburger with French fry legs, but we wanted it to be believable."

Not just believable -- but tasty, too. "One of our rules on the first film was that the food always had to look delicious," says Pearn. "We tried to keep that going. Whenever we lit a set or put new creatures into the world, it was always the most delicious version of that creature. The cheespider might be scary, or you might want to love Barry, but you also want to eat them because they're so tasty."

Not all of the animals prove a threat. Some of Nash's favorite foodimals are the family of pickles that get adopted by Tim Lockwood and Barry the strawberry, Flint and the gang's guide through the new Swallow Falls -- and the animators had fun expressing these characters through movement.

"For the pickles, we tried to suggest the idea that they haven't been alive for very long -- they don't really know how to move yet," he says. "They're like feral cats -- they can look erratic and unpredictable. At the same time, they're adorable. Their intentions are good."

"Barry, on the other hand, is very clever," Nash continues. "He can use the environment to his advantage. He can turn himself into a ball and bounce at will. He'll roll away, pop up somewhere else, then run, run, run across a log, then bounce somewhere else."

Peter G. Travers, the film's visual effects supervisor overseeing a team of 150 people at Sony Pictures Imageworks, notes that on an animated film, "every shot in the movie is digital," he says. As such, serving as VFX supervisor on an animated film means much more responsibility than on a live-action film. "It's the development of the characters, it's the development of the environments, the lighting of all the shots, the matte painting -- and then the effects animation and compositing. More or less, we're responsible for all the pixels."

For Travers and his team, the most difficult shot was the hero reveal of the foodimals. "All of the foodimals are there, and they're all splashing in the water -- and all of that water has to be simulated -- so the magnitude of data was very challenging," he says. "It's the kind of scene that has been made possible by advancements in CG -- the kind of scene that was impossible ten years ago."

Another of Travers' favorite effects comes as the heroes' boat lands in a giant coconut. "Well, that's coconut milk," he notes. "And that has different physical properties than water -- it's goopy, more viscous."

And if coconut milk is more viscous, it's go nothing on the film's Breakfast Bog, which is made entirely of maple syrup. Which led to an interesting question -- just how much more goopy than water is syrup? How would it behave? There was only one way to find out. "We bought a ton of maple syrup, put it in a big pan, and sloshed it around to see how it behaved," says Travers.

Just as the production design team built new sets for each of the locations in the film, Travers' team would also have to custom build their work for each set. "We wanted to get a diversity of environments, like they're moving through a rainforest part of the island, or a swamp, or a desert -- and all of those areas cater to a certain style of food, he says. "They all have to have certain style effects, animation, lighting, and shading -- even the rendering models were very different."

Building the environments required a lot of research for the render team. "We wanted the jungle to have bioluminescence," Travers notes, "so we did a lot of R&D on getting the different styles of bioluminescence to read on the plants. From there, they open up to Sardine Circle; as they go down the river, the cheespider chase is on -- the environment is all magenta and blues. They get into Salsa Land -- reds and greens -- and then the Breakfast Bog, and finally the big rock candy mountain. That's what was so fun -- for each of these environments, everything was totally new. The look of it could be whatever we wanted."

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