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MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA

Making The Movie Even More Effect-ive
Returning visual effects supervisor Philippe Gluckman thought that the effects in the first film had been difficult to achieve…until he realized the challenges that lay ahead for him in "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.”

Gluckman explains, "To create all the jungle in the first one, with the density of plants—at the time, it was a big achievement, particularly since it was jungle plus crowds and things like fur. But in some ways the jungle before—even though there were a lot of plants—it would mask the view after a certain point and, therefore, you didn't have to produce as many plants just because they would be obscured. But the landscapes in this film, because it's so much more open that you see basically all the way to the horizon, the element that probably becomes the most complex is actually the grass. You see grass all the way to the horizon. You also see crowds going all the way into the distance. And the grass is very difficult, because basically, the computer has to generate every single blade of grass…and that becomes just a lot of data to handle.”

As a result of the African trip, Gluckman also realized that not only would the expansive sky prove problematic, so, too, would the clouds that sometimes dot and, at other times, overwhelm the space. He particularly found the way the clouds were lit to be fascinating—"there's an element of unpredictability to it all.”

To help replicate this unpredictable Mother Nature and her mercurial way of playing with light and clouds, proprietary software was created that could produce the clouds themselves as 3D elements, which then allowed the computers to light them—as difficult and as memory-consuming a task as it was.

He continues, "We pushed the limits of technology, trying to get the light to shine through the cloud to get a unique translucent behavior. This brought us some really amazing images that either were used directly, where the clouds are actually 3D elements, or were used as the basis for the painters to start with. And it gave us looks that were really fascinating.”

Darnell comments, "Think of it as being inside of a globe with painted clouds that surround you. But we decided to make these three-dimensional clouds, which are much more computationally expensive and technically challenging. But to really give us the sense of scale and size, and to see these rolling shapes playing against each other in perspective—well, that is something that's very difficult to do with a painting or a backdrop. And these three-dimensional clouds gave us the opportunity to really bring the sky to life, while giving it the same kind of scope and scale and perspective that we were getting on our landscapes in Africa.”

But to incorporate those clouds into the frames, and have them actually support the composition of the frame, the job fell to the matte painters. McGrath says, "We have this crew of incredibly talented matte painters who come in and create these skies for us, which can move and reflect light as well. And since two-thirds of our screen in much of the movie is domed with this sky, we really relied heavily on the matte painters to support the sets we built and the compositions of the frame.”

Into those frames, other challenges would wander—like thousands of animals— and others would simply be there—like moving water or, perhaps even more problematically, a billion blades of grass. This three-foot grass does more than just cover the savanna, it also has to ‘act'—compact under hooves and footfalls, part when animals are passing. Again, technology to the rescue, with another system to grow and individually control these blades of grass. This sort of advancement made the original film seem light years ago, as the characters of "Madagascar” couldn't pick up an object or touch their hair in the beginning o

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