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HAPPY FEET

The Photo-Real Look Of "Happy Feet"
As they did with the characters, the filmmakers incorporated a combination of artistry and technology to achieve what Miller calls a "photo-reality” for the computer-animated world of "Happy Feet.”

"I was always aware of Antarctica, given that we live in the southern hemisphere.” The director recalls, "Way back when I was doing ‘Road Warrior', I was in the Australian desert and a grizzly old cameraman turned to me one day in a bar and said, ‘Antarctica! You gotta make a film in Antarctica.' Well, twenty years later, here I am making a film in digital Antarctica.”

Miller adds, "Ten to fifteen years ago the ‘white continent' became more accessible to documentary crews. The logistics improved, the equipment and cameras were able to endure the extreme conditions, so we saw for the first time some brilliant footage on the natural history of the Emperor Penguins.

"From the get-go, we decided to make a film that was as photo-real as possible, given that the landscape of Antarctica was so majestic, and the penguins themselves were so magnificent.” Miller goes on to describe the process: "We consulted with Dr. Gary Miller and, with the help of the New Zealanders, sent two research expeditions down to the Antarctic. Visual effects and camera crews captured the textures, light and landscapes, which would be fodder for our computers and help create the world of our story.

"I talked to all of our digital artists about the look of the film. I wanted it to seem so real that I'd be compelled to walk up to the screen and touch it. I felt that if we could achieve a look that would create that impulse—if it could send me to the computer screen to actually reach up and try to rub the fuzzy belly of a baby penguin—then we would have succeeded. I'm happy to say I've tried to scratch quite a few virtual penguin bellies since we began production.”

"Happy Feet” took almost four years to make, and Miller observes, "Over half that time was spent in creating the digital pipeline. Miller goes on to reveal that Doug Mitchell and a team from Kennedy Miller literally moved into the Animal Logic facility. Working with Zareh Nalbandian and the accomplished technical and creative staff of Animal Logic, "Doug spearheaded the company's ambitious transformation from a conventional visual effects house into a CGI animation studio, capable of delivering a full-length animated feature.”

"Working in this digital realm is a revelation,” says Miller. "Hundreds of very skilled and talented people came from all over the planet to give their best efforts to this film. Their average age was 26. There were artists from all over the Americas— California, Alabama, Texas, Quebec, Paraguay, Mexico; amongst many others. There were French, Italians, New Zealanders, Germans, British, and people from Africa, China, Iran, Estonia, India, Israel and Spain. It felt like the UN.”

"A large proportion of them were math wizards as well as artists,” Miller offers. "What surprised me was that so few were your cliché ‘computer geeks.' They are body builders, martial artists, motor cycle racers, bull riders, serious rock and classical musicians, and so on. One was even an Olympic level gymnast.”

The effort to create a photo-reality applied to every level of production. "We used every technique at our disposal, often in unique ways and combinations,” states Nalbandian. "We had to develop processes for rendering fur and feathers, and then the moisture of the fur and the feathers and the way they reacted to light. We knew they had to look wet underwater and slowly dry over the course of a scene once the characters were on land. We also had the characters interact with their environment. We created interaction tools to allow for the penguins to create footprints in the snow as they walked, or for them to kick up powder as they da

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