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Inside the Adventure
Inside the Adventure: Immersion into a 3D World

"And, under the trees, I saw Brown Bar-ba-loots frisking about in their Bar-ba-loot suits as they played in the shade and ate Truffula Fruits. From the rippulous pond came the comfortable sound of the Humming-Fish humming while splashing around." -The Once-ler in "The Lorax"

For Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, character animation and computer graphics were masterfully handled by Illumination's recent acquisition, the Paris-based animation facility Illumination Mac Guff, who did stunning work on Despicable Me. The filmmakers took great care to adapt the classic flat imagery of the book in a way that preserves the original's authenticity, while providing audiences a fresh and unique experience.

For the French and American animators, planning had to be seamless, as Healy puts it, a "well-oiled machine to create a world you know you wanted to save." Notes the producer: "We were working across time zones, but we had a constant crew from the Despicable Me team. At peak, there were about 350 of us on a couple of floors working on the movie. We were divided into different departments that communicated well and had tremendous technical and production leadership." Classic Imagery to CG

Though Renaud, Meledandri and Healy were quite practiced in supervising CG animation, taking Dr. Seuss' creations and reinterpreting them in this world was as much of a challenge as their last project. Explains Meledandri: "Just like on Horton, we very much started with Ted's work. With such a well-known and beloved property, the real opportunity is to translate his original drawings into a three-dimensional world. We didn't know whether or not we could truly do justice to 'The Lorax' until we had translated that very simple design of the Lorax into a dimensional 3D character, and we could see that the spirit of Ted's drawing was living and breathing in that dimension."

Renaud paid close attention to Dr. Seuss' visual style as he helmed the film. Dr. Seuss is known for his wavy lines and ramshackle buildings, and they didn't easily lend themselves to translation into the third dimension. "It was a challenge to take Seuss' deceptively simple pen-and-ink illustrations and make dimensional objects and characters out of them," explains the director. "Some of our big influences in the book are things like the shape of the Lerkim. It feels like it wouldn't even stand up in the illustration.

"We were very true to the look of the Lerkim when we created the 3D model," he continues. With certain characters, however, they had to make small adjustments to bring them into the 3D world. "In the book, the Once-ler is just yellow eyes and green hands, so we cheated our lighting scheme. Often in computer animation, it works best and is more believable when it feels real. But many times, you have to find where to push so the images are not so 'real.' For example, the Once-ler has a big bright light behind him, but meanwhile, you see his eyes. In reality, you never would see those eyes because his face would go black with that much light behind it."

From a technical point of view, creating an animated adventure in CG is much more challenging than developing a 2D version, because the animators need to render each frame twice. Explains the director: "We always considered 3D when developing the experience for the audience. From the computational/rendering perspective, it was very intense rendering any kind of fur, and every tree in this movie has fur on it. To make this film in 3D, we thought of everything from using wide lenses to having shots where you're in a character's perspective-whether we had shots when the Once-ler heads down the river or when the Swomee-Swans fly through trees."

Creating a dimensional, living world from flat, still images requires great technical skills and attention to detail. Cheney reveals: "There is a challenge that comes with taking illustrations and making a three dimensional world out of those illustrations.

You can say a lot with a drawing, but when you actually have to make a three-dimensional space that you can move around in, everything has to be designed. That includes everything from a pencil sharpener on a desk and every car and character, to each building as well as the sky and the clouds. Every minute detail and every big detail has to be designed from scratch…and from every single angle."

It was not just the designs, but it was also the building of these designs that required months of work for each shot. Cheney notes: "Someone has to put color and lights on the objects and characters. Design plays a very big role in creating animated films because nothing actually exists. The clothes on the character have to be designed; the kind of fabric that a shirt is made out of has to be thought about."

The biggest technical challenge to the team on this film? So much hair and fur! Explains computer graphics supervisor BRUNO CHAUFFARD: "The world of Truffula Valley is almost all done with hair. All the trees are built with hair, the grass is hair, the Bar-ba-loots are furry, and we have a crowd scene when everybody is getting into the Truffula Valley, which is a scene with lot of polygons to render. When I saw the concept, I was with Chris Renaud, and we questioned how we were going to be able to render this world…because our software at this date was not able to render all of these polygons, fur and hair."

The solution was to think outside the box and get more ambitious and industrious than ever before. Says Chauffard: "We worked hard to be able to get it to render. All the different departments did a fantastic job, and finally, we were able to create custom software to render the movie."

A second complexity particular to this film was the number of crowd shots. Animating singing crowds was an entirely new challenge for the team. Healy says: "Another piece that is quite ambitious for The Lorax and quite different than Despicable Me is the number of crowds. We have a few group musical pieces, so there are a lot of scenes with 100 or 200 characters in them. To be able to have hand animated all of the characters, and have them acting-but not stealing the thunder from the foreground characters-was one of the big challenges of this movie. I was very happy with the results."

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