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Some Kind of Whacked-Out Conspiracy
The design of the four main characters in "Madagascar” began with the basic features of a lion, zebra, hippopotamus and giraffe. Darnell says, "It's great to see how the animals balance each other out. You've got the tall, skinny one; the big, round one; the guy with the big bouffant hairdo; and one with a crazy mohawk. It's a perfect complement of characters.”

Production designer Kendal Cronkhite adds, "They work almost like puzzle pieces that can link together. Alex is an inverted triangle; Gloria is a circle; Melman is a tall, skinny stick; and Marty is a cylinder. They are different from one another in silhouette, but are based on the same design asthetic, which was exaggerated proportions with sharp graphic shapes and details.”

Lead character designer Craig Kellman was responsible for creating cartoon versions of the four zoo animals. Mireille Soria notes, "Craig Kellman did an amazing job in coming up with the look of these characters. He captured what we were going for, which was a more cartoony approach that carried over to all the design elements of the film. We called it ‘whacking our characters.'”

McGrath expounds, "Craig's designs dictated that this world would be slightly askew—not overly caricaturized, just whacked out a little bit. We started referring to it as ‘the whack factor,' which gave us an easy reference point to say things like, ‘There's too much whack factor on that.' It became kind of a running joke.”

The overall style of the characters was inspired by a variety of classic cartoons, as well as several children's picture books. "Craig did a great job of translating these ideas that we had about the characters into animatable animals that could be taken off the 2D page and put into the 3D world of the computer,” Darnell states.

The "whack factor” of all the characters was amplified significantly through the extensive use of squash and stretch in "Madagascar.” Traditional animators have always been able to squash and stretch characters or objects at will because it was all done on paper, but in the computer, a 3D object could only be stretched so far before it reached its breaking point. Advancements in the application of squash and stretch in 3D animation have been made in recent years, most notably in films like "Shark Tale.” However, the cartoon style of "Madagascar” required that the computer animators use squash and stretch to even greater comic effect. Essentially it meant they somehow had to get the freedom of a pencil in the click of a mouse.

Teresa Cheng says, "Our animators are used to animating in a more realistic way, using tools like our facial animation system that involves building every muscle on the face so we can recreate expressions that are totally grounded in the real world. When we started working on ‘Madagascar,' we decided to take a different path based on the classic cartoon style, with extreme poses and exaggerated proportions that, even when the character is standing still, look comical.”

Head of character animation Rex Grignon affirms, "In ‘Madagascar,' we wanted to try something that really hadn't been done in 3D animation, namely to throw away some of the more realistic structure of the characters and to borrow from more traditional animation. We changed the anatomy so we could do things like stretch and elongate our characters' arms and squish their torsos. From the outset, we wanted this to be a more physical film in terms of slapstick comedy.”

The character technical directors (TDs), led by character TD supervisors Milana Huang and Robert Vogt, were responsible for creating the controls, or rigging, for all the characters in the computer. Grignon worked closely with Huang and Vogt to identify areas in which the animators would need to implement squash and stretch to give them that snappy, pose-driven animation.

To expand the parameters and amplify

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