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...And UP in The Clouds
But the action in "Puss in Boots” isn't all earthbound chases or dance challenges—it extends well above clay-colored vistas into the cloudy heavens…and on top of that, "Puss in Boots” was conceived, from the beginning, as a film to be projected in Tru 3D. Challenges on top of challenges…

"It was really clear from the beginning that this was a movie best presented in 3D, and only 3D, and so we really took advantage of some great opportunities,” says director Chris Miller. "There's this sequence where they plant the magic beans, and the script calls for this great storm that comes down, this huge tornado, that sends energy down into the bean, that then shoots up into this ever-growing beanstalk, which extends beyond the solar system and up into the land of the giants. That makes for these great, energetic scenes of incredible action, that suddenly become these quiet moments, that feature rich detail in the frame, with amazing depth and scale—these tiny characters wondering at the universe. C'mon, now that's 3D!”

For production designer Guillaume Aretos, this meant hours of study and sketching…and since enormous beanstalks are few and hard to find, he did the next best thing by visiting the Louvre Museum, specifically, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which boasts a stunning Art Deco room. The wooden room is laden with stunning carving, with everything in the room—a coat hanger, a table, a chair, the window frame, a pattern on the ceiling—appearing to spring from one continuous vine. "I was thinking that beanstalk would carry them to the cloud world, with all its twisting and swirling, while envisioning it in the stereo aspect. Straight lines or angular perspectives can get boring. So I thought, ‘Well, the beanstalk would grow in an uncontrollable way, swirling, which is dangerous for them but a lot more fun for us.' And with each new discovery or view, there would be different feelings as they go up—shock, when it takes off like a rocket; then, a romantic break, looking at the heavens; a scary moment, thunder; then, a complete white-out, as they enter the cloud world, the top of the universe. And all the clouds are particle clouds, which means, when the camera moves through them, or around them, there are little pieces detaching, passing by the camera. There is a sense of depth that a matte painting or morphing cannot give you.”

The scale of the sequence was daunting enough—Miller quips, "This beanstalk growing for miles and miles and miles, carrying along two cats and an egg!”—but as most already know, amorphous masses (water, fire, fur, feathers) present ever greater challenges for computer animators. And here was a world made up, predominantly, of clouds.

The director comments, "Here was an opportunity for us to create a landscape that had not been explored before, where gravity doesn't work quite like it does on Earth. The clouds are constantly forming and changing shape—you can play with the clouds, you can make them into snowballs, you can run underneath them, you can bounce on the top of them. We spent months just exploring and brainstorming different ways to achieve all of that. And our effects team did an incredible job creating this world and the depth behind it, which plays so effectively in 3D, it's really an immersive experience. It's ethereal, a bit surreal. They're so far from the sun that it's actually below the characters. This constantly evolving cloud-scape was a great playground for all of us to be in.”

Head of effects, Amaury Aubel, explains, "It was a tough challenge, animating clouds, modeling them, so that they look realistic, but so they also interact with the characters. They're surrounded by and supported by clouds. There are the foreground clouds, with which they interact, and the background clouds, that we called the cloudscape, extending all the way back to the horizon. Lighting was also problematic, getting them to realistically react with light, but also in an art-directed way. This one needed to be more golden—this one, more menacing.”

Cloud behavior was also an issue. Aubel: "We see skies every day, and we would know what does and doesn't look right. These objects are transparent or semi-transparent, depending upon the proximity of the viewer. And not to get into complex physics, the way that light interacts, is another issue—the light goes into a cloud and bounces on the particles, molecules of water, and gets scattered in multiple directions. It's not like a solid, like a rock.”

Computers to the rescue! Ken Museth, DWA research and development, came up with a program for a new volume format, which could handle gigantic masses. Modeled shapes could be turned into clouds by rendering ‘surface noise,' giving them the appearance of the fluffy clouds non-beanstalk-riding viewers would recognize and view as the real thing.

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