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Move It, Move It
With more than two-thirds of "Madagascar” set in a jungle, the flora proved even more challenging than the fauna. In addition to being dense and overgrown, the tropical vegetation had to appear as alive as any character, but in a much more subtle way. Head of effects Scott Singer attests, "The single biggest effect in ‘Madagascar' is the jungle. There was no way around it; there are tons of trees and plants and we had to make them move as naturalistically as possible, without being distracting. It was too much to figure out how every single plant might move individually based on the wind speed, etc. We needed a more direct way of manipulating the geometry.”

The effects teams not only had to determine how to keep all the foliage in constant motion, those movements also had to be in direct correlation to what generated them—ranging from the ambient motion of trees stirred by a breeze to the more dynamic action of plants being nearly flattened by an animal "stampede.” The effects team came up with various ways to keep the jungle moving, including a procedure that Phillipe Gluckman teasingly calls "the force.” "We created a kind of force field around the characters that moved everything in their wake without affecting the animation of the characters and without having to do too much hand tweaking.” For more complex shots, the animators and effects artists used a combination of techniques, including hand animating certain plants.

Being an island, Madagascar is surrounded by ever-shifting sand and water, two elements that present significant challenges to animators. There are a number of scenes that take place on the beach, beginning with the four "zoosters” washing up on the shore. Given the demands of certain sequences, the animators could not rely on a generic computer simulation of the ocean, but had to be able to determine the height, placement and timing of the swells and waves.

Gluckman explains, "There are moments in the movie when the characters are actually in the water, like the scene when Marty the Zebra is surfing on the dolphins. We had to be able to totally choreograph what the water was doing, so we designed systems that allowed us to hand animate the waves. The movie is also very stylized, so we needed to be careful to match the artwork instead of just going for realism.”

Similarly, the sand had properties that required its own rendering system, which enabled the animators to create footprints in the sand corresponding to the character making them or to kick the sand up as the animals ran along the beach.

What goes up must come down, but Singer says that the animators had to learn to manipulate gravity in keeping with the cartoon action. "With this movie, you can have a character who jumps up in the air and hovers for a while before he falls down. If you have sand trailing after him, the sand can't just go up and come down with the force of gravity. It has to hang there with him, but then again, if it hangs too long, it's just going to look frozen. So animators who had been used to treating gravity as a constant now had to work with gravity as a variable, depending on the scene. For example, gravity gets weaker when the main character in the shot is hovering, and it gets really strong when he starts coming down again.”

Between flora and fauna, and sand and water, the amount of imagery that had to be rendered was beyond anything the animation team had ever imagined. Singer acknowledges, "We figured out that it was so much more data than we'd ever even tried to manage on any film before. There are some brilliant minds here who came up with interesting ways of rendering that much data.”

DreamWorks' continuing collaboration with its preferred technology provider Hewlett-Packard (HP) also helped to solve the problem. Hundreds of thousands of rendering hours were sent to HP's cutting-edge Utility Rendering Service. This

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