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The Magic Behind The Magic
Creating the magical world of RIO and its characters presented innumerable challenges to the scientists, animators, artists, modelers, riggers, 3D, and effects teams at Blue Sky Studios. Rendering the winged leads and creating their performances was a key focus. "We wanted to create intricate performances for Blu, Jewel, Nico, Pedro, Rafael and the other birds,” says Saldanha. During the production's early stages, several of the filmmakers visited the world-famous Bronx Zoo, where they observed how birds moved, used their feathers, and turned their heads – in short all the "quirks” that make birds, birds.

The trip revealed some surprising human-like behaviors among the birds, such as their penchant for hugging, or at least returning hugs from their trainers. The birds and trainers also worked hard to understand one another – perhaps inspiring ideas for the Blu-Linda friendship.

Blue Sky came up with a new feather-renderer called a Ruffle Deformer, which allowed the animators to pose and shape the feathers with unprecedented control, adding important levels of performance to the characters. Saldanha wanted RIO's birds to look and feel like actual Brazilian species, with wings that were recognizable but that could also take on a subtle and stylized hand shape to heighten the characters' expressiveness.

The Blue Sky Studios Materials group put the blue in Blu – coloring each feather, then adding detail, highlights and surface textures, such as his beak's scratches, chips and dings.

The film's human characters were equally challenging to render. Blue Sky hadn't created human forms since the first "Ice Age” picture – and those lacked significant emotions and speech. To meet those challenges for RIO, the studio's lighting department developed a new way to render skin, making it feel alive, fresh and realistic on the exaggerated, stylized features of Linda, Tulio and other principal human characters.

Renowned live action cinematographer Renato Falcão came aboard RIO early in pre-production. His work facilitated more elaborate, fluid and realistic camera movements than were previously possible. Falcão also experimented with different lenses and studied what a live action motion picture camera could reveal about depth of field, and how that information could be incorporated into the staging of the action and characters of this animated film.

RIO is Blue Sky Studios' second 3D feature (following 2009's "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”), and while the filmmakers remind us that a story and characters must stand on their own in 2D or 3D, a richer and more immersive experience is in store for those who see the film in a 3D-equipped auditorium. With RIO, the Blue Sky stereoscopic team embedded the 3D procedures within – and kept imagery layered throughout – the entire production pipeline, including the early stages of animation. "The 3D for RIO is part of the fabric of the story,” says stereoscopic supervisor Jayme Wilkinson. "Audiences will be able to experience more of the action and emotion. We've really pushed the depth of field and immersive qualities.”

Wilkinson elaborates on the methods that facilitated this added richness: "We developed tools allowing us to capture each shot with multiple stereo camera rigs, providing additional flexibility in dialing into space we needed and removing space we didn't. The 3D landscape in RIO looks like one detailed and immersive world, and not two or three different ones.”

Whether watching RIO in 2D or 3D, audiences will experience a world, says George Lopez, "that is nothing less than a wonderful character in itself. Rio draws things out of you and opens your eyes.” Saldanha and his teams capture the region's vastness, including landmarks like Corcovado, Sugar Loaf Mountain, the Sambadome; as well as its jungles, villas, cityscapes, beaches and water. Unlike the fantastical worlds Blue Sky created in the "Ice Age” pictures, "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who,” and "Robots,” RIO's Rio is a known place, so the filmmakers had to be especially creative in rendering a city that would be visually exciting, colorful, stylized and wondrous, yet remain recognizable as the familiar Brazilian metropolis.

For these artists, filmmakers and technicians, as well as for the cast members, the experience of making RIO mirrored the journey undertaken by the film's principal characters. "RIO is all about getting out of your own way and pushing expectations aside – of being in the moment and letting yourself fly,” sums up Anne Hathaway.


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