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A Strange New World
Ask anyone who's ever participated in a team sport, and they'll tell you that a group is only as strong as its weakest member. When it came time to fill the ranks of the "Monsters vs. Aliens” filmmaking squad, directors Letterman and Vernon, producer Stewart and co-producers Hopper Desmarchelier and Ouaou gathered an all-star film crew, including such star players as: head of layout Damon O'Beirne ("Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas”); production designer David James ("Flushed Away”); film editors Joyce Arrastia ("Shrek the Third”) and Eric Dapkewicz ("Flushed Away”); head of character animation David Burgess ("Bee Movie”); visual effects supervisor Ken Bielenberg ("Shrek the Third”); digital supervisor Mahesh Ramasubramanian ("Bee Movie”); and stereoscopic supervisor Phil Captain 3D McNally.

Production designer David James—whose job it is to help conceptualize, develop, shepherd and maintain the distinct look of the film, along with visual effects supervisor Ken Bielenberg—states perhaps what many in the crew felt about signing on to the project: "When I heard the title, I said, ‘Yes, absolutely.' It's every kid's dream job. I was in a conversation with a guy a couple months ago who is an investment banker, and I was trying to explain to him what I did, and he stopped me halfway through and said, ‘That's not a job, mate.' This one, in particular, is about as much fun as you can have and still get paid.”

While live-action film editors customarily begin work after some of the film has been shot, Joyce Arrastia and Eric Dapkewicz were at the ready just as soon as activity on the title began, working in the storyboard phase to help shape the project, and both remained with it throughout production.

As with any animated film, story and designs evolve and change as the feature is honed and focused. What may begin as one thing, morphs into another. The high concept comedy of "Monsters vs. Aliens” began design life a bit more, well, comic, but along the way the settings underwent an overall change and became more reality-based. Designer James explains, "Silly things are not quite as silly when they take place in silly environments. It's always very nice to have juxtaposition, so that the audience can actually feel the grandeur and scale of this place. We'll let the action and characters be the funniest thing. And let the sets and the environments blend into and from a real place.”

Co-producer Latifa Ouaou also states, "Adding in the actors is one of the most enjoyable parts of the process. The way in which we make an animated film is pretty calculated, clearly, with a lot of planning. And so, when we finally get to the actors, they get to bring something else to the process—which gives us the opportunity to go back and play with it, improve it. So things that change represent a creative challenge for us, which is great.”

Visual effects supervisor Bielenberg explains further: "I thought that this was going to be a big challenge, and it was. We had to have a very stylized shape language for certain aspects, like the characters, that are fairly stylized and pushed. Certain aspects of the environments are also pushed, so they're a little bit off-kilter. But the texturing and the lighting are very realistic, and so we had an interesting blend of characterization and stylization together with realism.”

But a scientist with a cockroach head? A five-story woman? Again, James: "Now, that said, our characters are caricatures. And that informs the design of everything, from cars to plates, oven parts, curtains—everything is going to have a slightly different proportion so that the characters, whose proportions are different from natural proportions, don't feel out of place in their world.”

Perhaps a telling example of this is the design of The President, with h

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