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CHICKEN LITTLE

Inside Oakey Oaks
Imagine a town where chickens play baseball and ride around in egg-shaped cars, bulls run the local china shop, bats are optometrists, penguins operate the tuxedo shop, the sheep are barbers, a worm sells books, the cheese store is owned by mice, and the Mayor is a real turkey. Welcome to Oakey Oaks, a town known for its great acorns, and for being the home of an infamous chicken who caused chaos when he proclaimed that the sky was falling. From its earliest inception, director Mark Dindal had some very specific ideas as to what Chicken Little's hometown should look like.

He looked at children's books and drawings made by children and was attracted to the notion of keeping things simple and emotional. To help him bring his concepts to fruition, he enlisted the talents of production designer David Womersley, design artist Mac George, and art directors Ian Gooding and Dan Cooper. Together, this group laid the foundation for one of the most original and whimsical designs ever seen in the medium.

Womersley recalls, "We began designing the town at the same time that the character design was going on, and Mark really wanted to squash and stretch his characters and bring a nice cartoony feel to them even though it was 3D. He wanted Oakey Oaks to have that same ‘chunky' cartoony look so we came up with some very simple rules—very few straight lines, no parallel lines, no right angles or concentric circles. If there was a straight line, it had to be broken. Basically, we tried to take out all the geometry that we'd ever learned in school. We also played around with the perspective to give it the look we wanted.

"There is a tendency with CG movies to try and get things to look as real as possible,” he adds. "Some filmmakers spend a lot of time trying to get the hair and the clothes exactly right. It was fun for us because we got to make a world that you couldn't otherwise go to. We were able to design all the props and sets in a very quirky way.

"Oakey Oaks itself has a very small-town feel,” concludes Womersley. "When those aliens come from outer space, we wanted it to feel like those films from the '50s. The invasion seems bigger because of the smallness of the town. It allowed us to explore something that was much more intimate. Our focus is on the characters and the way they live in the town.”

Adding to the unique look of the town are many props and sets that are specifically designed for the residents. Buck Cluck and Chicken Little live in a suburban house that has many characteristics of a chicken coop. They drive an egg-shaped car, and many of the items seen in the home have an egg theme (from the bedroom rug to the shell lamp shades). Ian Gooding and Dan Cooper, the film's art directors, were responsible for taking Womersley and George's designs and selecting the right colors and textures to help set the proper mood.

"Mark wanted this film to feel like the Disney movies of the '50s in terms of staging and color,” explains Gooding. "A legendary Disney artist and color stylist named Mary Blair was one of his favorites and we looked at her children's books and films like ‘Alice in Wonderland' and ‘Peter Pan' that she had influenced. We studied the way she staged things and used theatrical pools of light to help draw your eye to the desired character or action. Mark was looking for characters that would read emphatically either dark over light or light over dark. He wanted them simple, easy to look at and quick to read.”

Another key collaborator in giving "Chicken Little” its distinctive look was layout supervisor Terry Moews. With his background in live-action cinematography, Moews was able to bring some exciting camera movements to the action scenes, heighten the depth of each scene, and give the town a sense of being<

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